Sleepless in Stockholm

We are rapidly approaching Midsummer and the nights are getting lighter and lighter. Here in Stockholm, it is still daylight at 10pm and it starts to get dark towards midnight. For 6 weeks or so, we experience so-called ‘white nights’, where the sun is below the horizon for less than 6 hours. This makes it bloody difficult to motivate yourself to go to bed and, once there, to get to sleep.

Mind you, this is nothing compared to the northern town of Kiruna in Sweden, where from the 27 May to the 16 July the sun never sets and they have months and months of white nights.

Have you ever seen the movie ‘Insomnia’ with Al Pacino? Based on a Norwegian film with the same name, he plays a cop from LA who goes to Alaska to solve a crime. As time goes on, he suffers more and more from insomnia due to the day-round light and starts to lose his grip on reality. This time of year, I start to feel a bit like Al Pacino.

On week days, when you need to get up for work, nights are spent battling with the bright chinks of daylight that pierce the window shades and shine like an aura around the bedroom door. Effective sleep time is reduced to a few hours and, heavy headed in the morning, you climb into the shower like a zombie to try to bring yourself to life.

So how to survive this period of sleeplessness?

There are a few options:

  • Black-out blinds – sold amongst other places for a reasonable price at IKEA
  • Blindfold – stolen amongst other places from airlines
  • Sheet over head – not very comfortable and rather sweaty
  • Brick up the windows – probably not approved by the local council, or the residents’ board
  • Rain dancing – to try to conjure up dark clouds to block out the daylight
  • Get up and do yoga – no, just kidding
  • Drugs – always an option, but can bring on a whole new set of problems
  • Lavender under the pillow – supposed to relax you, just makes me sneeze and the bedroom smell
  • Take your bedding to the windowless bathroom and sleep in the bathtub – effective but tragic

Or alternatively, just suck it up and enjoy the white nights as an exotic natural Scandi-phenomenon. Reassure yourself that thankfully you don’t live in Kiruna, or Alaska.

And finally, philosophically remind yourself that this too will pass – and all too soon it will be day-round darkness.

Ice, ice baby: 15 Swedish words for ice

Currently in the depths of winter, the Swedish landscape is covered in snow and ice.

I previously published a blog about 50 Swedish words for snow. So I became curious about how many words are there to describe ice.

I was surprised to find an enormous number of words. I guess it’s not so surprising for a Nordic country with so many lakes, rivers and waterways that there are many words to describe the different stages and shapes of frozen water.

Here are 15 of the words I found: 15 words for ice.

  1. Is – the standard word for ice
  2. Blankis – ice that shines like a mirror
  3. Nyis – ice that’s only a couple of centimeters thick and transparent
  4. Fast is – thick ice, often not transparent
  5. Issörja – when the air is cold but the water is moving, a kind of ice slop forms
  6. Tallrikis – plates of ice that form when above mentioned ice slop clusters together
  7. Pannkaksis- similar to tallriksis but formed when water with different amount of salt content meet each other
  8. Svallis – the kind of yellowish ice that freezes on mountainsides or rocky walls
  9. Drivis – large pieces of ice that float on the water and are driven by wind
  10. Isflak – a large, loose sheet of ice floating on water
  11. Rutten is – literally ‘rotten ice’, the first stage of thawing ice
  12. Skruvis – when thin ice layers itself on top of each other, like filo pastry.
  13. Istapp – icicle
  14. Svartis – black ice on the ground
  15. Glattis – an evenly compact layer of ice on the ground

What other words for ice do you know?

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A young Swedish hero who puts us to shame

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade, the imminent threat of climate change can not have escaped you. Many people the world over are concerned, if not terrified, about the future of our planet. The word ‘klimatångest‘ has popped up in the Swedish language – climate anxiety – to reflect the growing stress people are feeling as the weather changes and the earth burns.

In contexts of concern, unlikely heroes often rise up, and many of them are women. Women who sit in the white section of the bus, women who attack neo nazis with their handbags, women who protest school shootings in USA, women who bite back against haters and mysogynists on social media. Women who take no shit.

Such a young woman is the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. At 16 years old, she has made headlines for her bravery, her directness and the fact that she calls us out – the older generations who are failing her generation. Currently in the snow topped village of Davos, she is attending the World Economic Forum. She attacked, in a speech, the wealthy who continue to earn money at the expense of the earth’s resources. She criticised them for flying in on private jets instead of travelling the train, as she did, for 30 hours. It was like seeing David defeat Goliath. Listening to her, the powerful audience gave a weak, unconvinced round of applause. It’s clearly uncomfortable to be called out by a 16 year old Swede.

What’s amazing about Greta Thunberg is her conviction and her single-mindedness. She puts it down to her Aspergers diagnosis saying she can focus on what’s important instead of focusing on the ‘social game that seems to be so important for so many people’.

It’s wonderful to watch her, and listen to her as she continues to tear a hole in the establishment with her wit and uncompromising fierceness. And it’s a reminder that we don’t need to look to our elders to find inspiration. It can certainly be found by looking at the generations behind us. Tomorrow’s heroes are there. They want change and they have a sense of urgency.

Greta Thunberg wants us to act as if the house is on fire.

Because, in her words, the house is on fire.

Sweden’s longest night

winter solstice

Today, Friday Dec 21st is the longest night for people in Sweden and the rest of the northern hemisphere. At this time of year, it doesn’t get much darker than this. In Swedish, there’s an expression – now we’re moving towards brighter times – and it’s really relevant today, as from tomorrow the amount of daylight will gradually extend until June.

The winter solstice is the official start of astronomical winter, and this year it will be extra special. The winter solstice marks the exact moment each year when the Northern Hemisphere reaches its greatest possible tilt away from the sun, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It signals the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and the summer season in the Southern Hemisphere.

But this year, the solstice isn’t the only celestial show in the coming days. A full moon known as the Cold Moon will take place on Saturday. The moon will appear full for a few days. However, it is the first time it coincides with the winter solstice since 2010. It won’t occur again until 2094, by which time most of us will be dead. In addition to the full moon, a meteor shower will take place on Friday and Saturday nights, according to NASA.

So it might be dark and dreary outside, but look up to the sky. You might just witness something spectacular – and I don’t mean Santa and his sleigh.

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!

Surviving November in Sweden

mörkt3

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!

What the f***! Was moving to Sweden a mistake?


I clearly remember thinking this to myself on May 13th 1995.  

I was at the airport waiting for a flight to London – my first visit home after moving to Sweden the previous autumn. 
Over the loudspeaker I heard an announcement. My flight was delayed. Due to snow. Yes, snow! Outside the window, snow billowed down on the runway and visibility was limited. In May! ‘What the f***!?’ I recall thinking. ‘Is this what it’s like here? I think I might have made a massive mistake moving here’. Eventually the flight took off and I landed two hours later in the British capital. There, in London, the sun was shining and people were walking around in shorts, t-shirts and shades. This, of course, cemented my concern. 

Now it seems as if history might be repeating itself. Yesterday it snowed in Stockholm. And haled. In May. Ok, not May 13th. But May 9th! Today more snow is forecast. And I am wondering if we’re going to break my 1995 record for the latest snowfall in Stockholm!? (Although the actual record seems to be June 12th in 1982). 

But I have learned something after 20 years in Sweden. If there is one thing we can rely on, it is that the weather does change. Have faith! The claws of winter are soon released and spring will finally and definitively be upon us.