Swedish expression: ’There is no cow on the ice’.

With all the open air ice skating going on at the moment, I am reminded of the Swedish expression ‘Det är ingen ko på isen’ or ’there’s no cow on the ice’. This expression is used to mean there is ‘ no need for worry’ or ‘don’t be concerned’. So, where does the expression originate?

Well, like many Swedish expressions, this one also has a rural origin. In the old days, farmers that had no running water would take their cows down to the lake to drink. As long as the cows stayed on land, and didn’t venture onto the frozen waters, there was no risk of them falling through the ice and drowning. In fact, the expression is an abbreviation of the longer saying ‘there’s no cow on the ice as long as their rear end is on land’. (Det är ingen ko på isen så länge stjärten är i land.) As long as they had a firm footing, they could rescue themselves if the ice broke around the periphery of the lake.

Swedish Valentine – All Hearts’ Day’

Like many places around the world, Swedes celebrate Valentine’s Day on February 14th. Called ‘Alla Hjärtans Dag’ – All Hearts’ Day – it is a newish tradition that started around 50 years ago, but didn’t really gain traction until the 1990’s. American influence and commercialization are often cited as the reasons for this. I also think that it’s a timing issue – the month of February is an otherwise boring time of year in Sweden. A little celebration is a small distraction from the tedium.

In Sweden, Valentine’s wishes are not only limited to love interests, but also extended to children, friends and even school teachers.

Romantically, the most common Valentine’s gifts are flowers, and treating your loved one to a nice dinner, in a restaurant or at home. Approximately 10 million red roses are sold around this day, which is huge considering the population is also 10 million.

Heart-shaped candy is also popular, and in Sweden the most common is ‘jelly hearts’. Sales of chocolate and candy apparently increase by 90% every year around Valentine’s Day.

So, I might not have flowers or chocolates to give you, but I’d like to wish each of you a Happy Valentine’s Day. I appreciate that you want to read my writing, and in return I send you some loving energy. I hope you have love and affection in your life and that, when the day comes, you can celebrate with a long, warm hug!

The Swedish hot wall – a murderous treat

I’ve written previously about the cream bun called a semla that is eaten around this time of year in Sweden. Traditionally consumed on Shrove Tuesday, this is a sweet, wheat bun filled with whipped cream and almond paste. And it is de-lish-us.

However, there is a way to eat it that I have never got on board with. A traditional method called the ‘hetvägg’, which translates literally a ‘hot wall.’ This is when the semla is placed into a bowl of warm milk, and eaten with a spoon. The result is a sugary, creamy slop.

The ‘hetvägg’ has a long history, going way back to the 1700’s when a warm, wedge-shaped spiced bun was served in a bowl of warm milk. This was eaten around Europe. In fact, the name ‘hetvägg’ has nothing to do with ‘hot wall’, but comes from the German for ‘hot wedge’ – “heisse wecke”. The top of today’s semla is often wedge-shaped as a historical nod to the original bun.

It is said that King Adolf Fredrik died from eating too many ‘hetvägg’ in 1771, but in fact it was a heart attack. Granted, he was a gluttonous man, and eating ‘hetvägg’ was indeed part of his questionable diet. After his death, there was a call to ban the sugary treat, as it was rumoured to have murdered the king.

The ‘hetvägg’ wasn’t banned and today it is still a popular way to consume the semla. I personally prefer mine dry and fluffy. But, hey, as they say in Swedish – ‘taste is like the backside – divided!’

Celebrating your birthday in Sweden

Today is my birthday, but it’s not the first time I’m celebrating in Sweden. I must have had at least 20 birthdays here. This year is a bit special since big parties are not allowed, so it got me thinking what is typical about celebrating birthdays in Sweden?

1) Wake up call – Swedes who do not live in a single household are usually woken up early in the morning by friends or family coming into the bedroom with bubbly, breakfast, and gifts. The breakfast tray is often adorned with a candle. This is a lovely way to wake up, unless you’re not a morning person that is.

2) Singing – Swedes love to sing, in general, and they usually sing when they carry out the morning wake up call. The Swedish birthday song is a cheerful melody entitled ‘ja, må han/hon leva’. This translates as ‘yes, may he/she live (for a hundred years)..’ Curiously, there’s no mention of birthday in the Swedish song, unlike the English ‘Happy Birthday to You.’ After the singing, there is traditionally a ‘hurra’ at the end of the song. In most of Sweden, there are four ‘hurras’ but in the county of Skåne only three – hurra, hurra, hurra!

3) Green cake. A popular birthday cake is a green, marzipan clad cake called a ’Princesstårta’. Full of whipped cream, it’s a sickly treat. It seems ungracious but in Sweden, the celebrant themselves is responsible for bringing their own cake with them if they want to be celebrated in the work place.

4) Gift giving is usual in Sweden when somebody has their birthday. Usually, gifts are unostentatious such as flowers, chocolates, wine or something small and meaningful. Gifts for children tend to be more plentiful. A common group gift is to take the celebrant out to a restaurant. At some point during the dinner, a slightly self-conscious ‘Ja, må hon/han leva’ is sung.

5) The round number. Birthdays that end with a ‘0’ tend to be celebrated larger than others in Sweden as they are seen as a milestone. Swedes will often have a big party or will travel away with friends and family to warmer climes. Since neither are currently permitted in the shadow of the pandemic, birthdays with round numbers are celebrated in a smaller fashion or postponed to a later year.

Celebrating birthdays in Sweden became popular during the 1600’s in the Royal Court. Towards the end of the 1800’s it made its way into the general population. Important birthdays that are celebrated a little extra are 18, when a person comes of age, 20 when a person can legally buy alcohol and 65, when they retire. At the age of 100, Swedes receive a telegram from the monarch. According to Sweden’s Statistic Agency, the most common birthday in Sweden is 15 April. The least common, other than 29 February, is the 21 November.

The Swedish market of Jokkmokk

On the first weekend in February since 1606, Jokkmokk market and festival has taken place in Swedish Lapland. But not this year. Corona has, as with many other events, caused this year’s event to be cancelled.

Jokkmokk is the cultural center of the Sami population. At the market, you can buy local produce, arts and crafts and also learn about Sami culture and history. Live music and performances are also a feature of the market.

Warm clothes are a must, as temperatures can drop below a terrifying minus 30 degrees! However, this year the festival can be enjoyed from the warmth of your living room. Go to http://www.jokkmokksmarknad.se to participate via the live stream.

For more info about go to http://www.swedishlapland.com

Confusing Swedish greetings of the festive season

It’s that time of year when people greet each other with more than a simple ‘Hej’ (hello), or ‘tjena’ (hi). There are various ways to do it, depending on the day, and it is a bit confusing for the uninitiated.

The last time you see somebody before Christmas, you say ‘God Jul’ (Merry Christmas). This is assuming Christmas is close of course, and does not apply if the last time you see somebody is October. ‘God Jul’ continues through Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Around Boxing Day, the greeting changes to ‘God Fortsättning’ (Good Continuation).

Then, around Dec 30/31, ish, it changes to ‘Gott Slut’ (Good Ending) before changing to ‘Gott Nytt År’ (Happy New Year) at the strike of midnight on Jan 1st.

’God Fortsättning’ (Good Continuation) takes over again around Jan 2 and then fizzles out after two weeks. The absolute final date for any form of festive greeting is Jan 13th. This day is called ‘Tjugondag Knut’ and is when Christmas is over in Sweden and the Christmas tree and decorations are traditionally thrown out. After that, it’s back to ’Hej’ again.

So as today is Dec 27, I’d like to wish you all a ‘God Fortsättning’.

The Nobel prizes. What is your legacy?

Today is Nobel Day when the winners of the five Nobel prizes are celebrated. This year is a digital ceremony and the usual concert and grand banquet have been cancelled to avoid crowding.

But how did the Nobel prizes come about? Well, the story goes like this. Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, woke up one day to his own obituary in the newspaper. Mistakenly, the paper had declared him dead, when in fact it was his brother. As a title for the obituary, the newspaper had written a rather unflattering ‘The angel of death is dead‘. The journalist also wrote that Alfred Nobel had made it possible to kill more people than anyone who had ever lived.

Suddenly Alfred Nobel understood this is how he would be remembered and, to change it, he founded the Nobel Prizes. Now his name is synonymous with science, literature and peace.

It makes for an interesting reflection. If you could read your own obituary, would you be proud of what you read? Would you also change your behaviours to influence the memory of you? And, if that’s the case – why not get out there and do it now?

‘The Crown’ – Swedish style

The Netflix series ‘The Crown’ which depicts the British monarchy has just started its 4th season. Featuring the sad destiny of Diana, and including events like the Falklands war, it is set to be a dramatic ride.

It got me thinking if they made a Swedish version, probably called ‘Kronan’, who would be the ideal cast? Which Swedish actors would fit the bill? Any suggestions?

Swedish must-reads 10: ‘Doctor Glas’

In ten posts, I am recommending good Swedish reads to enjoy during the dark days and pandemic lock down. This is the tenth, and final, one, and it’s a classic – ‘Doctor Glas’- written in 1905 by Hjalmar Söderberg.

The gripping tale of a young doctor who falls in love with a married woman. The woman is wedded to a sadistic minister and divorce is out of the question. To free the woman he loves, and enact revenge on her husband, Dr Glas is faced with a terrible dilemma. Söderberg is considered an important figure in Swedish literary history, and wrote several novels. Another of his famous works is ‘The Serious Game’.

Swedish must-reads 9: ‘Easy Money’

In ten posts, I am recommending good Swedish reads to enjoy during the dark days and pandemic lock down. This is the ninth one – ‘Easy Money’ – written in 2006 by Jens Lapidus.

This book takes us into the brutal, criminal underworld of Stockholm. A thriller, the story follows the destinies of a group of young men all trying to get filthy rich, but paying a heavy price along the way. Jens Lapidus has written several books on the same theme and several have been made into movies.