5 things that are wrong with Sweden

When you’ve lived in a foreign country as long as I have, you become blind to the differences that were so obvious when you first moved here. That’s a natural development I guess. Call it emersion, or integration, or adaptation, or assimilation. Or in my case, Swedification.

However, there are still some differences in Sweden that I notice on a regular basis. Things so deeply ingrained in me from my cultural background that they still feel wrong in Sweden. Here are my top 5:

1) Front doors open the wrong way. Doors open outwards, instead of inwards. That means if you are visiting someone, ring their doorbell and stand on the landing, there is a big risk that you get smacked in the face as they open the door outwards, towards you. It’s just wrong!

2) Plumbing is often on the outside of the walls. Especially in bathrooms, and around radiators, ugly pipes are not hidden behind the plaster in the wall. They run up and down and side to side along the outside of the wall, visible to everybody. So ugly, and just wrong!

3) Driving. Swedes drive on the right side of the road. It’s just wrong.

4) The ‘tunnelbana’. On the underground (tunnelbana) in Stockholm, most people don’t wait for passengers to get off the train before trying to get on. As soon as the doors open, people pile in. At the same time people are trying to get out. The resulting caffuffle in the door opening is so unnecessary and just wrong!

5) Celebrating the Eves, instead of the Days. I’ll never get used to it. Especially at Christmas. Santa coming in the afternoon on Christmas Eve instead of the night between the Eve and the Day, is just wrong!

I know what you’re thinking. How unimportant all of this is.

And you’re not wrong.

I’m happy to live in a place where the only things that seem off to me are so minor. When it comes to values, structures, systems, behaviours, lifestyle and attitudes so much about Sweden is, for me, just right.

Non-binary Swedish and English

For a while now the non-binary pronoun ‘hen’ has been used in the Swedish language. ‘Hen’ is used to refer to somebody who does not relate or feel represented by the established pronouns for he (han) and she (hon). Initially met with ridicule by some people in Sweden, the ‘hen’ pronoun is slowly starting to gain in usage amongst Swedes and in ordinary vernacular.

I have long assumed that non-binary pronouns do not exist in English apart from the neutralizing use of ‘they’. Imagine my surprise when I read an article today in the Huffington Post which proved me wrong. The article talked about the queering of language. The guide to English non-binary pronouns are presented in the table.

It’ll certainly take some getting used to to add new pronouns into the vocabulary. However, language is one of our greatest tools for celebrating diversity and increasing inclusiveness.

For that alone, I think it’s worth the effort.

So, what is wrong with the Swedes?


Dipping into a book about Swedish culture, the opening paragraph starts this way…

‘In the world at large, especially in the English-speaking world, the Swedes seem to be universally popular. Their clean-cut profile as honest, caring, well-informed, efficient plodders who produce quality goods delivered on time sits well with their frequently well-groomed appearance, good sense of dress and (forgive the stereotyping) blond hair and blue eyes. Their English, grammatically proficient, is clean and crisp, like that of Scots who went to Oxford. They have impeccable manners and say all the right things – for the first 15 minutes. It is somewhat surprising, therefore, to discover that they are unpopular inside the Nordic area. The fact that none of the Swedes’ neighbors – Denmark, Norway, Finland – have any undue reputation for aggressiveness makes their antipathy all the more unexpected. What is wrong with the Swedes?

This is a question which the Swedes themselves have been trying to answer over the last few decades.”

So I am handing the question over to you, my dear readers.

Now’s your chance! What is wrong with the Swedes?

Please post your answers in the comments below, or on my Facebook page. Feel free to also share this blog and spread the question to a wider audience.

Swedes, and non-Swedes, are all welcome to comment! But please keep a respectful tone!

What a discovery in a grave tells us about Swedish equality

female viking

Outside of Stockholm, there is an island called Björkö. On this island is a former Viking settlement called Birka. It is well worth a visit and is an active, on-going archeological site where new discoveries are constantly being made.  The area contains 3000 Viking graves, many containing high ranking warriors. Until recently, the presumption has been that these hold male remains but Swedish scientists have now revealed that the body of a warrior long presumed to be male is, in fact, female.

Scientists have assumed the skeleton to be male due to the status symbols buried along side it. However, after carrying out a DNA analysis, researchers from Stockholm University announced that the 10th Century skeleton is the first confirmed female high-ranking Viking warrior.

According to the researchers, this finding  “provides a new understanding of the Viking society, the social constructions and also norms in the Viking Age.”

“Our results – that the high-status grave on Birka was the burial of a high ranking female Viking warrior – suggest that women, indeed, were able to be full members of male dominated spheres.”

So it seems that gender equality in Sweden is not a new-found invention. It is something that stretches back, in its way, over many decades. Today, Sweden is amongst the top countries in the world to lead the Gender Equality Report. All cultural behaviour we see today stems from history and often from how we needed to survive as a society. Maybe today’s gender equality in Sweden started with the Vikings?

Amazing immigrants in Sweden Part 6: Hanif Azizi

Negativity. Fear. Concern. These are some of the reactions many Swedes are experiencing about the influx of immigrants to Sweden in the last couple of years. So, I became curious to learn about some of those individuals who came here as refugees or immigrants to make a better life for themselves. People with roots somewhere else who built a home here and who contributed to Swedish society in a positive way.
For the next seven days, I will celebrate these people. My hope is that we can lift our eyes from the challenges of immigration and understand what useful contributions these people can make to society if given the chance. To our society. Our Sweden

Part 5: Hanif Azizi

At the age of 9 years old, Hanif Azizi arrived in Sweden as an unaccompanied refugee. His parents were active in a political military organisation, a rebel Group fighting against the regime in Iran. When he was 6 years old, his father was killed in battle and his mother decided to send her children away to safety.

In 1991, Hanif arrived in Sweden with his younger brother and were placed in a host home. In this home, they were subjected to physical and pyschological abuse and were eventually removed by the Swedish Social Services and placed in a secure and supportive environment.

Today, Hanif is 35 and works as a policeman based in the Stockholm suburb of Järva. Here, he works to prevent crime but also to support youths who are at risk of falling into criminality. In Järva there are lots of individuals with an ethnic background. Hanif tries to help them feel involved in Swedish society so as to avoid radicalisation and crime. 

His contribution to Swedish society is extremely valuable. Hanif is an amazing immigrant in Sweden and a positive role model and contributor to Swedish society. 

Starving children in a Stockholm museum 

Stockholm’s Photography Museum is, in my opinion, one of the world’s best museums for seeing photographic art. If you haven’t been, I recommend one of the current exhibitions called ‘What’s on the Plate’ by Magnus Wennman and Erik Wiman. I saw it today and it is no easy exhibition to see. In fact it is very difficult to stomach. 

In picture and text, you see very recent depictions of starving children around the world and what they are forced to eat in order to survive. The exhibition asks for donations towards Save the Children. It is well worth a visit and runs until 13 August 2017. 

It is a sobering and humbling experience and a reminder of the overindulgence of our daily lives and the vast gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. 
For more information: http://www.fotografiska.eu

10 reasons Europe is good for Sweden


Today, May 9th, is Europe Day. This is an annual celebration of peace and unity in Europe. Sweden has been a part of the European continent since continents were first described and a member of the EU since 1995. As a continent, Europe has 50 sovereign states and speaks around 225 languages – diverse to say the least.

High up here in the North, it’s easy to forget the benefits of being on the European continent and what the access to all the diversity has provided Sweden with.

Here is a list of ten reasons why Sweden has benefited from its geographical location as part of Europe.

  1. Pizza. One of Sweden’s most popular cheesy weekend foods would probably not have been on the menu if Sweden and Italy were not part of the same continent.
  2. The Bernadottes. The Swedish Royal family would not have existed if Napoleon and his French army were not available to lend a king to a dying Nordic monarchy.
  3. ABBA. One of the members of ABBA, Anni-Frid, was Norwegian. Without the country of Norway, the megagroup would have been known as ABB.
  4. The Canary Islands. Had Spain not settled the Canaries, Swedes would have had no sunny paradise to travel to in the long, cold winters. Brrrr.
  5. Visby. The medieval town of Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland would just have been a windy hell hole if it wasn’t for the German Hansa traders who built houses and churches and pretty walls.
  6. The Economy. Sweden exports goods and services of over 50 billion SEK to Europe on a yearly basis. Just that.
  7. The Eurovision Song Contest. Just think how long and boring February, March and May would be if Sweden wasn’t in the Eurovision region. What else would SVT televise if it wasn’t for endless Melodifestival heats and Eurovision semis, and finals and summaries and retrospectives.
  8. Speaking Swedish. If it wasn’t for Germany, France and the UK, people in Sweden wouldn’t have a language. Everybody would walk around in silence. Oh…hang on a minute…
  9. City breaks. Without Europe on the doorstep, people wouldn’t be able to go to Berlin or Barcelona for long weekends or bank holiday breaks. They would have to satisfy themselves with a long weekend in Börås or Flen instead.
  10. Europe. Not the place, the Swedish hard rock band, founded in a suburb outside of Stockholm with vocalist Joey Tempest and hits such as ‘The Final Countdown’. If they hadn’t been inspired by Sweden’s position in Europe, what would they have called themselves? ‘Upplands Väsby’?!