My book on Sweden – the Essential Guide!

My book is doing really well, which I’m very proud of. You can buy it on Amazon, Bokus, Akademibokhandeln and Adlibris amongst other online stores. Sweden, by Neil Shipley, published by Kuperard 2021.

I still have a few copies left, so if you’d like to buy a signed copy, just let me know!

Book recommendation – how to adapt to Swedish culture

I have just finished reading Mustafa Panshiri’s 2021 book ‘7 Råd Till Mustafa’. If you understand Swedish, I strongly recommend you read it.

Mustafa Panshiri came to Sweden as a child from Afghanistan. In his book, he cleverly weaves his own experience of integration with seven pieces of advice he wishes he would have been given. This makes the book not only interesting to read, but very practical and useful. He has an non ‘Western-centric’ perspective which I found fascinating to read about and reflect over.

Aimed at readers who want to understand Swedish culture, and integrate into society, the book is also relevant to Swedes. Panshiri includes sections with advice to ‘Svenssons’.

Integration is a complex issue and Mustafa Panshiri does not claim to solve all of the problems. However, with this book, and his endless youth outreach work, he will clearly make a difference.

The book can be bought on line and at good book shops.

Swedish attitudes to birth control

Today, 26 September, is World Contraception Day, which hopes to spread the word and raise awareness about contraception and safe sex. The aim is to help each new generation of adults make informed decisions until every pregnancy in the world is a planned one.

Contraception is Sweden is widely accepted, as there is little or no religious or social stigma around the subject of birth control. Over 90% of women have used some form of contraception in their life time. Common forms of ‘female’ birth control are the pill, the coil and hormone rings. The condom is also very commonly used.

Like in many other countries, the pill was seen as a vehicle for sexual liberation of women in the 1960’s. However, today, it is used less frequently in Sweden than in other neighboring countries as emphasis has been placed more on its negative side effects. Approximately one third of women in Sweden regularly use this type of contraception.

Contraceptive counseling is free in Sweden, although contraceptives themselves are not. You need a prescription, except for condoms and emergency contraception, such as the morning after pill, which are sold over the counter.

Controlling unwanted childbirth has been successful in Sweden, although there is still work to be done. According to the Swedish Statistics Center, 512 children were born to teenage mothers in 2020. Compare this to 6,198 children born to the same age group in 1973.

Swedish astrology

The earliest astrology can trace its roots to 19th Century BC. Beginning in Mesopotamia, it later spread to Greece and Rome, and eventually Central and Northern Europe.

Western astrology has twelve signs, reflecting the month in which you were born. In English, these signs are named after the original Greek words. But not the Swedish names. Like much else in the Swedish language, the words for these signs are very literal. They are also in the definite form.

Aquarius – Vattumannen (the Water Man)

Pisces – Fiskarna (the Fish)

Aries – Väduren (the Ram)

Taurus – Oxen (the Oxe)

Cancer – Kräftan (the Crab)

Leo – Lejonet (the Lion)

Virgo – Jungfrun (the Maiden / virgin)

Libra – Vågen (the Scale)

Scorpio – Skorpionen (the Scorpion)

Sagittarius – Skytten (the Archer)

Capricorn – Stenbocken (the Goat/Ibex)

The Swedish priest who refuses to marry heterosexuals


Swedish priest, Lars Gårdefeldt, is taking a stand against discrimination in the Swedish church. Since 2009, same sex couples have been legally allowed to marry within the relatively-liberal Church of Sweden.

However, there is a loophole. Priests are not obliged to marry a couple if they have conscientious objections to the union. Under this rule, clergy can turn away same-sex couples if they are morally opposed.

Lars Gårdefeldt sees this as bigoted and discriminatory. In response, he is refusing to marry opposite-sex couples. He says that if some priests can turn away same-sex couples, then he, by the same reasoning, can turn away heterosexuals.

He is regretful that he needs to carry out this action, but he wants to highlight the reprehensibility of the situation. He believes the only way forward is that the loophole is removed and that the Church of Sweden does not recruit anti-gay priests in the future.

On social media, Lars Gårdefeldt has been met by positive comments and a fair amount of criticism. Some of the negative comments, unsurprisingly, are hateful and extremely offensive.

Heterosexuals who feel violated by his decision are experiencing exclusion for perhaps the first time. Maybe, if they could take a step back from their own outrage, and reflect on how that feels, they could use this experience to understand what it is like to be on the receiving end of discrimination. Maybe they can empathize with minority groups who have to navigate discrimination their entire lives.

To quote Lars Gårdefeldt, maybe they could actually realise ’the absurdity of refusing marriage to two consulting adults.’

Sweden: the spiritual magic of ‘joiking’

We have all experienced moments of beauty in our lives. One of mine is something I experienced on a trip to the North of Sweden in an town called Hemavan.

The resort we stayed at had a restaurant at the bottom of a ski slope. One day when we were in there, a Sami man climbed up onto the small stage and began to sing an enchanting song. He was dressed in traditional blue and red Sami dress, and through the large windows behind him we could see reindeer high up in the snowy landscape.

It is a beautiful, serene image that is forever etched in my mind.

A contributing factor to the impact this had on me is how the man was singing. In fact, he wasn’t singing, he was ‘joiking ’. What, you might wonder, is joiking ?

Joiking is not a song as such, but a melodic sound that is integral to Sami culture. It is used to express relationships to people and nature. Traditionally, joiks have no lyrics, consisting of chanting, not unlike that found in some Northern American Indigenous cultures. They can also include mimicry of animal sounds.

Like in the restaurant, joiks are often performed for entertainment. However, they can also have a spiritual function. In past times, a noaidi (Sami shaman) could perform joik whilst beating on a Sami drum with bones to contact the spiritual world.

In Sami culture, most people are given their own melody, like a signature tune. This leads to the Sami saying that they are “joiking someone” rather than “joiking about someone”. Most joik melodies are about people, but also animals and places can have their own joiks. Animal joiks are often about wolves, reindeer, or birds such as ducks.

During the Christianization of the Sami from the 1700s onwards, joiking was considered sinful and was banned. But it survived and today is included as a frequent part of Swedish cultural events. Most recently, a Sami artist was televised joiking in a celebration of Crown Princess Victoria’s birthday in July.

If you’d like to experience some traditional and modern joiking, check out the links below. You will be captured by its melancholy and immediately transported to the mountains and plains of northern Sweden.

After snaps cometh headache

This time of the year is the traditional crayfish party in Sweden. These small red crustaceans are usually eaten with Västerbottens cheese pie. Of course, crayfish parties don’t have to involve alcohol, but the traditional approach is to wash it all down with copious amounts of snaps and beer.

Throughout the years, I’ve been to my fair share of crayfish parties. I was at one last night. The bon ami, the snaps songs, the silly paper hats and the noisy, messy slurping make it, for me, one of the best festivities in the Swedish calendar.

One thing is certain though. The day after a crayfish party, one feels a little….delicate. After snaps cometh headache.

A snaps is a small glass of ‘burnt wine’ – or brännvin in Swedish. Brännvin is a spirit distilled from potatoes or grain with a high alcohol contented at least 37.5%. So it is not the same as a shot! It can be plain and colourless, or flavoured with herbs and spices. Brännvin includes vodka and akvavit, but akvavit is always flavoured with caraway and dill.

Brännvin has been in Sweden since around the late 1400’s and is an integral part of Swedish custom. It has been given many different names throughout history. Some synonyms are: ‘eldvatten’ (fire water), ‘jodlarsaft’ (yodel juice), ‘hojtarolja’ (shouting oil), ‘polarvätska’ (polar liquid), and ’spånken’ (originating in the Latin and Greek word for mushroom – spongia).

If you’re ever here, you should try it. But take it carefully!

Plastic Sweden

Today, July 3rd, is International Plastic Bag Free Day. Plastic pollution is a man-made global catastrophe. Around 500 billion plastic bags are used on a global scale – most of them littering the planet and having a negative effect on the environment, wildlife and human health. Plastic bags can take up to 500 years before they decay properly.

A staggering 300 million tons of plastic are produced every year. At least 8 million tons of this ends up in the sea every year. Scientists estimate that more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic are currently floating in our oceans.

International Plastic Bag Free Day was introduced to encourage people to choose paper over plastic, to go on plastic bag scavenging outings and to recycle.

In Sweden, in May 2020, a tax was added to plastic bags in shops. After 8 months, the statistics showed a reduced consumption from 83 bags per person to 55. The EU goal is to reduce this number to 40 by 2025.

In November this year, Sweden will introduce additional tax to plastics intended for one-time use, such as food containers and mugs. In 2024, there will also be a total ban on cups and containers that contain more than 10% plastic.

So, think about anything small you can do to help today. Take a bag with you to the shop. Take a mug to your local cafe. Don’t put your fruit and veg in a plastic bag at the supermarket. Cook at home, don’t buy take away. Reuse. Recycle.

Something surprising about Swedish Midsummer

These days, Midsummer Day is a flexible holiday practically celebrated on a Saturday sometime between 20 and 26 June. This means that Midsummer Eve, one of the biggest festivities in the Swedish calendar, is always on a Friday. In the case of 2021, that’s tomorrow.

Bit did you know that this has only been since 1953? Prior to 1952, Midsummer Day was always celebrated today – the 24th June – coinciding with John the Baptist’s birthday. This was regardless of the day of the week it landed on. So today’s strong association with Midsummer being a long weekend is actually only around 70 years old

John the Baptist was a person who foresaw the birth of Jesus. He is considered a prophet in several of the world’s religions. He was a prolific preacher whose severed head was notoriously presented on a silver platter to Salome. His birthday has been celebrated since 300 AD on June 24 in many countries around the world.

An interesting fact is that Midsummer Day is still associated with John the Baptist in the other Scandinavian countries. For example, in Finland it is not called Midsummer but Juhannus. In Iceland, it is Jònsmessa. And in Denmark and Norway – Sankt Hans.

11 hacks for surviving Swedish midsummer

With Midsummer’s Eve arriving on Friday , it is time to start planning for your survival. Midsummer’s Eve is the craziest custom in the Swedish calender and the time of the year when Swedes go a little bonkers. As a non-Swede, get ready to brace yourself.

This year, like last, it is important to wash hands regularly, avoid totally new contacts and keep a physical distance from others. Apart from these guidelines, here are a few more hacks to make sure you make it to Midsummer’s Day in one piece.

Greet like a Swede. In Sweden it is considered polite to greet everybody individually, even if you plan to never speak to them again or remember their name. The appropriate way in corona times is to stand 1-2 meters away, look directly in their eyes, say ‘hej’ followed by your name. They will do the same. You might even give a small wave or touch elbow to elbow. If you are feeling adventurous, follow up your ‘Hej’ with a ‘trevligt’ or even a ‘Glad Midsommar’. Job done. Now you can hit the booze.

Snaps is not the same as a shot. A lot of alcohol gets drunk on Midsummer’s Eve, especially beer and snaps With the popularity of shots in recent years, it’s easy to make the mistake that Swedish snaps is the same thing. Believe me, it is not. Snaps can be up to 40% proof, considerably more than your normal shot. So, go easy and sip the snaps or see yourself slipping sideways off your chair before the strawberry dessert has even been put on the table.

Take tissue. Midsummer’s Eve is a looong day and you probably will need the loo at some point. The trouble is, so will everybody else – to the detriment of the supply of toilet paper. There’s a big chance you will be seeking relief in the woods so come equipped with the appropriate amounts of paper for your needs.

If shy, bring swimwear. Bathing in the June waters is a common activity at Midsummer and this year it seems like the water is warm. Swedes generally are not afraid of skinny dipping when they do this. If you are, then come prepared with swimwear and a towel.

Shelve your maturity. Part of Midsummer is dancing around the maypole, playing silly games, pretending to be a frog, participating in competitions. This year, the activities are hopefully adapted to corona. To survive these activities, it helps to conjour up your inner child and forget you are an adult for a while.

Protect yourself. Given the amount of alcohol consumed at Midsummer, it is no surprise that the most babies in Sweden are made on this day. It remains to be seen, however, if this year people are keeping their distance. If you don’t keep your distance, and don’t want to join the ranks of parents, remember to put it on before you put it in.

Throw in the thermals. It looks like it might be super sunny and warm this Midsummer’s Eve. One of the warmest ever! But it is good to be prepared. It is not unusual that temperatures fall into single figures and that pesky rain pours down onto the smorgasbord. So bring a jumper, a rain jacket and even thermals to enhance your experience.

Don’t expect culinary miracles on Midsummer’s Eve. The food is exactly the same as is eaten at Christmas and Easter, with a few small summery exceptions – strawberries, cream, dill and new potatoes. Remember to use hand disinfectant before you attack the buffet.

Learn a drinking song. On Midsummer’s Eve, food and alcohol is accompanied by Swedish drinking songs. Learn one in advance and shine at the table. Even better sing one in your own language and you are guaranteed to use those rubbers you packed just for the occasion. For me, ‘what shall we do with the drunken sailor’ works every time.

Argue over the rules. At Midsummer a popular Swedish garden game is called kubb. Involving the throwing of sticks, everybody seems to have their own understanding of the way to play. If you want to feel really Swedish, make sure you start an argument about the rules.

Take pills. Of varying types. Allergy pills are good because there are flowers everywhere: on the table, in the maypole, on peoples’ heads. Pain killers are good as a lot of snaps is consumed. Indigestion pills are good as the food is oily, fatty, acidic, smoky and rich. The after day pill is good, well… because…

That’s it! Follow this guide and you are sure to have a wonderous Midsummer’s Eve in Sweden, even though we are still in the pandemic.

Glad Midsommar!

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