Stockholm A-Z: ÅÄÖ

A-Z doesn’t stop here. No, not in Sweden. As if the Swedish language isn’t difficult enough to learn, there are three more letters of the alphabet to contend with: Å, Ä and Ö.

Å is pronounced like ‘or’
Ä is pronounced like ‘air’
Ö is pronounced like ‘urr’

These letters are partly what gives the Swedish language its distinctive sound and can be a bit difficult for foreign learners to get their brains and mouths around.

Interestingly, the letter Ö is also a word – Island. Think about that if you head into the archipelago and see many of the place names ending with ö.

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Stockholm A-Z: Zombie invasion

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At some point in August, Stockholm becomes a fearful place. Hordes of zombies invade the city and bystanders should be careful not to get in the way. Starting in Östermalm, the zombies limp to a nearby underground station, where they travel the tube and arrive on Södermalm. Zombie nurses, zombie soldiers, zombie children, zombie clowns swarm out of the station and onto the street. Another sombre walk and they arrival at the zombie park to mingle and eat flesh. It’s a scary sight, not for the faint of heart.

There are many festivals and parades in Stockholm, many of them taking place in the light summer months. Stockholm Pride on the first Saturday in August and the May Day parades on May 1st are probably the largest parades to watch. Another parade is ‘Stockholm Cruising’ also on the first Saturday in August where hundreds of vintage cars and rockabillies cruise along Sveavägen in Vasastan. ‘Shockholmen’ on the first Saturday in November in Kungsträdgården is Scandinavia’s largest Halloween parade. Like the zombie walk, it’s also a scary experience.

There are masses of festivals going on in Stockholm all year. Whether you’re a beer drinker, a music follower, a fetischist, a poetry aficionado, a theatre buff, a choir lover or a stand up fan there is something for everybody. More information can be found on http://www.festivalinfo.se

Stockholm A-Z: Yumpin’ Yimminy

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In 1941, a Hollywood movie was released starring Vaudeville actor El Brendel. The movie was about a simple Swedish immigrant who unknowingly becomes assistant to a jewel thief. As an expression of surprise, he exclaims ‘Yumpin’ Yimminy!’ instead of the phrase ‘Jumping Jimminy’ which was popular at the time. This, of course, was a way of ridiculing the Swedish difficulty of pronouncing J and similar jokes highlighting this are for example ‘do you have any use (ie juice) for my wife?’

The Swedish language that we see on signs can still today provide us with some giggles. It’s useful to know what some of the words mean when you’re visiting Stockholm.

Infart – this sounds painful, but it’s the Swedish word for entrance (usually for vehicles)
Utfart – the word for exit (usually for vehicles)
Ned – on the underground, this means down
Rea – not a singer but the Swedish word for Sale
Slutrea – not a tarty singer but a Final Sale
Slutspurt – rather unappealing word that means end of Sale rush
Realisation – oh my god!! It’s a sale!
T – banan – not a funny shaped banana but the underground metro (Tunnelbana)
Mynt – not fresh breath tablets, but coins
Kök – pronounced ‘shurk’, this means kitchen and nothing else
Herrtoalett – confusingly not her toilet but his toilet. Herr in this context is the Swedish word for Gents
Drag – not a suggestion to wear women’s clothes but a suggestion to pull a door open
Tryck – push the door
Väg – nothing female, just the Swedish word for road

Stockholm A-Z: eXpat community

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There are thousands of expats living in Stockholm from a variety of countries. Seduced by the allure of the city and its inhabitants many decide to stay after initially intending to love here for only a short while. As expat life can feel isolating sometimes, there are many expat organisations and clubs catering to the needs of this group such as http://www.internations.org, http://www.meetup.com/stockholmexpat and the American Women’s Club.

And then there’s the pubs. One pub where you will typically find an expat crowd from Europe and English-speaking countries is The Tudor Arms in Östermalm. Founded in 1969, this pub won the 2009 Best English Pub in the World competition run by the UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper for its genuine atmosphere, entertainment and pub grub.

On Södermalm, a popular joint is the Southside Irish Pub with its live music and pub quiz nights. Not far from here are the Oliver Twist, the Bishop’s Arms and Accurat – other pubs popular with British expats.

Many club nights are also arranged in Stockholm which attract people from for example South America and African countries.

Speciality food shops exist throughout Stockholm to appeal to the expat crowd and interested Swedes. Asian supermarkets in the Hötorget area are a good example, and the British sausage has had a renaissance via Taylor’s and Jones butchers on Kungsholmen. In the suburbs of Tensta, Skärholmen and Rinkeby great foods shops selling international produce can be found.

To tune into expat life in Stockholm, visit the Expat’s very own newspaper http://www.thelocal.se

Stockholm A-Z: Wine and Whisky

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When visiting Sweden, people are often struck by the system for purchasing alcohol. In bars and restaurants everything goes as expected but if you want to buy a bottle of, for example, wine or whisky then this is done in the state-owned alcohol shops known as Systembolaget. These shops have restricted opening hours closing at 6 or 7pm on weekdays and 2 or 3pm on Saturdays. On Sundays and Public Holidays they are closed. Only in Finland, Iceland, Norway and the Faro Islands do they have similar concepts.

Sweden’s alcohol monopoly started in the 1800’s and the national company Systembolaget was formed in 1955.

Systembolaget has a retail network of circa 426 stores, around 25 in Stockholm. The company has an interesting mandate from the Swedish state – to help limit the medical and social harm caused by alcohol and thereby improve public health. This explains why access to alcohol is restricted through the number of stores, opening hours and retail rules, and why the corporation is aims not to maximise its profit. In other words, the alcohol monopoly is highly socio-political -its foremost aim is to stop people consuming alcohol, or at least to consume it responsibly.

Although strange for many visitors, it’s a concept that seems to work – Swedes consume on average 9.1 litres of pure alcohol per person annually. How long this state monopoly is allowed to last is however a question decided by the politicians on national and EU level and an important factor is the how strong the support of the Swedish people is. Systembolaget is loved by some and hated by others. On the one hand you have the limitation to individual freedom of choice, lack of accessibility and lack of competition. On the other hand, you have a very broad product range, knowledgeable wine experts and a brand-independent consumer environment.

However you look at it, Systembolaget has economic significance in Sweden. It employs many people, spawns an industry of wine merchants, turns over billions of crowns a year, contributing to the state income.

So if you want to buy a bottle of alcohol head down to your nearest Systembolaget. Just not on a Sunday.

Stockholm A-Z: Vasa

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It’s amazing that a country like Sweden, known for its technological success and innovative thinking, is also proud owner of one of history’s most epic fails. The Vasa ship, built in the 1700’s was supposed to be the grandest, most fear-instilling vessel of its time. It included an unprecedented 64 canons and was reflective of the great warrior king Gustav Vasa.

The problem is the ship never made it to battle. In fact, it didn’t even make it out of the harbour. The Vasa ship sank on its maiden voyage in 1628 right to the bottom of the Baltic Sea. However, because of the brackish nature of the water, the Vasa didn’t rot and in the 1980’s was able to be miraculously salvaged – a case of achievement winning over failure. Today, the boat is housed in the stunning Vasa Museum on Djurgården. If you only see one museum in Stockholm, this is the one to see.

You don’t have to be a lover of maritime history to enjoy it. Just reflect over how the people of Stockholm, centuries later, overcame defeat and humiliation and restored their pride. If nothing else, the Vasa Museum is a celebration of modern innovation and tenacity as much as it medieval delusions of grandeur.

Stockholm A-Z: Traditions

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Depending on the time of year you visit Stockholm, you will experience or witness different traditions. The Swedes are a people who love their customs and it usually involves food and snaps.

Winter
In winter there are the usual traditions of Christmas and New Year, and Stockholm is awash with beautiful Christmas lights and trees. To see the biggest Christmas tree in Northern Europe head down to the quayside on Skeppsbron in Gamla Stan where a fantastically evenly-proportioned tree dominates the night sky. The window displays, the twinkling lights and the New Year’s Eve fireworks are all great things to see in Stockholm during this season. Christmas is celebrated on 24th December with a Christmas buffet that includes ham, herring, meatballs, salmon, beer and snaps. Prior to Christmas, December 13th is the interesting Swedish tradition of Lucia. Early in the morning in schools, churches, workplaces and hotels, girls dressed in white arrive in a vocal parade to bring light to the darkness. It’s a beautiful tradition and very atmospheric.

Spring
Come springtime, the weather is starting to improve and several national holidays are taken. Easter is a long weekend and a time for Swedish families to gather. Stockholm is often quiet around this time as residents often travel outside the city for their celebrations. Typically people eat herring, salmon, lots of eggs and drink beer and snaps.

The last day of April – Walpurgis Eve – huge bonfires are built around the city and crowds gather to watch the flames and listen to choirs to welcome the spring. A good place to catch this impressive tradition is Riddarholmen next to Gamla Stan. The following day, May 1st in Labour Day in Sweden and in Stockholm you will see demonstrations and speeches being held in many of the public squares and parks.

Then there’s Ascension Day towards the end of May. No special traditions are associated with this but as it is a four-day break, many Stockholmers take the opportunity to go out of town.

Summer
On June 6th Sweden has it’s national day. It’s a fairly new public holiday and usually means an opportunity for people to be off work and be outside to enjoy the weather. Celebrations are held at Skansen and in Kungsträdgården park and in the City Hall a ceremony takes place for everybody who has become a Swedish citizen during the year to welcome them into Swedish society.

Around June 20th, it’s time for Midsummer’s Eve. Stockholm is often quiet on this day as shops and restaurants are shut. Residents head out to the countryside to celebrate this time with friends and family. Celebrations involve dancing around a maypole, eating herring and potatoes, playing games, drinking snaps. Needless to say, many babies are made during this long, light summer night. In Stockholm, Skansen has a Midsummer celebration for those left in town which is a fun way to experience this very Swedish tradition.

Autumn
In late summer, early autumn it’s time for the crayfish party. Friends, colleagues gather to eat crayfish, sing songs, drink snaps and party. It often signifies the last days of summer before heading into the darker season. Many restaurants offer crayfish on their menu at this time of year.

Another food-related tradition in the autumn is the ‘surströmmingspremiären’. This is the gathering and eating of fermented Baltic herring. Far from everybody follows this tradition, as it is an acquired taste. The herring ferments in a tin and is opened outdoors due to its pungent reek and eaten with bread and potatoes.

On the cusp of autumn and winter is All Saints Day. While Halloween is becoming more popular in Sweden, it’s not a traditional Swedish celebration. On All Saints Day, people go out to the cemeteries and light candles to honour their loved ones. It’s a beautiful tranquil sight to behold as dark descends to see the crisp twinkling candlelight illuminating graveyards around the town.