Swedish expressions: to shit in the blue cupboard

In Swedish, when you have landed yourself in trouble, or made a fool of yourself, you can use the delightful expression ‘shit in the blue cupboard’.

Example: ‘oh no, Edward really has shit in the blue cupboard now’.

So where does this originate? After some exploration, I have discovered what is recognised as the most likely explanation.

Centuries ago in Sweden, furniture was painted red and okra as this colour was cheap and easy to produce. Around the 1800’s new production methods enabled the production of blue paint – Berlin blue – and this was more expensive and seen as more exclusive. Consequently, people used this colour to paint the cupboard where they kept their finer pieces of porcelain, silver and linens.

In these times, the population used potties to go to the toilet in. Putting the potty into the blue cupboard, amongst the finer articles, was seen as a really stupid thing to do. And so the expression developed in relation to foolish acts.

My helpful guide to how you can survive Midsummer in Sweden.

With Midsummer rapidly approaching tomorrow, it is worth planning for your survival.

Midsummer’s Eve is the craziest custom in the Swedish calender and the time of the year when Swedes go a little bonkers.

As a non-Swede, get ready to brace yourself. And follow this simple survival guide to make sure you make it to Midsummer’s Day in one piece.

Greet like a Swede. In Sweden it is considered polite to greet everybody individually, even if you plan to never speak to them again or remember their name. The appropriate way is as follows, shake hands and look direct in eyes, say ‘hej’ followed by your name. They will do the same. If you are feeling adventurous, follow it up with a ‘trevligt’ or even a ‘Glad Midsommar’. Job done. Now you can hit the booze.

Snaps is not the same as a shot. A lot of alcohol gets drunk on Midsummer’s Eve, especially beer and snaps  With the popularity of shots in recent years, it’s easy to make the mistake that Swedish snaps is the same thing. Believe me, it is not. Snaps can be up to 40% proof, considerably more than your normal shot. So, go easy and sip the snaps or see yourself slipping sideways off your chair before the dessert has even been put on the table.

Take tissue. Midsummer’s Eve is a looong day and you probably will need the loo at some point. The trouble is, so will everybody else – to the detriment of the supply of toilet paper. There’s a big chance you will be seeking relief in the woods so come equipped with the appropriate amounts of paper for your needs

If shy, bring swimwear. Bathing in the icy June waters is a common activity at Midsummer. Swedes generally are not afraid of showing a bit of genital when they do this. If you are, then come prepared with swimwear and a towel.

Shelve your maturity. Part of Midsummer is dancing around the maypole, playing silly games, pretending to be a frog, participating in competitions. To survive this, it helps to conjour up your inner child and forget you are an adult for a while.

Rubbers will save the day. Given the amount of alcohol consumed at Midsummer, it is no surprise that the most babies in Sweden are made on this day. If you don’t want to join the ranks of parents, remember to put it on before you put it in.

Throw in the thermals. Perhaps you think it’s going to be sunny and warm on Midsummer’s Eve? Well, think again. It is not unusual that temperatures fall into single figures and that pesky rain pours down onto the smorgasbord. So bring a jumper, a rain jacket and even thermals to enhance your experience.

Same, but different. Don’t expect culinary excesses on Midsummer’s Eve. The food is exactly the same as is eaten at Christmas and Easter, with a few small exceptions – strawberries and new potatoes.

Learn a drinking song. On Midsummer’s Eve, food and alcohol is accompanied by Swedish drinking songs.  Learn one in advance and shine at the table. Even better sing one in your own language and you are guaranteed to use those rubbers you packed just for the occasion. For me, ‘what shall we do with the drunken sailor’ works every time

Argue over the rules. At Midsummer a popular Swedish garden game is called kubb. Involving the throwing of sticks, everybody seems to have their own understanding of the way to play. If you want to feel really Swedish, make sure you start an argument about the rules.

Take pills. Of varying types. Allergy pills are good because there are flowers everywhere: on the table, in the maypole, on peoples’ heads. Pain killers are good as a lot of snaps is consumed. Indigestion pills are good as the food is oily, fatty, acidic, smoky and rich. The after day pill is good, well… because…

That’s it! Follow this guide and you are sure to have a wonderous Midsummer’s Eve in Sweden. Glad Midsommar!

Swedish ways to die #3 Death by cyclist

In this short series, I explore how death can also be cultural. Here is number 3.

The summer season is well and truly here. It brings with it wonderful things such as picnics, batheable water, barbecues, sun tans and crispy pink wine.

However, there is a downside. The summer also presents some horrors such as disease-spreading ticks, pollen explosions, forest fires and demons on two wheels. Yes, cyclists. Of all the plagues to tarnish the summer, the cyclists are probably the worst. They can be the harbingers of death.

In Stockholm, cyclists often move in swarms. Like a disturbed hive, they flourish over the horizon and zoom down the streets, mercilessly crushing everything in their path. God help the poor pedestrian who gets in the way. In the best case, you receive abuse, in the worst case a collision occurs which causes the pedestrian to literally and metaphorically, bite the dust.

Most accidents and deaths happen on crossings. Arrogant, egocentric Swedish cyclists don’t seem to think that traffic rules apply to them. So a red stop light only applies to cars. For the cyclist it means ‘no, not you, please keep cycling, and preferably really fast’.

The morbid scenario is easy to envisage. The pedestrian stands patiently and waits to cross the street. Finally, he or she receives the signal from the green man. He or she steps confidently onto the crossing and BAAM! Death by cyclist! A rather Swedish way to die.

The Nobel Prize of SHAME

SvAka_1_pms

In egalitarian Sweden, there is an elitist, powerful, elected-for-life committee called The Swedish Academy. This (royal) Academy is an appointed committee of 18 members whose purpose is to further the ‘purity, strength, and sublimity of the Swedish language.’ To this aim, they are guardians of the Swedish dictionary, and they award many prizes and scholarships to domestic authors. A mostly dusty, bourgeois old bunch, they also are responsible for awarding the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature every year.

But not this year. Sex and shame has stopped them.

Today, the Academy announced they will not be awarding a 2018 prize. This has only happened 6 times since its beginnings in 1901  – during the world wars and in 1935, when no worthy winner was identified.

On its website, the academy writes ‘The present decision was arrived at in view of the currently diminished Academy and the reduced public confidence in the Academy.”

The ‘reduced confidence’ they are referring to is the rampaging sexual assault scandal that has engulfed the organisation. Several members of the academy have been slandered, scapegoated and forced out, or left at the own volition.

So no prize in literature this year, but most certainly a prize in shame.

It all started last November in regard to the husband of author Katarina Frostenson who is a member of the Academy. Her husband, photographer Jean-Claude Arnault, who ran a cultural project, with funding from the Swedish Academy itself, was accused by 18 women of sexual assault and harassment. Some of this allegedly happened in Academy premises. It has later been suggested that he even groped Sweden’s Crown Princess Victoria at a formal event.  Naturally, Mr Arnault denies the allegations.

This threw the Academy into turmoil. What unfolded in front of us was a drama of betrayal, sexism, power struggle, internal conflict, dishonesty and manipulation. It was like ‘Culture News’ meets ‘Downton Abbey’. Subsequently, a wave of resignations followed, including Ms Frostenson and the head of the academy, Sara Danius.

Today, there are only 11 members in place but the diminished academy requires a quorum of 12 to vote in any new members.

Since its beginning in 1786, the Academy has only ever allowed 9 women to sit in the committee. 9 women! It is clearly yet another example of a white, male-dominated, middle-class organisation. Can it change? Maybe the only way is to rip down this tower and build it up again in a more egalitarian spirit? Surely, the Academy should represent the population in ethnicity and gender at the very least?

The Academy’s slogan is ‘snille och smak’ – which translates as ‘talent and taste’.

Ironic isn’t it, that they are currently demonstrating neither of them.

Sweden’s Easter tree – wiping, witching or whipping?

In Sweden, they don’t only have Christmas trees, they also have Easter trees.

This Easter tree, known as ‘påskris’, is a handful of twigs and sticks (usually birch) installed in a vase with coloured feathers attached to the ends. People often hang painted eggs and other decorations such as chickens in their installation. The Easter tree can be seen all over the country at this time of year: outside shop entrances, in peoples’ living rooms, in gardens, in the middle of roundabouts.

The Easter tree is an interesting cultural phenomena – but where does it originate?

Wiping: Well, some Swedes say that it symbolises the wiping away of the winter. The twigs represent a broom and the feathers get caught in the broom as we sweep.

Witching: Others say that it represents witchcraft. The twigs represent a witch’s broomstick and the feathers indicate flight. This could also be why Swedish kids dress up as witches at Easter and do a kind of ‘trick or treating’ for Easter eggs.

Whipping: But, apparently the Easter tree has a completely different origin and symbolism. Swedish people, in the 1600’s, used to take twigs and sticks and beat each other with them on Good Friday to commemorate the suffering of Jesus. In the 1800’s and 1900’s, they started to be decorated and became a symbolic decoration for Easter.

So, wiping, witching or whipping. Who would have thought the colourful Easter tree would have such a colourful history?

How Aslan led to Sweden – a personal story of a Swedish odysse

A long-time friend of mine recently wrote a post on Facebook, instigated by the recent school shooting in her home country, USA. In her post, she writes her personal story about her 30 year experience of living in Sweden. With her permission, I am publishing it here. Please read it, I think it sums up the way a lot of people who move to Sweden feel. Here it is:

‘For anyone who might be interested, I would like to share a milestone in my life.

30 years ago this week, I took the adventure that Aslan gave me. (If you’ve read ‘The Narnia Chronicles’, you understand that reference.) I packed up my clothes and few belongings, waved a tearful goodbye to my parents at Dulles International Airport in Washington and moved to Sweden. I knew that the love of my life lived there, and that was most important, but I didn’t know much else. I had NO IDEA how the trajectory of my life would change.

Among the things I have experienced in Sweden are the following:

* An AMAZING Swedish family which took me in, accepted me with all of my weird American quirks and loved/loves me like my own family. They ARE my own family now. Along the way, my Mother-in-law and older sister-in-law were instrumental in helping me learn Swedish. Their patience was infinite. My younger sister-in-law, Marina, has become one of my closest friends, but, she talked so fast, I couldn’t understand a word she said. Sometimes, I still don’t. 😂❤️

* A society, while not being perfect, holds 2 particular values to be self-evident:

1. We have a responsibility to those who are less fortunate and that responsibility should be incorporated into government policy.

2. Women and men are equal.

* A year of paid maternity leave with each child.

* Unparalleled care through 5! major surgeries, NONE of which I had to pay for.

* A school system which treats me like a professional and gives me a great deal of freedom as to what and how I teach my students in order to reach curriculum goals.

* AMAZING colleagues from a plethora of nations, cultures and languages who are passionate about our students and who are a daily reminder to me of the common humanity of every person on the planet.

* I NEVER have to worry about a gunman in my school. 😔

Forrest Gump said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” So far, I’ve gotten a box of ALL of my favorite kinds. Who knew on that cold Sunday in February of 1988 when my parents hugged me goodbye.

Thanks for reading’. ❤️