Death of a Swedish superstar

World-famous Swedish house DJ Avicii is dead, at 28 years old. I liked his music but other than that, I personally didn’t have much more of a connection to him, But of course his untimely death has been taken hard by his enormous amount of fans in Sweden, and in the rest of the world.

In Utrecht, the church bells in the Dom Tower, rang out the songs of Avicii over the town. On social media, condolences from celebrities and music stars flooded in. In a spontaneously-planned memorial ceremony yesterday, a huge mass of people gathered on a square in central Stockholm. After a minute’s silence, they danced together to Avicii’s greatest hits. Swedish tv is full of Avicii tributes and he topped iTunes and Spotify yet again.

One can’t deny the impact that this talented man had on electronic music and the inspiration he left behind for many new upcoming musicians. This young Swedish man, born in Stockholm, really did conquer the world.

A new album of tracks is set for release, and is said to be his best music ever.

This will be his epitaph and his legacy.

Why Swedes are easy to make fun of

sweden heaven and hell

In an article written about the New Zealander stand-up Al Pitcher, he says Swedes are easy to make fun of. I guess he would know as he has built a successful career on it, in which he masterfully manages to navigate the difficult path of ridicule and affection.

But it got me thinking. Is it true that Swedes are easy to make fun of? I would suggest that the answer is – yes!!

Here’s my theory….

1. Swedish Extremism

According to the World Value’s Survey, Swedes are the most extreme country in the world – in values that drive society forwards. Typically non-traditional, non-religious and modernistic, Sweden deviates radically from most other places around the world. And this is one reason why it is easy to poke fun at them, they are so different from the rest of us.

2. Self-actualisation

Research backs up the claim that Swedes are individualistic – probably one of the most individualistic societies in the world. In Sweden, individualism relates to the right to make own life choices, voice ones own opinion, take care of oneself, be independent of others. Built on this is a strong concept of self-actualisation – ‘the right to be me’. This is the right to develop my life exactly as I want, and not how others want and it is very strong in Sweden. I think this encompassing sense of individualism and self-actualisation produces a need to learn about oneself, to focus inwards and to belly gaze. This means that humour pointed at the direction of a Swede is seen an opportunity for Swedes to learn something about themselves, or other Swedes. It’s often not taken personally, but is often welcome, and is subconsciously perceived as one element of a greater journey to self-realisation.

3. Being unSwedish

I would venture that Sweden is the only country in the world where being unlike the national standard is seen as a compliment. In the UK, and the USA for example, being ‘unBritish’ or ‘unAmerican’ is seen as a negative, almost treasonous trait. But in Sweden, being ‘unSwedish’ is positive. This means that there is not a national sense of protectionism or patriotism to the identity of being Swedish – which suggests that jokes and ridicule at the expense of the nation are more acceptable.

4. Swedes are funny

Maybe it’s not the classic stereotype, but Swedes are in fact a funny bunch. And my that I mean both ‘funny haha’ and ‘funny peculiar’. Their dark sense of humour usually includes a sense of irony – which means that they can usually take ridicule as much as they can give it out.

5. Remoteness spawns peculiarities

Let’s face it, living in a relatively small country in a remote location and a frozen climate makes you do funny things:

  • consuming copious amounts of caffeine to stay awake
  • delighting in enormous amounts of sugary goods to stay awake
  • working hard in the winter to be free in the summer
  • consuming alcohol at weekends to forget the working week
  • marrying, divorcing, marrying, divorcing
  • going out into ‘the nature’ for fresh air, light and to commune
  • traveling to the sun to escape the winter – and seeing it as a right
  • eating salted or pickled or cold food on festive occasions
  • taking naked saunas in the winter, and bathing naked in the summer

and many many more…. Let’s face it, there is a lot to make fun of!

 

If you like this blog, please share it and spread the word!

 

 

It’s Fatty Tuesday – Swedish style!

Today it’s ‘Fat Tuesday’ in Sweden, known as Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras around the world. While in the UK we eat pancakes and in Latin America they scoff down fried bread, Swedes celebrate by eating the traditional cream Lent bun – the ‘semla’. I’m also clearly going to indulge. In fact, my mouth is watering just writing this blog.

The semla is a creamy bun filled with delicious almond paste. They were eaten traditionally in Sweden to commemorate the start of Lent and the great Fast. In the south of Sweden, they still refer to them as ‘fastlagsbullar’ – Shrovetide buns. Nowadays however, semlas are usually sold anytime between Christmas and Easter.

I just love them. I could eat a barrel load. But I’d end up looking like a barrel if I did. I love the taste of them, and the feeling of luxurious indulgence. I also love the knowledge that as you take a bite into a creamy semla, you are biting into over 500 years’ history of Scandinavian baking.

The word ‘semla’ comes from the Latin ‘simila’ which means fine flour and originally referred just to the bun without any filling. As long ago as the 1500’s, bakers started to hollow out the middle of the bun and fill it with cream and butter. As ingredients became more available, bakers started adding almond and cardemon and the type of semla that we know today developed towards the end of the 1800’s. After rationing of sugar and dairy products ceased at the end of WW2, the semla took off and became very popular.

Nowadays the semla trend has reached new heights. Every year bakers around the country try to launch new types of semla, with their own spin on it -for example, the semla wrap, the semla burger, the semla layer cake, the semla cocktail, the chocolate semla, the vanilla semla, the lactose-free, gluten-free vegan semla.

All delicious I’m sure, but I’m a traditionalist in this matter. Give me a round fluffy cardemon-scented wheat bun brimming over with whipped cream and almond paste.

And give it to me NOOOOWWW!!!

A literal Swedish Christmas

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

In the UK, the 26th December is known as ‘Boxing Day’. In many countries it’s St Stephen’s 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’.

Is Sweden functional but unfriendly?

Sweden is used to being at the top of most indexes relating to quality of life, equality, life experience. But not always, as the latest results from the Expat Insider 2017 survey might suggest. The survey looks at masses of elements related to the expat and relocation situation and views the world through expat eyes. The research surveys 65 countries and, in fairness, Sweden has improved from position 42 to 20 overall since 2016. Sweden scores well in travel and transport, safety and security, health and well-being.

So where does Sweden do badly? One of the elements that the survey looks at is ‘ease of settling in’. Here, Sweden doesn’t fare so well. For ‘feeling welcome’ Sweden ranks 51 out of 65 countries, for ‘friendliness’ 56, ‘language’ 15 and, wait for it, for ‘finding friends’ Sweden places 65! Last place. Interestingly Norway and Denmark are 63 and 64 respectively.

What could this tell us about Sweden? Or at least the expat’s experience of the country? Is Sweden seen as a healthy, systematic, safe but cold place? A functioning but unfriendly society?

I have to say that it is not my experience. I have found Swedes to be open and welcoming and I have a lot of great Swedish friends. Friends for life. So why does this survey suggest otherwise? What makes my experience so different from the people in this research? Does it depend on who you meet? Or on how open you are yourself? Is it different if you are single or in a couple? Are the big cities different from the smaller towns? I have no answer, but it is interesting to reflect over.

If you want to read the whole report, here it is:

https://cms-internationsgmbh.netdna-ssl.com/cdn/file/2017-09/Expat_Insider_2017_The_InterNations_Survey.pdf

Sweden’s badass king

Today, 30th November is an important day in Swedish history.

And it all revolves around a stoical King, whose statue can be seen in Stockholm’s Kungsträdgården Park.

Today, Sweden is a peaceful country and hasn’t been at war for over 200 years. But it wasn’t always so. Once upon a time, Sweden was a great power, a military giant with a much larger territory than it has today. And the King of the statue – Charles XII – had a lot to do with it. If you see the statue, he is pointing his finger east. And there is a good explanation for this.

Charles (Karl) was king in Sweden 1697-1718 and a bit of a badass. Apparently never registering physical pain, in the space of a few years, he transformed the small nation of Sweden into a formidable power, crushing his enemies under him. And then he lost it all. At this time, Sweden covered modern day Norway, Finland and other Baltic regions such as Lavonia.

Charles ascended to the throne age 15 and his youth was subsequently exploited by neighbours Denmark, Poland and Lithuania who decided to snatch land from him. In retaliation, he quashed Denmark’s invasion of Sweden and put an ally on the throne. Then, he responded to Russia’s attempt to occupy Livonia and Estonia, and won a sweeping victory at the battle of Narva, under the cover of a blizzard.

After later defeating Poland and Lithuania, he then turned his sights again on Russia. Like his statue, he pointed East. This was a mistake. Up until now, it seems like he just retaliated but this time he waged a war. Hubris perhaps? It was to be his downfall.

Unfortunately for Charles, Peter the Great had regrouped and, in a grueling cold battle, the Russians beat the shit out of the Swedes. Rather like what happens on the ice hockey rink today. Charles fled to the Ottoman Empire but made himself unpopular there so fled back to Sweden, riding across Europe on horseback in just 14 days. Obviously not on the same horse.

Back in Sweden, he saw his nation crumble. Russia took Finland. Denmark took other Baltic regions.

On Nov 30th, 1718 he was shot and killed in modern day Norway, thus marking the short period of Sweden as a great European power. The ‘Swedish empire’ crumbled and territory was taken.

In modern day democratic, peaceful Sweden, Charles XII is sometimes criticized as a blood thirsty tyrant. His war-mongering contradicts strongly with the Swedish Brand of today. But history is history. Rewritten, retold and reinterpreted.

Whatever Charles was, there is no doubt he was a hard core ass kicker. On a historical website I found, the writer describes Charles XII in the following way:

‘Charles was pretty badass.  He completely abstained from alcohol and sex and was pretty much uncomfortable doing anything other than leading his troops to victory or being stoic as fuck.  He lived fast, died young and when he went down he took the entire fucking country of Sweden with him.  What more can you ask for from a historical badass?’

Sweden’s insatiable appetite for Eurovision

Sweden must be the country that can call itself Eurovision fan number 1.

So insatiable is the thirst for ‘schlager’, as it is called in Swedish, that the journey towards the May 2018 final began today.

Today, it was announced in a live press conference who will be participating in ‘Melodifestivalen’ – the competition to choose Sweden’s representative. So insatiable is the thirst for ‘schlager’ that there are 28 contestants! 28!

According to the papers, the artists are a mixture of ‘new-comers, classic singers, comebacks, former winners, favourites and LGBT surprises!’ Also, oddly, a parody band and a fat tv cook.

So insatiable is Sweden’s thirst for ‘schlager’ that these 28 contestants start competing with each other in February – in 6 live televised competitions! February Saturday nights in Sweden are ruined for the uninitiated.

The weeks leading up to the Eurovision Song Contest are then filled with Eurovision trivia. So insatiable. Interviews with Sweden’s chosen representative, behind the scenes programs and analysis of every single one of the other countries’ songs grace our televisions. Then finally, once we are already saturated, the two semi finals come. God forbid Sweden doesn’t qualify. Then finally, the final comes. And Sweden usually lands somewhere in the top 10. Then comes the analysis.

Finally sometime at the beginning of June, we are released from the jaws of Eurovision. The summer comes and is filled with ‘schlager’ tours and festivals. And in November, it all kicks off again.

That’s life in the insatiable ‘schlager’ country of Sweden.