Swedish Americans and American Swedes

Happy 4th July – Independence Day in the USA! Since 1776, Americans have been celebrating this day as the day they gained independence from Great Britain. Since 1938, it has been a paid public holiday. This got me thinking about the relationship between Sweden and the USA.

According to Statistics Sweden, there are approximately 49,000 American citizens living in Sweden. I know 6 of them – Lynn, Alex, Ruthie, Scott, Brian and Chris. The majority of Americans in Sweden live in the bigger cities of Stockholm and Gothenburg. There are various groups and societies to bring Americans together, such as the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce and The American Women’s Club.

Sweden and America have a long political relationship, with Sweden being the second country, after France, to officially acknowledge America’s independence in the 1700’s. Since then, the relationship has been smooth, with a couple of hiccups during the presidencies of Olof Palme and later Donald Trump. Today, the USA is Sweden’s third largest trade partner, and American-owned companies make up the largest number of foreign companies in Sweden.

Many Americans have family ties to Sweden due to the mass emigration of Swedes to the USA in 1885-1912. In fact, this is such a significant part of Sweden’s history that there is a tv program called ‘Allt för Sverige’ which helps Americans trace their Swedish Ancestry.

At the end of the 19th century 1.3 million Swedes fled famine and persecution in Sweden for a new life in the USA. This was a third of the population at the time. These Swedish Americans were mostly of Lutheran faith and settled primarily in the Mid West.

Prior to this, in 1638, the first Swedish settlers founded New Sweden, around Delaware. It only lasted 17 years before being absorbed into New Netherland and ceased to be a Swedish colony.

In 1639, Swedish settler Jonas Bronck settled a colony around the area of today’s New York. The settlement grew and flourished, and today is called The Bronx – after its original Swedish founder.

According the American Community survey, Swedish Americans and descendants make up around 2% of the US population today. Around 56,000 people still speak Swedish in their homes.

Some famous Americans of Swedish descent include: Emma Stone, Scarlet Johansson, Candice Bergen, Val Kilmer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Julia Roberts, Uma Thurman, Peggy Lee, Steven Soderbergh and George W Bush.

Not many Americans have reached such fame in Sweden, however. One is Don Cherry, the jazz musician from Oklahoma who fathered artists Neneh and Eagle Eye Cherry. Another is Armand Duplantis from Louisiana, the American-Swedish pole vaulting world champion. A third one is LaGaylia Frazier, a singer and tv personality from Miami.

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.

Who will really take responsibility for Sweden?

Sweden’s Prime Minister today resigned after losing a vote of no confidence last week. This vote, and his subsequent resignation, throws the country into political chaos in the middle of a pandemic and just one year before a scheduled general election.

The sad thing is that this could have been avoided if it wasn’t for political positioning. This chaos is the main responsibility of three small parties who hold the balance of power and who cannot drop their prestige. They all say they do not want an new election, but have acted in such a way that a new election is now inevitable. And the worse thing is that they all use the same argument that they are ‘taking responsibility for Sweden’. BULLSHIT. Responsibility would be to resolve this issue and keep us on a stable path for one more year.

After a Prime Minister resigns in Sweden, the speaker of the House has an opportunity to find a new constellation of government. If that doesn’t succeed, then it is a new election. This is the most likely to happen given the make up of the parliament at the moment. Whatever government comes out of this new election will rule for less than a year. It is very unlikely they can achieve anything in this period of time so it is essentially toothless. And pointless. And expensive.

So another period of unrest lies ahead. And a costly one. The 400,000,000 Swedish crowns that an election costs could better be spent elsewhere.

But hey, if we elect politicians that decline to cooperate with each other and they refuse to drop their prestige for the stability of the country – this is the shit show we end up with.

The Svenssons go to the gym

I was cleaning up some old posts in my blog, and found this one from almost 10 years ago! I thought it was worth sharing. It’s takes us back to times gone by – when tourists came to Stockholm and when public spaces were open without restriction. And when I went to the gym!

I work out at my local gym in a nearby hotel. The gym is used by local residents and hotel guests alike. It’s a small gym, long and narrow, with enough room for one treadmill, a couple of step machines, a few weight machines and a free weights area. Being small it gets easily cramped, so it’s necessary to show respect for each other and cooperate so everyone gets the most out of the space available.

This weekend I was there on my own. It was a paradise. I could move freely about the gym without considering the needs of anyone else. It was a rare pleasure.

Until, hotel guest Mr Svensson walks in. The hotel also has a small plunge pool and Mr Svensson is ready for that. However, he’s decided that a little exercise on the step-machine would be good first. Dressed only in a pair of swimming trunks, bear-breasted and bare-footed, the sweaty 70-year old Mr Svensson climbs onto the machine and starts excersing. Gym etikett? Forgetikett. Half-naked and out of breath, Mr Svensson seems to have no sense of dignity or consideration.

I manage to ignore Mr Svensson, half successfully, when daughter and son-in-law Svensson come in and climb onto the machines beside him. They begin to converse. Loudly. The musical they went to last night was sooo good. Stockholm is sooo stressful. People even run on the escalators. I focus on my arm curls and try to banish them.

I consider myself a person who is able to focus. In most situations. Even Swedish country folk criticising the big city doesn’t penetrate my focus. But then it happens. Grandma Svensson arrives, dressed in an outdoor coat and comfortable boots. In her arms, she carries granddaughter Svensson, a year-old baby, who she proceeds to put down and allow to crawl all over the gym floor.

This rug rat, the loud conversation, the naked step machine grandad all prove too much for me, so I leave. My work-out is finished.

On the way home, I try to analyse the situation. Why did they think it was ok to behave that way in a gym? They clearly had a sense of entitlement.

I don’t know the answer but I am glad of one thing – I am glad I wasn’t in the plunge pool.

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!

Please share this post to help others get ready for the big day!

Impending crisis in Sweden’s parliament

This week, the Swedish Left Party withdrew their support for the minority Social Democrat government over a rent control argument. This lead to the extreme right party calling for a vote of no-confidence in the Prime Minister and his government, with the conservatives and Christian Democrats jumping on the bandwagon.

On Monday at 10.00, the vote will happen. Currently there is a majority for no-confidence, which would mean the government would topple throwing Sweden into a chaotic parliamentary state. Just what we do not need when we are still fighting the consequences of a pandemic.

If this happens, the Prime Minister can step down and let the parliament sort out a new government. Given that it took four months to sort out a government after the last election, we have even more unnecessary chaos to look forward to.

A more likely alternative is that a new election will be held in three months. This is also unnecessary as next year 2022 is an election year anyway. This means we would have an election in September and then again next September. I’m sure most people don’t want this.

It is so irresponsible of our political leaders, left and right. Throwing Sweden into a parliamentary crisis one year before an election is short-sighted, opportunistic and disrespectful. They have turned parliament into a circus.

A new election costs approximately 400 million Swedish crowns. This is tax payers money that should be spent on helping the economy recover from the effects of the pandemic – not on solving a petty battle between our childish MP’s. Additionally, public sector workers will have to remove their focus from currently important issues to instead organizing and administering an extra election.

If politicians don’t agree with each other, fine. That is why we have budgeted general elections. Let the planned election of 2022 reflect the will of the people. Let the current government continue its work.

Swedish pizza – with cabbage! 


If you want a cultural food experience in Sweden – order a pizza. When you do, you will also experience a very strange bedfellow.

In Sweden, pizza is served with complimentary salad, in both restaurants and take aways. This salad is called creatively –  ‘pizza salad’ and is made of cabbage. It is a kind of coleslaw with white wine vinegar, salt, pepper and oil. It’s fresh, crispy and a bit weird. 

This odd combination is as far as I know only offered in the Nordic countries and its origin is a bit unclear.

One theory is that when the first pizzerias opened in Sweden, the traditional tomato salad wasn’t an option due to the climate in the winter. So, subsequently the pizza baker decided to use a more available, local vegetable – the cabbage – inspired by the Croatian salad ‘kupus salata’. 

Whatever it’s origin, the pizza salad is so ingrained in the Swedish mentality, it’s become a cultural ‘classic’.  In fact, it’s hard to imagine a pizza without cabbage salad in Sweden. 

How to be a parent in Sweden

Back in the days when we could fly, we all used to find ourselves sharing airport space with lots of other people. This led to me developing a specific skill. Wherever I was in the world, I could always identify the Swedish families. It wasn’t to do with language or looks or fashion style. No, it was to do with parenting.

If there was a child, or children, sprinting around the airport without the supervision of an adult – they were without a doubt Swedish. If kids were screaming at top volume without parental intervention – Swedish. If restaurant queues were building up because a kid couldn’t decide what to eat – invariably Swedish. In an airport, the Swedish parenting style was on show for everybody to see.

Swedish parenting is child-centric and comparatively free. It can be perceived as permissive and hands-off. Most parents adopt a communicative style with their children, which can seem to the untrained eye that this means there are no boundaries and no consequences. Children are from an early age involved in decisions that affect them, which is in contrast to a more authoritative and punitive style of parenting found in other countries. This leads to a population where self expression and independence is important

Here are 5 typical parenting behaviours in Sweden:

1) Egalitarian parenting. In Sweden, parents get 480 days of paid parental leave to share and, in heterosexual relationships, 90 of those are non-transferable days for fathers only. This is intended to achieve a more equal division of child-rearing responsibilities. This often extends into the division of duties in the home. So both men an women cook, clean, change nappies and stay home with sick children. For Swedes, it’s a no brainier.

2) Cosiness and cuddling. Friday evenings are reserved for family time. Called ‘fredagsmys’, or Friday coziness, it is when families curl up under a blanket, light candles and watch a film or series together—all while eating tacos, pizza, crisps and sweets. It is not unusual for kids to sleep in their parents’ bed until they reach double digits.

3) Right to Day Care. Every child in Sweden has a right to attend day care from one year old. Day care is subsidised and cheap. At Day Care, the kids spend most of their time playing—academia usually begins in earnest around 6 years old. The other reason for organised child care is so that parents can quickly return to the tax-paying workforce – and collectively finance child care and rest of the welfare state.

4) No spanking. Hitting a child is unthinkable – and illegal – in Sweden. Sweden was the first country in the world to ban spanking and all corporal punishment in 1979. As mentioned before, Swedes apply communicative style of parenting and discipline their children by talking and reasoning with them.

5) Go outside. Outdoorsiness starts early with parents leaving their children outside to sleep in their prams in sub zero temperatures. The crisp air is thought to be good for them. In schools, kids go outside and play every day—regardless of the weather. Some day care solutions are set outdoors with kids spending all day every day in the woods. In the summer, it’s not unusual to see naked kids on the beaches, reflecting Sweden’s relaxed attitude to nudity. Sports and being outdoors are highly prioritised in Sweden. Fresh air, and getting dirty, are considered healthy.

So back to those Swedish kids in the airport. Sure, they justifiably could be seen as unruly, disrespectful and unsupervised. But in equal measure, their behaviour can be a result of a flexible, free parental style that encourages independence and self sufficiency from an early age.

The Swedish Death Penalty

The name Bridget Bishop might not mean anything to you – unless you are seriously into history. On this day, June 10th, in 1692 Bridget Bishop was the first woman to be hanged during the Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts. In total 19 women were accused of witchcraft and hanged and many others were persecuted. Capital punishment still exists in the USA, with lethal injection and electrocution as the favoured methods. In 2020, 17 executions were carried out in the USA.

In Sweden, capital punishment was legal until 1973, although an execution was last enacted in 1910 on murderer Johan Alfred Ander. The last death penalty was actually given in 1927 but the sentence was changed to hard labour. In 1917, Hilda Nilsson, a child murderer, was sentenced to death. She escaped execution, however, by committing suicide. That meant that the last woman to be executed in Sweden was murderer Anna Månsdotter in 1890.

At the time of its abolition in 1973, beheading was the legal method of execution. Today capital punishment, corporal punishment and torture are all outlawed in Sweden.

Interestingly, 110 countries have completely abolished capital punishment like Sweden. However, over 60% of the world’s population live in countries where the death penalty still exists, such as USA, China, India, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Japan.