Clocks forward in Sweden

Tonight the clocks go forward in many countries, Sweden included. In English, we say ‘spring forward, fall back.’ It’s a handy way of remembering that the clocks go forward one hour in spring, and back one hour again in autumn.

This pun doesn’t work in Swedish though. Instead they use a metaphor of a barbecue, or garden furniture. In the spring you ‘ställa fram grillen’ (literally put forward the barbecue, also meaning put out the barbecue.) And in the autumn you ‘ställa tillbaka grillen’ (put the grill back, meaning put it away.)

Confusing Swedish time

One of the differences in languages in the way people tell time. There are a few differences between Swedish and English that can be confusing.

The biggest difference is how Swedes say half past the hour. They actually say ‘half to’, so they refer to the hour that’s coming and not the one that’s gone. So, half past five (5.30) in English is called ‘half six’ in Swedish. You can imagine the confusion. This is probably why Swedes usually apply the 24 hour clock in writing – ie 17.30.

As an extension of the ‘half to’ concept, the time between 5.31 and 5.44 is also interesting. In Swedish 5.35, for example, is explained as ‘five past half six’. Once the clock hits 5.45, it becomes a recognizable ‘quarter to’.

Another interesting concept in Swedish time is that she is female. What is the time is ‘hur mycket är klockan?’ (How much is the clock?) but it can also be ‘hur mycket är hon?’ (How much is she?). The answer is ‘hon är klockan tre’ (she is three o’clock).

Finally, Swedes write dates in the year-month-day format, which can also be confusing at times. Today’s date, for example, is 21-03-12.

Swedes! Where’s your barbecue?!


This weekend in Sweden, the clocks went forward one hour to Summer Time. Despite the occasional complainer who moans about losing an hour’s sleep, this is usually received very positively in the country. Suddenly,  the light at 6pm becomes the light at 7pm. People are happier, daylight is longer, people venture outside to enjoy the burgeoning spring.

So why do we do this? There are clear benefits, but where does it come from? The practice was first initiated during World War I to give more light for agriculture and other important societal functions. However it was abandoned shortly afterwards, only to come back during World War II.

It was never very popular and by the 1950’s it had again been cancelled. However come the 1960’s, it was reintroduced in many countries due to the energy crisis – the lighter evenings required less electricity.  In 1981, the EU legislated Summer Time in Europe requiring member states to decide particular start and end dates for Summer Time which varies in the different countries.

In Sweden, Summer Time was originally introduced on 15 May 1916 but then took it away. In 1980, Summer Time has been observed every summer in Sweden starting on the last Sunday in March and ending on the last Sunday in October.

In Europe, there are 4 countries that do not switch to and from summer time. They are Belarus, Russia, Iceland and, since 2016, Turkey.

Around the world, there are various countries observing the switch. In USA, they refer to this as ‘Daylight saving time’ but it is not used in all states. In the picture above, blue and orange represent the countries that switch to and from summer time (nothern hemisphere summer and southern hemisphere summer). Dark grey have never used daylight saving time and light grey have formally used daylight saving time.

Remembering when to turn the clocks back and forward is sometimes a challenge to remember. In English, the saying ‘Spring forward, Fall back’ was developed to help jog people’s memories. Even the expression ‘March forward’ is used as a reminder.

So what do they say in Swedish? Well, they refer to the popular summer activity of barbecuing. Many Swedes who live in houses, or have a summer house, own a barbecue. In the summer they use it, and in the winter it is safely kept in storage.

So the Summer Time saying?

‘In spring we put forward (English: out) the barbecue, in the autumn we put back the barbecue’.