Spectacular Swedish serenity on All Saints’ Day

I remember walking around Stockholm when I had recently moved here. It was a pitch black Saturday evening in November, cold and crisp. As I approached a majestic church, I noticed that it was shimmering from the grave yard. This yellow and white light slowly flickered and cast shadows on the gravestones and the church wall. As if drawn by a magic spell, I walked up to the church and looked over the wall. The sight that met my eyes was spectacular and serene at the same time. Hundreds of candles were spread around the cemetery, decorating each of the graves. In the memory grove a bright blazing blanket of candles lit up the area. It was as if the spirits of the dead had come out to play.

In Sweden, the first Saturday in November is All Saints’ Day (the Sunday after All Saints’ Day is called All Souls’ Day to separate between the saints and the dead).

Since the 1800’s Swedes have, during this weekend, made pilgrimage to graveyards up and down the country to decorate the graves with candle light and to pay respect to the dead. It is a much more elegant and atmospheric tradition than the typical Halloween parties that otherwise have become very popular in Sweden.

It is a truly beautiful experience to walk through the churchyards this weekend. In the pitch black November Nordic darkness, it is a peaceful reminder of those who have gone before us. So head for your nearest cemetery this weekend and, if you happen to be in Stockholm, go to the Forest graveyard (Skogskyrkogården) for a specifically spectacular experience (pictured below).

Swedish expressions – take it piano

If a Swede says to you ‘ta det piano’ – take it piano – what they mean is take it easy, go slow often to avoid any mistakes. They can also say ‘it’s piano’ which means everything is cool, calm, ok.

Researching the origin of this expression led me, not surprisingly, to the world of music.

The word ‘piano’ has two meanings – firstly the string instrument with its variety of keys.

Secondly, it is a musical term for ‘weak’ or ‘soft’. In sheet music, the letter ‘p’ indicates piano and tells the musician to play their instrument softly. Double ‘pp’ means pianissimo and indicates to play very softly.

The term ‘piano’ originates in Italian and has been in use in Sweden since the 1600’s.

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!

Your helpful guide to surviving Midsummer in Sweden

With Midsummer rapidly approaching, 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

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 #4 Death by Ice

I am continuing my look into Swedish death and have come to Part 4 – Death by Ice.

Although it’s hard to imagine when the sun is shining, and we are baking in summer temperatures, Sweden is often covered in snow and ice. This slippery, freezing covering often leads to many a treacherous way to come to a sticky end.

1. Ice bombs. Walking the streets of any town in Sweden is often a dangerous pastime. The snow and ice that forms on the roofs loosens as the weather improves or the ice gets too heavy. This leads to an avalanche of snow which plummets to the street beneath. For any unfortunate walking along the street this can mean a rendezvous with death. As the snow and the ice rushes down, it hits the walker on the head. In best case, a concussion. In worst case, a permanent surprise.

2. Ice rafts. As the frozen lakes of Sweden break up, they form sheets of ice floating on the surface. These rafts of ice occur suddenly leaving any unsuspecting person or animal trapped afloat. In best case, you are rescued. In worse case, you drown in the frozen waters.

3. Skating. A safe sport when contained to a rink, the danger increases when Swedes take their skates out onto open sea. The notion of skating close to the edge where the ice becomes water is the main thrill. But if you’ve eaten one too many cinnamon buns the ice may break beneath you, and you plunge, in worse case, to a watery grave.

4. Pavement runs. Did you know that pavements kill? Well they do in Sweden. Black ice, shifting temperatures and substandard street-cleaning combine to turn the pavements into to bobsleigh runs. Many a broken bone occurs on the lethal streets of Swedish cities. And in worse case, broken necks.

So there you have it – four very Swedish icy ways to perish.

15 Swedish words for getting married

With the UK, and probably the USA, in a Royal wedding frenzy at the moment, it made me think about Swedish words for getting married. In English, we have for example ‘tie the knot’, ‘take the leap’ and ‘get hitched’, so I did some research. And I found the following formal, and less formal expressions for getting wed.

  1. gifta sig – to get married
  2. ingå äktenskap – to enter into marriage
  3. äkta – to wed
  4. ingå giftermål – to enter into marriage
  5. Gå träda i brudstol – ‘step onto the bridal chair’ (tradition from the 1600’s)
  6. Ingå förmälning – enter into marriage
  7. Gå brud – ‘go bride’
  8. Vigas – get married
  9. Föra till altaret – lead to the alter
  10. Knyta hymens band – tie the wedding band
  11. Bygga hjonelag – ‘build a marriage’
  12. Slå sina påsar ihop – ‘join your bags’
  13. Förena sina öden – unite your destinies
  14. Gänga sig – get married
  15. Stadga sig – settle down

Interestingly, the most used word for married in Swedish is the same as the word for poison – ‘gift’!