Flying the Swedish Goose Boat

In the south of Sweden, the port town of Trelleborg is the largest working harbour in Scandinavia. From here, passenger ferries take you to Germany, Poland and Lithuania.

Each of the ferries is named after a character from a children’s book, for example Peter Pan, Huckleberry Finn and Robin Hood. The ferry I travelled a few days ago to Germany was called Nils Holgersson.

Who, you might wonder, is Nils Holgersson? The character comes from a book called ‘The Wonderful Adventures of Nils’. It was published in 1906 by Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in Literature.

In the story, Nils Holgersson is a naughty boy who is shrunk to a tiny size, and who tours the counties of Sweden in the back of a goose. It is an educational book about Sweden’s geography but also full of drama, intrigue and adventure. I recommend reading it.

On the ferry there was actually a statue of Nils. Looking a little freaky, and without any explanation, I am certain it confused many of the non-Swedish passengers.

Songs about Sweden 4: ‘Sverige’ (Sweden)

There have been many songs written about Sweden and Swedish towns. In this series, I will share a few with you.

In 2002, the Swedish rock band Kent released a ballad called ‘Sverige’ (Sweden). it quickly shot up the charts and has, since then, become a popular track praising this country in the north. Many people feel that the song should be Sweden’s national anthem.

The song, written by Joakim Berg, includes a chorus with lyrics such as, ‘Welcome, welcome here, whoever you are. Whatever you are.’

In the last 20 years, the song has been covered by many other Swedish artists and continues to be successful in the Swedish charts.

Songs about Sweden 2: ‘Stockholm tonight’

There have been many songs written about Sweden and Swedish towns. In this series, I will share a few with you.

The second is a song in Swedish called ‘Stockholm inatt’, which translates as ‘Stockholm tonight’. The original song was released in 2007 by artist Peter Jöback, and is about a night out in central Stockholm. The lyrics take in classic locations and venues in the city.

However, it was covered in 2021 by soul singer Cherrie in a tribute show where artists interpret each other’s songs. She modernized the lyrics and placed the song partially in the suburbs of Stockholm. This re-working gave the song a huge renaissance, and a hit for Cherrie.

Songs about Sweden 1: ‘Gothenburg’

There have been many songs written about Sweden and Swedish towns. In this series, I will share a few with you.

First out is the song ‘Gothenburg’ by Maia Hirasawa. This 2007 single is from her debut album ‘Though I’m just me’ and is a tribute to Sweden’s second city.

Maia Hirasawa went on to become a prize-winning artist with several albums to her name. She tours regularly, and in October will be on tour in Japan, her father’s homeland.

World Book Day – and my book on Sweden

Today is UNESCO World Book Day, to celebrate books and promote reading. The 23 April is a significant day as it commemorates the death of many famous writers such as William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega.

Every year a World Book Capital is nominated. The first one, in 2001, was Madrid, Spain. This year it is Guadalajara in Mexico.

So today is a good day to buy a book, or to gift one. If you know anybody who is interested in learning about Sweden, or planning on visiting Sweden, then my guide book is a good match! I published it in 2021.

You can buy it on Amazon, Bokus, Akademibokhandeln and Adlibris amongst other online stores. Sweden, by Neil Shipley, published by Kuperard 2021. You can also buy it straight from the publisher at http://www.culturesmartbooks.co.uk

I still have a few copies left, so if you’d like to buy a signed copy, just let me know!

The Swedish Easter egg

In the UK, Easter eggs are usually bought ready-made. The big egg is itself made of chocolate, and inside is a small bag of more chocolates. It is wrapped in colourful packaging, and marketed around a particular brand of chocolate such as Maltesers, or Buttons or Dairy Milk.

For me that was what an Easter egg liked like. Until I moved to Sweden. Here, Easter eggs look quite different. The Swedish egg is usually an inedible cardboard egg, emblazoned with colourful Easter motifs. It can also be made of tin or porcelain. So, the egg itself is also the packaging. Inside the egg, is pick ‘n’ mix, usually consisting of a few candied eggs and other well-chosen sweets such as cola bottles, sour dummies and fudge. This style of Easter egg was actually also popular in the UK around the reign of Queen Victoria.

Giving Easter eggs as gifts in Sweden became popular in the 1800’s and was facilitated by the paper-making industry. Although decorating eggs dates further back, to the 1600’s, when Swedes would paint eggs to celebrate the spring.

Whatever the type of egg the Easter bunny brings you this year, I hope you enjoy it!

Happy Easter!

‘Long’ Friday in Sweden

Today, Good Friday, is called ‘Long Friday’ in Swedish – ‘Långfredag’. It commemorates the long day and the long suffering that Jesus endured on the cross, according to Christian teachings. It is a public holiday, and for many years, everything was closed in Sweden making the day long and boring for many people. Now, most things are open.

‘Long Friday’ is a day of cooking, shopping and going for walks. Some people attend church services. Tomorrow, Easter Saturday, is the normal day of celebration when Swedes gather to eat from a bulging smörgåsbord. Typical food includes variations of salmon, egg, herring and lamb. Dark Easter beer is consumed and snaps is knocked back.

In English, this day used to also be called Long Friday, but at some point in history it changed to Good Friday. Good in this context means Holy. According to the Daily Mash this is ‘still stupid. You don’t get much worse days than being flogged, nailed to a cross, then stabbed. And that includes your annual performance review. It’s like calling funerals ‘Happy Burying Nana Day’.

Swedish Valentine – All Hearts’ Day’

Like many places around the world, Swedes celebrate Valentine’s Day today, 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, now most Covid restrictions are lifted, you can celebrate with a long, warm hug!

Swedish ‘en’ or ‘ett’ – baked goods or a butt?

One of the difficult aspects of learning Swedish is knowing if the noun is prefaced with the indefinite article ‘ett’ or ‘en’. For example ‘a house’ is ‘ett hus’ but ‘a flat’ is ‘en lägenhet’. It’s important to know the difference as it affects the plural and the definite forms of the words. Mixing them up is a mistake many foreigners make, even after 20 years of living in Sweden. (guilty!).

About 20% of Swedish nouns are ‘ett’ nouns, so if in doubt guess ‘en’. However, it’s not that easy, as most of the commonly-used nouns begin with ‘ett’.

To add some spice to the pot, some nouns can be both ‘ett’ words and ‘en’ words, but the meaning of the word changes. Here are some examples:

Bak – ett bak is baked goods, but en bak is a butt/backside. So you see why the expression ‘I love grandma’s ‘bak’ can go very wrong!

Bål – ett bål is a bonfire but en bål is a torso or a punch (as in drink)

Barr – ett barr is a needle (eg from a pine tree), men en bar is a bar (gymnastics equipment)

Ton – ett ton is a tonne but en ton is a note (as in music)

Lag – ett lag is a team but en lag is a law or a syrup

Slam – ett slam is sludge but en slam is a term in a game of cards

Lager – ett lager is a layer but en lager is a lager (beer)

Vak – ett vak is a wake but en vak is a hole in ice

Klöver – ett klöver is a club (in playing cards) but en klöver is clover/shamrock

Poäng – ett poäng is point as in a score, but en poäng is point as in point of view

Nöt – ett nöt is an idiot, but en nöt is a nut (for example hazelnut)

Lår – ett lår is a thigh, but en lår is a crate

Can you think of any more examples to add to the list?

Today is a Swedish squeeze day

Today is a ‘squeeze day’ in Sweden. What, you may wonder, is a squeeze day?

– It is not a day when everybody goes around hugging each other. Especially now during the pandemic.

– Nor is it a day when people pinch each other’s cheeks or rear ends.

– It is not either a day of drinking copious amounts of fresh citrus juice.

No, a ‘squeeze day’, or ‘klämdag’ in Swedish, is a day of the week that falls between a public holiday and a weekend.

In Sweden, when a public holiday occurs on a Tuesday or a Thursday, a common custom is to take the day between the holiday and the weekend as a day off. Sometimes this is subsidized by the employer. In English, this is called a ‘bridge day’ but in Swedish it’s cutely referred to as a ‘squeeze day’.

As yesterday (Thursday) was a public holiday, many people are also off work today.