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.

Historical day in Stockholm – the Golden Bridge

In the center of Stockholm, a large building project is starting to take shape. The Slussen Project started 5 years ago and is an enormous feat of engineering that aims to replace a current structure connecting the southern island of Södermalm to the Old Town. The current concrete structure has been in place since the 1930’s and is literally crumbling. The entire structure needs to be demolished and constructed from scratch.

Ever since 1642, there has been a lock between Södermalm and the Old Town in Stockholm. It has been rebuilt four times. This is the fifth, and it is not without controversy.

Today, an important milestone in the project was reached. An enormous new bridge, known colloquially as the Golden Bridge (although it is in fact ockra), was inaugurated by the Swedish King. The bridge connects the two parts of the city, but divides the residents of Stockholm. Some think it’s very effective and attractive, others think it is a monstrous metal clump.

It really doesn’t matter what people think, the Golden Bridge (correct name Slussbron) is now in place and opens tomorrow at 5am for traffic. Then, the demolishing of the rest of the old structure will begin. The whole project is due to be completed in 2025, assuming no delays.

In the meantime, Stockholmers can walk, cycle and drive over the Golden Bridge knowing they are an integral part of the city’s urban history.

Swedish must reads 1 – ‘Let the Right One In’

Autumn has us firmly in its clutches. Today, the clocks go back and darkness envelops us. what better then, than snuggling under a blanket with a good book? Sweden’s literary scene is highly productive, from non-fiction to novels, detective stories to literary masterpieces. For the coming ten blogs, I will give you one recommendation of a Swedish book, translated into English, that is well worth a read. Out first – in honour of approaching Halloween – is Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist 2004.

In the dark winter of 1981 in the grey Stockholm suburb of Blackeberg, twelve year-old Oskar is being bullied. He develops a friendship with a young neighbour, Eli, who helps him fight back against his tormentors. But all is not what it seems because Eli is a vampire. As mysterious murders spread fear and confusion in the community, Oskar starts to suspect his neighbour’s dark secret.

The book was made into a film in 2008, which is also well worth a watch.

Swedish expression with no English equivalent?

Talking to friends last night the expression ‘en katt bland hermelinerna’ arose. This literally translates as ‘a cat among the ermines’, an ermine being a type of stoat or weasel.

The phrase originated in a couplet by Swedish performer Karl Gerhard in 1955. Karl Gerhard is one of Sweden’s historical entertainers who wrote songs and couplets as well as a large number of sketches, dialogues and monologues. During the Second World War, he wrote humorous pieces with strong anti-fascist statements criticising the Swedish government’s apathy towards Nazi Germany.

So, he coined the comical expression ‘en katt bland hermelinerna’. It’s not the same as our ‘cat amongst the pigeons’ which means somebody is causing chaos and panic. The expression refers to a person who has insinuated themselves into an environment where they do not belong, because they are not from the same social class. In other words, someone who isn’t fancy enough for the rest of the people in their company.

As far as I am aware, there is no expression for this in English. But I hope I’m wrong. Can any of you readers help me out here? Do you know of an English equivalent?

Swedish expression – ‘Cool as a bowl of fermented milk’

In English, we have the expression ‘cool as a cucumber’. It was first recorded in a poem by John Gay in 1732. The Swedish version of this is ‘cool/calm as a bowl of fermented milk’, or ‘lugn som en filbunke’ in Swedish.

What, you might be asking, is a filbunke? Well, according to the dictionary it is ‘milk that has fermented, unstirred, in small bowls. Has a pudding-like consistency. Traditionally made in small bowls from (unpasteurized and unhomogenized) raw milk, which normally contains some cream. The cream forms a yellowish layer of sour cream on top. Comes unflavoured and flavoured.’

We don’t have an equivalent dish in English as far as I know.

Although the dish has been around since the 1600’s, the expression ‘cool as a filbunke’ entered the Swedish language in 1845. Playwright Johan Jolin wrote in his play ‘A Comedy’ – ‘I’m cool, cool as a filbunke’. It was met with much hilarity. I guess he thought there was something chilled out about a bowl of fermented milk.

Digital Stockholm Pride

Today is typically the day that the LGBT Pride parade takes place in Stockholm. Up to 500,000 fill the streets making it the largest event in Scandinavia. However, this year it has been cancelled due to the pandemic. Instead it is being carried out digitally, with an opening speech by Crown Princess Victoria. If you are interested, you can view the live stream here: http://www.stockholmpride.org

It runs 12.00-14.00.

The whole concept of LGBT Pride has taken strong root in Sweden. LGBT Pride resonates well with the societal Swedish values of equality, tolerance and acceptance.

Sweden’s history of LGBT rights is a comparatively progressive story. Changes didn’t happen automatically however. Thanks to the hard work of campaigners, lobbyists, and politicians, society can enjoy one of the most egalitarian legislations in the world.

According to wiki: ‘ Same-sex sexual activity was legalized in 1944 and the age of consent was equalized in 1972. Homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness in 1979. Sweden also became the first country in the world to allow transgender persons to change their legal gender post-surgery in 1972 whilst transvestism was declassified as an illness. Transgenderism was declassified as a mental illness in 2008 and legislation allowing gender change legally without hormone replacement therapy and sex reassignment surgery was passed in 2013.

After allowing same-sex couples to register for partnership in 1995, Sweden became the seventh country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage countrywide in 2009. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression has been banned since 1987. Also, since 2003, gay and lesbian couples can adopt children, and lesbian couples have had equal access to IVF and assisted insemination since 2005.

Sweden has been recognized as one of the most socially liberal countries in Europe and in the world, with recent polls indicating that a large majority of Swedes support LGBT rights and same-sex marriage.’

So, enjoy Pride today!

Sweden’s 7th city at the meeting of 7 roads

Sweden is rich with history and historical places. One such place is the city of Örebro. This city is built on the Black River that flows into the Lake Hjälmaren, in the southern third of this long, narrow country. From Stockholm, it takes about 2 hours in a car.

Örebro became an official town in the 1200’s but a settlement pre-dates this by a few hundred years. The name Örebro means ’bridge over a gravel bank’. ’Öre’ is a deviation of ‘eyrr’ which is a old Norse word for gravel bank. At this point, the Black river was shallow and it made sense to build a bridge, so that passers-by didn’t have to wade through the water to cross it.

The position of Örebro in time became very strategic and was a junction between 7 different ancient roadways. These roadways are still preserved today. Because of the usefulness of this geographic position, King Magnus Eriksson built a fortress in 1350 in an attempt to defend the site. Over time, this site has been involved in a great many conflicts and wars. In 1573, the fortress was then transformed into a magnificent Renaissance castle, similar to the one that we see today. The Castle of Örebro is one of the city’s most famous and recognisable landmarks and it certainly is a proud building towering up in the middle of the city. For more information about the castle, go to http://www.orebroslott.se

Today, the Örebro area has about 160,000 residents, making it Sweden’s 7th largest city.

If you, like me, are on a road trip in this area of the country, it is well worth a stop over.

Fun with flags – Sweden

Anyone who’s watched ‘Big Bang Theory’ has seen character Sheldon Cooper’s banal video series ‘Fun with Flags’. Nerdy it might be, but it inspired me to do a Swedish version. So here goes…

The Swedish flag is a well-known yellow cross on a blue background. It is modelled on the Danish flag – the Dannebrogen – which is thought to be the oldest official flag in the world. The cross represents Christianity and forms the basis of all the Nordic flags. The Swedish flag was initiated in the early 1500’s and the yellow is said to represent gold and blue represent the sea. Sweden depicted itself as a wealthy sea-faring realm.

Within Sweden, there are 25 counties and each county has its official flag, some even have an unofficial but well-used flag. An example of this is the southern-most county of Skåne. The unofficial flag is the most commonly used. It depicts a yellow cross on a red background, a combination of Sweden and Denmark. The official flag has actually a red background and a coronated griffin.

Sweden’s islands of Gotland and Öland have their own flags. Gotland’s flag depicts a sheep and Öland’s flag depicts a deer. Öland also has a flag that is a yellow cross on a green background.

There are so many flags in Sweden. Counties, regions, cities, towns all have their own flag, it’s impossible to describe them all. So, as my final flag, I will reference one of my favourites. The Sami population of Arctic Sweden have their own flag. Firmly embedded in Sami mythology it is colourful and beautiful.

If you are interested in reading more about all the Swedish flags that exist, go to https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_flags_of_Sweden for more information.

The Swedish sweet tooth

Many Swedes have a sweet tooth and the average Swede consumes around 40kg of sugar per year. This is, however, far less than the average American who consumes around 70kg per year. In the UK, the figure is surprisingly lower at 32kg.

The Swedish sweet tooth is reflected in the supermarket shelves stacked with candy and cakes and the freezers bulging with ice cream. A very popular type of sweet in Sweden is something called ‘lösgodis’. These are individual unwrapped sweets that you can pick and mix with a small shovel into a paper bag.

The popularity of these types of pick and mix sweets is huge. In 2019, Swedes purchased candy from the leading brand Cloetta, for 1.6 billion crowns in the months of April-May alone.

However, corona has had its impact, as in most areas of life. The idea of eating exposed, individual, potentially-fingered and spat on candy has reduced in popularity. In the month of April this year, consumption dropped by 70%. In June, the drop was 40% compared to the year before.

So does this mean Swedes have stopped eating sweet stuff? Probably not. Individually-wrapped candy has increased in consumption, after an initial drop. Ice cream remains very popular. In fact, Sweden is the country in Europe that eats the most ice cream after Finland. In a normal year, Swedes consume 12 litres of ice cream per person. And baked goods also remain popular. During the early days of the pandemic, sweet yeast was totally sold out everywhere, suggesting that Swedes were at home hungrily baking cinnamon buns and other sweet delights.

So it seems that the Swedes are still getting their sugar fix even if the ‘lösgodis’ counter remains intact for a while longer.

A question to my Swedish readers. What is your favourite ‘lösgodis’? I have to admit mine is the fudge cube.