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. 

10 Swedish ways to describe this summer 

  
So far, this is one of the rainiest and coldest Swedish summers on record. Scanning Facebook and other media, I’ve come up with the top 10 Swedish ways to describe this usually happy season: 

1) Pissväder ( pissy weather)

2) Sommar-ångest (Summer anxiety)

3) Höstlikt (similar to autumn)

4) Sommar?? (Is this really summer??)

5) Trött på detta (sick of this)

6) Äntligen sol! (Finally – sun!)

7) Vafaan!? (What the hell!?)

8) Regn, regn, regn (rain, rain, rain)

9) Sjuktkallt (extremely cold)

10) Semesterbubbel (holiday bubbly)

The Short Swedish Summer

  
In Sweden there’s a series of classic songs that are strongly related to the summer. One of these songs, I have always hated. It’s by an aging pop star called Thomas Ledin. I fear his summer song may be coming true this year. 

This year, we’ve had the rainiest May and June in human memory. We had a heat wave of 5 days at the beginning of July. And today? It’s 14 degrees and raining again. So much for summer. Maybe that was it last week, flashing by in the blink of an eye. 

So what is Thomas Ledin’s song? In Swedish it goes ‘sommaren är kort, det mesta regnar bort’ which translates as ‘summer is short, most of it just rains away.’

Art meets life in an annoying, but this year truthful, summer melody. 

Swedish weather gods

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At the moment, I’m hearing a lot of moaning about the weather. It is raining a lot and unusually cold for the time of year.

Or is it?

I remember the first year I moved to Sweden and I was returning to the UK on May 13th to visit family. At Arlanda Stockholm Airport our flight was delayed – because it was snowing!! Snowing on May 13th! When I arrived in London, it was over 20 degrees and people were walking around in shorts.

I also remember another year – on Midsummer’s Eve – in June that we sat outside and it was so cold our breaths were steaming. It was the same temperature on Midsummer’s Eve as it had been on New Year’s Eve.

And I remember another May morning a few years ago when I was late for a meeting beacuse I had to unexpectedly scrape the ice of my car.

So is it so unusual that it’s this cold at this time of the year? Unfortunately not. Up here in the Nordic region, this is what we can expect from our weather gods.

The only thing that can make it change is global warming – not selective memory, collective denial or wishful thinking.