I’m looking out of my window into the blackness of the Swedish afternoon. It’s not even 4pm yet, and the weak rays of light that illuminated the day have long gone. It’s like somebody literally turned off the light on their way out.
This is November in Sweden – one of the darkest times of the year in Sweden. The night blanket roles in over the country mid afternoon and keeps its grip until mid morning the next day. Far up in the north of Sweden, the sun barely peeks over the horizon.
It can be a challenging time for those of us who live here – this period before the snow and the Christmas decorations light up the streets and windows.
Since language develops to describe our environments, it makes sense that in Swedish there are many words to describe the darkness. Native Swedes can instinctively feel the difference between these words, but those of us who have Swedish as a second language have to resort to a dictionary to understand the nuances.
The word ‘svart’ is ‘black’ in Swedish. And there are several types of black – there’s ‘becksvart’ (pitch black), ‘korpsvart’ and ‘ramsvart’ (raven black) and there’s ‘kolsvart’ (coal black). I’m sure there are more, please let me know if you have any others.
But there are also lots of other words that describe the darkness. I’ve tried my best to translate some of these below.
- Skymning – nightfall
- Dunkel – dim
- Skumrask – half dark
- Sollös – without sun
- Töcknig – misty darkness
- Molndiger – cloudy darkness
- Ljusfattig – poor light
- Dyster – gloomy darkness
- Grådaskig – dingy
With all these words in their vocabulary, some people complain about the darkness. And who can really blame them? It is a tough period to get through. The darkness can go a long way towards explaining the stereotypical Swedish melancholy.
So how to survive it? Maybe it’s about shifting perspective?
In the words of the well-used, and highly consoling Swedish expression:
‘Det är bättre att tända ett ljus än att förbanna mörkret.’
It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness!
Did you know that Sweden has a very large number of choirs? Singing in a choir is in fact one of Swedish people’s favorite pursuits. That means that there are lots of choirs to meet various needs and interests: gospel choirs, political choirs, church choirs, integration choirs, indie choirs.
So, it’s not surprising then that the first gay choir to be established in Europe came out in Stockholm. 35 years ago to be exact, just a short time before London’s Gay Men’s chorus was founded.
As a conclusion of their 35 years’ celebrations, Stockholm’s Gay Choir is holding two Christmas concerts on Sunday 17th December at Playhouse Theater in Stockholm. Tickets can be bought via this link biljettkiosken.se/itschristmas or in the foyer an hour before the concert. Or find the choir on Facebook or their website.
Buy a ticket, support a good cause and contribute to Sweden’s diversity. And get a bit of Christmas gaiety at the same time! See you there!
For a while now the non-binary pronoun ‘hen’ has been used in the Swedish language. ‘Hen’ is used to refer to somebody who does not relate or feel represented by the established pronouns for he (han) and she (hon). Initially met with ridicule by some people in Sweden, the ‘hen’ pronoun is slowly starting to gain in usage amongst Swedes and in ordinary vernacular.
I have long assumed that non-binary pronouns do not exist in English apart from the neutralizing use of ‘they’. Imagine my surprise when I read an article today in the Huffington Post which proved me wrong. The article talked about the queering of language. The guide to English non-binary pronouns are presented in the table.
It’ll certainly take some getting used to to add new pronouns into the vocabulary. However, language is one of our greatest tools for celebrating diversity and increasing inclusiveness.
For that alone, I think it’s worth the effort.
It can hardly have escaped anyone’s attention that Swedish actress Alicia Wikander is currently the sweetheart of Hollywood. Receiving an Oscar, marrying film star Michael Fassbender, coupled with fantastic acting ability, grace and poise, has positioned her firmly as the actress of her generation.
As I read about Alicia, I became curious about other Swedish actresses who have conquered Hollywood. To my surprise, she is the latest in a list of Swedish actresses stretching back 100 years. I found that there was at least one Swedish actress who broke through per decade (with questionable exception of the 90’s) and who made the Transatlantic step from Nordic success to international recognition and fame.
Here’s the list,
- 2010s – Alicia Wikander
- 2000s – Noomi Rapace
- 1990s – Urma Thurman (pushing it I know – she has roots in Trelleborg)
- 1980’s – Lena Olin
- 1970’s – Maud Adams
- 1960’s – Ann Margret
- 1950s – Anita Ekberg
- 1940’s – Ingrid Bergman
- 1930’s/20’s – Greta Garbo (dominated the 20’s and 30’s)
- 1920’s – Sigrid Holmquist
- 1910’s – Anna Q Nilsson
Other internationally-famous Swedish actresses, past and present
- Rebecca Ferguson (2010’s)
- Sofia Helin (2010’s)
- Malin Åkerman (2000’s)
- Britt Ekland (1960’s)
- Viveca Lindfors (1950’s)
- Zarah Leander (1940’s – Europe, refused to relocate to USA)
Maybe you have a favourite that I have missed out? If so, who?
One way of understanding the present and future challenges a society is facing is to look at their demographic and an interesting method of presenting this information is in the form of a population pyramid.
According to ‘The World Factbook’ which is information gathered by America’s CIA, the population pyramid, related to age, for Sweden looks as above.
In a socialised society like Sweden, this picture can tell us several things:
- Women in Sweden seem to live longer than men.
- There are more men than women in their 20’s in Sweden. So if you are attracted to men, Sweden could be a great place to visit!
- For the last 10 years there has been an increase in births in Sweden. This is good as these citizens are future workers whose tax contributions will support the pressured welfare state!
- A potential problem may arise for Sweden in 10-15 years when the largest population group (currently 50-54) will retire and start taking out their pensions. A smaller group of workers will be left to support the growing number of pensioners. This suggests birth rates and immigration need to increase!
Any other conclusions you can draw from this information?
Please share below…
Dipping into a book about Swedish culture, the opening paragraph starts this way…
‘In the world at large, especially in the English-speaking world, the Swedes seem to be universally popular. Their clean-cut profile as honest, caring, well-informed, efficient plodders who produce quality goods delivered on time sits well with their frequently well-groomed appearance, good sense of dress and (forgive the stereotyping) blond hair and blue eyes. Their English, grammatically proficient, is clean and crisp, like that of Scots who went to Oxford. They have impeccable manners and say all the right things – for the first 15 minutes. It is somewhat surprising, therefore, to discover that they are unpopular inside the Nordic area. The fact that none of the Swedes’ neighbors – Denmark, Norway, Finland – have any undue reputation for aggressiveness makes their antipathy all the more unexpected. What is wrong with the Swedes?
This is a question which the Swedes themselves have been trying to answer over the last few decades.”
So I am handing the question over to you, my dear readers.
Now’s your chance! What is wrong with the Swedes?
Please post your answers in the comments below, or on my Facebook page. Feel free to also share this blog and spread the question to a wider audience.
Swedes, and non-Swedes, are all welcome to comment! But please keep a respectful tone!
Anyone who’s ever been in one of the 350 + IKEAs in the world, has experienced a tiny slice of Sweden.
In the stores, one thing that reflects Swedish and Scandinavian culture is the name of the thousands of products.
What many people don’t know is that there are strict rules for the naming of the merchandise. Fascinatingly, these rules were devised by IKEA’s founder Ingvar Kamprad because he struggled with dyslexia and had trouble remembering the order of numbers in item codes of the inventory.
So what’s the secret? Here are the guidelines:
- Bathroom articles = Names of Swedish lakes and bodies of water
- Bed textiles = Flowers and plants
- Beds, wardrobes, hall furniture = Norwegian place names
- Bookcases = Professions, Scandinavian boy’s names
- Bowls, vases, candle and candle holders = Swedish place names, adjectives, spices, herbs, fruits and berries
- Boxes, wall decoration, pictures and frames, clocks = Swedish slang expressions, Swedish place names
- Children’s products = Mammals, birds, adjectives
- Desks, chairs and swivel chairs = Scandinavian boy’s names
- Fabrics, curtains = Scandinavian girl’s names
- Garden furniture = Scandinavian islands
- Kitchen accessories = Fish, mushrooms and adjectives
- Lighting = Units of measurement, seasons, months, days, shipping and nautical terms, Swedish place names
- Rugs = Danish place names
- Sofas, armchairs, chairs and dining tables = Swedish place names
There are some exceptions to these rules where the product’s name is a Swedish verb reflecting the function of the item, eg a spice mill called ‘krossa’ (to crush) or a lamp called ‘böja’ (to bend).
Obviously, IKEA’s branders try to vet any words that are offensive locally. And with a few notable exceptions, they seem to succeed. More about this in a later blog.