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!
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.
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)
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.
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.