6 reasons why Swedes take Eurovision so seriously

We are in the middle of the Eurovision qualification rounds (known colloquially as ‘Mello’) in Sweden – three weeks in, three weeks to go. This extended selection period occupies every Saturday night for 6 weeks, and results in the song and artist who will represent the country in the big final in Israel.

People gather up and down the country to have ‘Mello’ parties. Social media and traditional media are full of comments about the bad quality of the contestants this year (and every year). People are raging that the wrong songs are voted to move on in the league table.

Nobody, and I mean nobody takes their Eurovision (ESC) more seriously than the Swedes.

But why is that? Here are a few theories:

Brightening up the winter blues. Mello comes during the deepest, darkest, dreariest time of the year. The glittery colourfulness of Mello brightens up February and early March, when nothing much else happens.

Reliving the glory days. ABBA’s legacy is a constant reminder to Swedes that they once reached long-lasting global fame and it all started at ESC. Every year is a hunt for the next big thing, when the international light will shine once more on this little country in the north.

Organized ‘religion‘. Sweden is, relatively speaking, not a religious country. So the human need for organising ourselves into a collective manifests itself in other ways. Hockey and football become a form of organized religion. And ‘Mello’ is another variation on the same theme. Ask Swedes why they like Mello and many use the word ‘folk fest’ – a ‘national party for the people.’

Swedish traditions. Sweden is a country that is good at holding on to traditions – crayfish parties, snaps songs, semla cream buns, Easter trees – to name just a few. Therefore it is easy for this society to absorb, and structure, new traditions. Halloween is now a thing here. So is Valentine’s Day. So Mello becomes another tradition and slots nicely into the national calendar.

Vicarious extrovertism. Swedes are not generally known for being outgoing and extroverted, although there are of course exceptions. This means that Mello becomes so attractive, as it’s an opportunity for Swedes to live vicariously through the ‘crazy’ performers who dance around in sequins and funny outfits. It’s also an opportunity to push your own boundaries and wear a glittery hat or a pink feather boa. And all under organised, acceptable conditions.

Love of music. Because some Swedes actually like the music.

Which theory is most accurate do you think? Do you have another theory?

Yum Yum Sweden!

Working with many non-Swedes, I often hear the complaint that Swedish food is bland, boring and tasteless. But the truth is that Sweden prides itself on its good food and its number of top-notch, often experimental, restaurants.

The Scandinavian kitchen is full of mouthwatering delights such as warm-smoked salmon, creamed dill potatoes and shellfish by the bucket load. No surprise then that there’s a lot of expressions in the Swedish language for food being delish. When we in English might say ‘yum, yum’ or ‘scrummy’, the Swedes also have a plethora of words to use. Here are a few:

  • Smaskens
  • Smaskig
  • Läcker
  • Mumsig
  • Namnam
  • Gött
  • Smarrig
  • Delikat
  • Skitgott
  • Utsökt

So many foreigners might not think that Swedish food is great – but it’s clear that the Swedes do!

Let me know what Swedish food you think is ‘smarrig’!

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The most popular names in Sweden

Oliver was the most popular name for male newborns in the UK last year. And Olivia was the most popular female name. In London, it was Amelia and Mohammed and in Ireland it was Jack and Emily.

So what about Sweden in 2018? Just-released information from Sweden’s office of statistics give us the following answer.

The most popular top 5 names for male newborns were:

  1. William
  2. Liam
  3. Noah
  4. Lucas
  5. Oliver

In fact, there are 44010 males in Sweden with the name William. And 58 females!

And for newborn girls it was:

  1. Alice
  2. Maja
  3. Lilly
  4. Ella
  5. Wilma

Interestingly, there are 38957 females called Alice in Sweden. And 22 men!

The names Ture, Lias and Amir are the fastest climbing names in the list of boys’ names. And for girls, Hailey och Bianca. The names Sebastian, Neo, Simon, Emelie, Ellinor, Idun and Noomi have left the top 20 list.

If you want to see how many people have your name in Sweden, go to svenskanamn.alltforfaldrar.se

Remember to follow me on Instagram! watchingtheswedes

Why Swedes celebrate their names

Today is Svea’s Name’s Day. And October 8th is my Name’s Day. Well, not quite….but almost. It is Nils. And since I’m called Neil, well, I take Nils as my day.

Some of you might be wondering what the hell I’m talking about. What is a ‘Name’s Day’? Well, it’s like this. In Sweden, every day has a name, sometimes two. And if your name happens to be represented in this way in the calender, then you can celebrate your day. Strange? Maybe. Unusual? Not really.

A Name’s Day is actually a tradition in lots of countries such as Bulgaria, Croatia and Ukraine. According to Wiki, the custom originated with the Christian calendar of saints: believers named after a saint would celebrate that saint’s feast day. In Sweden, however, there is no longer any explicit connection to Christianity. It’s been a tradition since the Middle Ages and started because the church wanted the people to celebrate Name’s Days instead of birthdays which they viewed as a pagan tradition.

There are different lists though some names are celebrated on the same day in many countries. In 1901 a comprehensive modernization was made in Sweden to make the list up to date with current names. This also happened in Finland, but not in other countries.

But Name’s Days are not without their controversy. The monopoly on calenders, held by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, expired in 1972 and so did the official name day list. And then all hell broke loose. Competing lists emerged and finally in 1986 a new list with three names on each day was designed to create harmony in the Name’s Day chaos. But people weren’t happy. Seven years later, this list was revised and reduced to two names per day. But Swedes were still dissatisfied with this and the Swedish Academy produced a new two-name list which was finally accepted and brought into use in 2001. Although it does not have the official status of older lists, it is now universally used in Sweden.

One alternative calender, however, is the Diversity Calender which appoints each day with a more diverse selection of names to represent modern-day society.

How this tradition arrived in Sweden is unclear. Maybe it was imported by foreign religious leaders or merchants, or maybe it’s to do with the fact that the Swedish Protestant Church retains some traditions similar to the Catholic. Whatever the origin, it’s a reason to celebrate. And Swedes love to celebrate!

So, come on Svea, today’s your day – January 2nd! Happy Name’s Day to you!!

If you’d like to check out if you’re privileged to have a Name’s Day go to www.dagensnamnsdag.nu

Swedes and their alcohol – a Swedish odyssey?

When visiting Sweden, people are often struck by the system for purchasing alcohol. In bars and restaurants everything goes as expected but if you want to buy a bottle of, for example, wine or whisky then this is done in the state-owned alcohol shops known as Systembolaget. These shops have restricted opening hours closing at 6 or 7pm on weekdays and 2 or 3pm on Saturdays. On Sundays and Public Holidays they are closed.

Sweden’s alcohol monopoly started in the 1800’s and the national company Systembolaget was formed in 1955.

Systembolaget has a retail network of circa 426 stores, around 25 in Stockholm. The company has an interesting mandate from the Swedish state – to help limit the medical and social harm caused by alcohol and thereby improve public health. This explains why access to alcohol is restricted through the number of stores, opening hours and retail rules, and why the corporation is aims not to maximise its profit. In other words, the alcohol monopoly is highly socio-political -its foremost aim is to stop people consuming alcohol, or at least to consume it responsibly.

Although strange for many visitors, it’s a concept that seems to work – Swedes consume on average 9.1 litres of pure alcohol per person annually, less than many other countries.

However, it is at times like Christmas that the restricted opening times become more obvious. This year, the shops are closed for 4 days from yesterday at 3pm. Up and down the country, long queues were reported. I saw this with my own eyes, and had a weird recollection of old pictures from the Second World War or Soviet Russia. People seemed to be in a good mood while they waited, though it meant waiting for almost an hour outside some branches.

I guess it’s the price you pay for lack of forward planning. Anyway, I hope everybody got what they wanted and that they have a boozy, woozy, snoozy Christmas worth queuing for.

Sweden’s most horrifying and thought-provoking monument

On the main square in the western Swedish town of Karlstad, there is a statue. A striking statue. A significant statue. A statue that was once voted the ugliest statue in the country.

The statue represents a strident woman holding a broken sword, with her left foot placed firmly on the decapitated head of a ghoulish soldier. It’s fairly gruesome. And it certainly has impact. But the message might surprise you.

Raised in 1955, the statue is actually a peace monument which commemorates the dissolution of the union between Sweden and Norway in 1905. Previously, the two countries were unified under the same monarch, and their separation could have led to bitter and bloody conflicts but it didn’t. It was carried out peacefully and paved the way for long-term cooperation between the two neighboring nations.

The statue has many nicknames amongst the town’s locals – ‘the old bitch with the wash paddle”, ”horror woman’ and ‘monument of horrors’.

Even if you find the statue unnerving, there’s no denying that it’s inscription is poignant. Using clever Swedish alliteration, the message reads:

Feuds feed folk hatred, peace promotes people’s understanding”

If you’re ever in the area, the monument is worth a look. She is a powerful representation of a significant moment in the history of Sweden and of Scandinavia.

Let the light in – Lucia morning in Sweden

A Chinese proverb says this,

‘It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness’.

Never was this more true than today. Lucia day. At the darkest time of the year, when we all are drained by the black mornings and afternoons in Sweden, Lucia pays us a visit. With candles in her hair and surrounded by her handmaidens and boys in a procession, Lucia shines light into the dark depths of our spirits. And slowly, slowly, the day awakens.

I love Lucia. Long live Lucia!

Lucia traditions are celebrated in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Italy, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Malta, Bosnia, Bavaria, Croatia, Slovakia and St. Lucia, West Indies. But where does she come from and why is she one of the few Saint’s days celebrated in Sweden?

Santa Lucia is believed to have been a Sicilian saint who suffered a martyr’s death in Syracuse, Sicily around AD 310. She was seeking help for her mother’s long-term illness at the shrine of Saint Agnes, in her native Sicily, when an angel appeared to her in a dream beside the shrine. As a result of this, Lucia became a devout Christian and refused to compromise her virginity in marriage. Officials threatened to drag her off to a brothel if she did not renounce her Christian beliefs, but were unable to move her, even with a thousand men and fifty oxen pulling. So they stacked materials for a fire around her instead and set light to it, but she would not stop speaking. One of the soldiers stuck a spear through her throat to stop her, but to no effect. Soon afterwards, the Roman consulate in charge was hauled off to Rome on charges of theft from the state and beheaded. Lucia was able to die only when she was given the Christian sacrement.

The tradition of Santa Lucia is said to have been brough to Sweden via Italian merchants and the idea of lighting up the dark appealed so much that the tradition remained. The current tradition of having a white-dressed woman with candles in her hair appearing on the morning of the Lucia day started in the area around Lake Vänern in the late 18th century and spread slowly to other parts of the country during the 19th century.

The modern tradition of having public processions in the Swedish cities started in 1927 when a newspaper in Stockholm elected an official Lucia for Stockholm that year. The initiative was then followed around the country through the local press. Today most cities in Sweden appoint a Lucia every year. Schools elect a Lucia and her maids among the students. The regional Lucias will visit shopping malls, old people’s homes and churches, singing and handing out gingerbread.

So, it might be cold and dark outside, but inside it’s light. And the light is always stronger than the darkness. Keep your light lit, and you will never feel the darkness.