And Sweden’s ‘Christmas present of the year’ 2015 is…

Every year, Sweden’s trade research institute nominates an item that is the ‘Christmas present of the year’. This item should have sold in large quantities and/or represent current trends in Swedish society. 

The first item to be granted this status was in 1988 and it was the baking machine. Since then, various items have been the mobile phone, the tablet, the spike mat, the book, the food home delivery service, the woolly hat and the wok. Last year’s was the smartband – a reflection of today’s physical activity trend and the need to digitally track and register results. 

So this year, what is it? 

Given the current state of the world, and the number of refugees that Sweden has taken in, one might hope that it is a charitable contribution. But no it’s not. 

It’s the robot hoover. 

What does this say about Sweden’s current time? It clearly represents the robotisation of our society, and the automisation of household functions. But it also reflects the stressful nature of today’s society in which people feel that time is limited. Additionally, it shows that the home is back in focus and the need to be liberated from boring tasks such as vacuum cleaning is strong. 

So Happy Christmas and a dust-free New Year! 

  

Swedish life balance

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It’s said that Swedes have an enviable work life balance and this festive season has been no exception. Similar to many countries, Christmas and New Year are both bank holidays in Sweden. Similar to a few countries, today is also a bank holiday – kings’ day, epiphany or the twelfth day of Christmas. Biblically it signifies the arrival of the three wise men and the baptism of Jesus. Secularly, it means another day off for most people.

This festive season has been a great opportunity for time off. By taking only 5 days’ holiday, workers have been able to be off for two and a half weeks. And with 8 days’ holiday – 3 weeks off was the reward.

A strong belief in work life balance is behind this. In general, Swedes work really hard and are dedicated. Coupled with the darkness at this time of the year, many people are exhausted by the time Christmas comes around. A long break is seen as a necessary way to recharge batteries, and regain motivation. There’s a great Swedish word that you frequently hear after these long breaks – people describe themselves as ‘utvilade’. This translates as ‘thoroughly rested’, and is essential to survive the long, dingy winter season.

Swedish goats on fire

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Since the 60’s, in the town of Gävle, north of Stockholm, they have had the Christmas tradition of building a large hay goat in the town centre. Oddly, the goat is a Christmas symbol in Sweden. This ‘Gävle Goat’ has become famous throughout the nation because it has spawned another, less Christmassy tradition. Every year, with few exceptions, the giant goat has been vandalised or set on fire.

This year, guards have successfully intercepted several people during the weeks prior to Christmas who had a mission to set the goat aflame. But it survived! This year, the fortunate goat made it to Christmas Eve without being graffitied, singed or doused in any form of flammable liquid.

But will it make it to 2015? Or will it go up like a New Year’s firework? Well, that cliffhanger will be resolved in a few days.

A literal Swedish Christmas

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Swedish is often a very literal language. Today, the 26th December, is a good example of that.

In the UK, today is known as ‘Boxing Day’. In Finland, it’s ‘Stefani Day’. In Ireland it’s ‘Wren’s Day’. In South Africa, it’s the ‘Day of Goodwill’.

And in Sweden? Well, here comes the literalness.

It’s called ‘Second Christmas Day’.

Are Swedes always off work?

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‘Swedes never work, they’re always on holiday’

This is a frequent comment I hear when I work internationally. Colleagues and sometimes customers abroad, are irritated by the fact that they can’t get in touch with Swedes from, for example, the end of June to the second week of August. Sweden seems to be shut down! ‘Swedes never work, and are also lazy’ – they say.

I, of course, defend Sweden’s holiday structure by emphasizing that people work longer hours in the winter to compensate for shorter hours in the summer time. Or that the winters are so long here, it’s only natural that people want to be off work during the warmest, brightest time of the year. Or that thanks to advances in technology, Swedish employees are often still accessible though they might not be at the actual workplace. Or I even try the argument that Sweden has a healthy work-life balance.

These arguments however often fall on stony ground and I am often disbelieved. People shrug their shoulders, shake their heads and roll their eyes. From their perspective, Swedes are spoiled.

I try to encourage cultural understanding, I really do. But sometimes it’s not that easy. For example, situations like this Christmas and New Year don’t help me to be more persuasive. While most Americans got 3 days off work and many Brits got 5 days of work, Swedes frolicked in the free time they were able to access. This festive period was commonly referred to as an ’employees’ Christmas’ meaning it was good for the employees and not for the employers. Many Swedes (and me too) are back to work for the first time today, and have been free since the 23rd December 2013. That makes a total of 12 days off work – 16 days if you also count the weekends.

You see Swedes don’t only take the national holidays off – they also take off the ‘Eve’. So although ‘Christmas Eve’ and ‘Midsummer’s Eve’ are technically not national holidays, they are celebrated as though they are. And then it’s also considered a right to be able to take off a half a day before the ‘Eve’ just in order to get ready for the approaching celebrations. If a national holiday falls on a Thursday or a Tuesday then there’s also something called a ‘Bridge day’. It’s not officially a holiday but most people take it off because there’s no point in going in to work for just one day is there? This Christmas season had a couple of bridge days in it to pad out the time taken off work and required only a little bit of personal holiday leave to be taken.

So the question becomes are Swedes happy that they got 16 days off work? I think most are. But on social media, in the office and on public transport, others complain that it wasn’t long enough, that they’re exhausted or that they need a break.

Mmm, maybe there’s something in the perception of the spoiled Swede?