My Essential Guide to Sweden

In 2020, I was approached by the publishers behind the respected Culture Smart series to see if I would write a book about Swedish culture. I accepted and, finally, it is here! I am proud to join their staff of authors! Available soon to buy on Amazon, or via me. Just pm me if you’d like a copy. Today’s a good day!!!

Do you believe in Swedish sin?

Yesterday, a new book was published by author Rickard Gramfors. The book, entitled ‘Do you believe in Swedish sin?’ looks at Swedish exploitation and cult films. The book includes ‘350 outrageous, sexy, violent, fun movie posters from the Fifties to the early Eighties. Swedish films of all kinds, whacky co-productions, exported Swedish babes, and international films using the words Sweden, Schweden, Svezia, Suède as selling points; if it was “Swedish” – it was sexy!’

I have put my order in.

This international concept of Swedish sin still lingers around today, and influences some foreigners’ perception of Swedish women. Where does it come from?

Maybe unsurprisingly, it originates in the prudish conservative USA. In a speech given by US president Dwight D Eisenhower in 1960, he claimed that “sin, nudity, drunkenness and suicide” in Sweden were due to welfare policy excess. This was a rhetorical way to attack Swedish people and politics at the same time. However, the world quickly forgot the link to welfare policy – but the sin reference remains.

He was basing his opinion on the scandalous Swedish fifties art films like ”One Summer of Happiness” and ”Summer with Monika”, birth-control pills, sexual education publications and condom vending machines. Swedish nudity was prevalent in most of the films throughout the 60’s and 70’s thus cementing the idea of Swedish sin.

In 1971, the Swedish sex education film ‘Language of Love’ was released in London to massive protest. One anti-film sign read ‘Sweden – more pornography, more suicides, more alcoholism and more gonorrhoea every year’.

Place on top of these scandalous films, young women who were self-determined, educated, liberated and sexually-active, and the stereotype becomes fixed.

The interesting thing about stereotypes is that they remain for a very long time. This is why the notion still exists today even though Swedish film today is far from exploitative.

Additionally, stereotypes often have little to do with reality. The reality was of course something else in Sweden at that time. The country was not riddled with promiscuous, drunken people. For example, Sweden had the world’s most restrictive alcohol laws and was struggling with the oppressive inheritance of Lutheran thinking.

So, did Swedish ‘sin’ ever actually exist? Or was it a politically motivated attack aimed at undermining social democracy? Or was it just a marketing trick to sell films and magazines?

I’ll let you be the judge of that.

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.

Swedish must reads 8: ’The People of Hemsö’

In ten posts, I am recommending great Swedish reads to enjoy during the dark days. This is the eighth one – ‘The People of Hemsö’ – written in 1887 by legendary Swedish author August Strindberg.

Carlsson is on his way to the island of Hemsö in the Stockholm archipelago to work at widow Flod’s farm. With Flod’s husband dead, the farm is falling part. Drama ensues. A classic tale of greed, jealousy, love, lust and lies.

Swedish must reads 7: ’Popular Music from Vittula’

Over 10 posts, I will give you a recommendation of a Swedish book, translated into English, that is well worth a read. The sixth recommendation is ’Popular Music from Vittula’ from 2000, written by Mikael Niemi.

This brilliant book is set in the very north of Sweden during the 60’s and 70’s and is a young boy’s coming of age story. Based on the author’s own childhood, we get to experience a distant time in a remote region of Sweden influenced by communism, alcoholism, machoism, and rock and roll.

Swedish must reads 6: ‘The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared.’

Over 10 posts, I will give you a recommendation of a Swedish book, translated into English, that is well worth a read. The sixth recommendation is ’The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared’ from 2009, written by Jonas Jonasson.

The book follows Allan Karlsson who escapes his old people’s home on his 100th birthday, and embarks on a remarkable journey through Sweden, with the police and bad guys hot in his heels. It is a funny book full of historical reference. It was made into a film in 2013. Jonas Jonasson also wrote ‘The Girl who Saved the King of Sweden’ which is also well worth a read.

Swedish must reads 5: ‘Hanna’s Daughters’.

As the autumn darkness envelops us, what better than snuggling under a blanket with a good book? Over 10 posts, I will give you a recommendation of a Swedish book, translated into English, that is well worth a read. The fifth recommendation is ’Hanna’s Daughters’ from 1994, written by Marianne Fredriksson.

Set against the majestic isolation of Scandinavian lakes and mountains, this is a story of three generations of women from the same family. It is a moving testament of a time forgotten and an epic romance in every sense of the word. It also reflects Swedish society and a journey from poverty to prosperity.

Swedish must reads 4: ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’

As the autumn darkness envelops us, what better than snuggling under a blanket with a good book? Over 10 posts, I will give you a recommendation of a Swedish book, translated into English, that is well worth a read. The fourth recommendation is ’The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ from 2005.

The first book in the Millenium series by Stieg Larsson is called ‘Men who hate women’ in Swedish. It is a psychological thriller that follows journalist Mikael Blomqvist and brilliant but deeply troubled hacker Lisbeth Salander. A real turn-pager, the book was an enormous success when it was posthumously published. It has been turned into a Swedish film featuring Noomi Rapace, and a Hollywood film, starring amongst others Daniel Craig.

Swedish must reads 2 – ‘A man called Ove’

As the autumn darkness envelops us, what better than snuggling under a blanket with a good book? Over 10 posts, I will give you a recommendation of a Swedish book, translated into English, that is well worth a read. The second recommendation is A man called Ove, written in 2012 by Fredrik Backman.

Ove is a grumpy yet loveable man who lives in a small Swedish town. One day, he finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door. As the novel unfolds, we see the reason behind Ove’s irritable, cranky surface and discover a story of love, grief and unexpected friendship.

The book was made into a hit film in 2015 and was nominated for two Oscars.