Wondering about Sweden in the middle of the night

It’s 4am and I can’t sleep. One of those nights with a million thoughts churning around in my mind. Outside, the city of Stockholm is quiet. Daylight is starting to slowly break. As I lie here, a question about Sweden pops into my head. Something I’ve never thought of before.

Where does the English name ‘Sweden’ come from?

I should be sleeping, but I decide to google for the answer and I am catapulted into the world of historical research, language theory and ethno-cultural writing. And now I have the explanation and hopefully I can sleep.

Would you like to know? Here’s what I found:

The English name for Sweden was loaned from Dutch in the 17th century to refer to Sweden as an emerging power. Before Sweden’s imperial expansion, Early Modern English used Swedeland.

The Old English name of Sweden was Sweoland or Sweorice, land or realm of the Sweonas – the Germanic tribes of the Sviar. The name of the Sviar itself is derived from a proto-Norse Swihoniz, presumably a self-designation containing the Germanic reflexive ‘swe’ – one’s own, self”.

The modern English name Sweden

was loaned from Dutch. It is based on Zweden, the Dutch name of Sweden, and in origin the dative plural of Zwede. It has been in use in English from about 1600, first recorded in Scottish Swethin, Swadne.

So there you go. Perhaps I can now zleep. Zzzzzzz.

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.

21 sexy Swedish words

There’s one stereotype of Swedes that seems like it will never go away – the stereotype that Swedes are sexually liberated. This impression started after the wave of Swedish films that came out in the 1960’s and which were considered erotic by the rest of the world. Equal gender rights, contraception, abortion rights and a relaxed attitude to nudity have reinforced this stereotype. Perpetuating it further over the decades is the regular supply of seductive and physically attractive Swedes in the media – Britt Ekland, Ulrika Jonsson, Anita Ekberg, Maud Adams, Dolph Lundgren, Victoria Silvstedt, Alexander Skarsgård to name a few.

I don’t know if Swedes are more sexually emancipated than other nations or if they indeed have more sex than anybody else.

One thing is for certain though, they do have lot of words and phrases for the sexual act. So, if they’re not doing it – they’re certainly talking about it!

Here are 21 words and phrases to expand your vocabulary. Any others you can think of?

  1. sex
  2. knulla
  3. göka
  4. ligga
  5. älskog
  6. nyp
  7. skjut
  8. samlag
  9. skaka lakan – ‘shake the sheets’
  10. pippa
  11. nuppa
  12. banka bäver
  13. doppa
  14. sätta på
  15. gömma korven – ‘hide the sausage’
  16. älska
  17. nuppilura
  18. pöka
  19. rajtan-tajtan
  20. fjuppa
  21. gänga

The Death of a Swedish Icon

Lill-Babs-2015

Today, the news of a death reached the Swedish people. The death of an icon. At the age of 80, popular singer Barbro ‘Lill-Babs’ Svensson passed away. Lill-Babs is little known outside of Sweden, but in Sweden she was an icon, a part of the soundtrack of many Swedes’ lives – she was Sweden. To get a grip on her status in the country, think the UK’s Cilla Black, and France’s France Gall – with that combination of untrained vocals and girl next door sex appeal – and you come part of the way.

When I moved to Sweden over 20 years ago, Lill-Babs was possibly one of the first Swedish celebrities that I got to hear of. She was constantly on the tv, on chat shows, in theatres, in concert halls, in the tabloids, in reality programs, in magazine articles and firmly positioned in the national memory. Her modest origins from a small village in rural Sweden contrasted intriguingly with her show-biz lifestyle, her many love affairs and bankruptcies and her glamorous media-trained daughters. She seemed to balance the ability of staying true to your roots with the bravery of a sexually liberated woman surviving decades in a man’s world. In older days, blonde hair, tanned skin, moist lips, bling and leopard print were her signum, along with her distinctive raspy deep voice. She impacted everybody it seems. Even the King of Sweden announced his condolences today saying he will remember her warmth and exuberance.

I had the pleasure of seeing the ‘Lill-Babs Show’ in 2015, when she was 76 years old. She gave annual dinner shows at the Swedish venue called Playa del Sol on Gran Canaria. As I happened to be there on holiday, I went with some friends to watch her perform. I admit I was a little sceptical going in, but I was blown away. There on the stage stood a woman, slightly ravaged by the years, but with a warmth and a humour that is rarely seen. Her energy and professionalism swept us all away and the crowd went wild – well as wild as they could given the average age was about 70. She sang her classics from the previous 6 decades and told cheeky, saucy jokes to the audience. I felt that I wasn’t just seeing a concert but I was having a thoroughly Swedish experience, somehow immersing myself into Swedish popular history and culture. There, on the stage, was not only a singer but a living legend.

April 3, 2018 Lill-Babs died after a short period of illness. She takes with her a piece of Swedish history, an echo of a Sweden long gone. Her legacy is the openness with which she invited the Swedish people into her life – warts and all. I am sure she will not be easily forgotten and that her voice will be echoing loudly through many a Swedish home this evening.

Why Swedes celebrate on the ‘afton’ (eve)

In the UK, we celebrate ‘Days’ such as Christmas Day & Easter Day. But in Sweden, it is always the Eve ( ‘afton’) that is the big celebration time. There’s påskafton, Valborgsmässoafton, Midsommarafton, pingstafton, nyårsafton, trettondagsafton. Why is this? Surely it can’t just be to get an extra day’s holiday?

Well, actually it originates from a time before the mechanical clock. In that period, a new day began at sunset rather than at midnight as it does now. In the Medieval times there was an expression – ‘vid kväll ska dag leva’ – which means something like ‘in the evening, shall the day live.’ Skandinavians held onto this tradition even after clocks were invented, and this is why they celebrated their important days the evening before. Now the evenings have, for practicalities sake, become day time activities. That’s why Swedes celebrate on the ‘Afton’. Oh yeah, and for the extra day’s holiday.

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?

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!

 

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