Sweden, all the little things

When living In Sweden one notices an infinity of small things that people do here on a daily basis which are odd for most people around the world, but are perfectly normal in this country. One could write entire books on the topic, but I will do my best to squeeze in as much as I can into this article.

Pedals on fridges

You would not even notice they are there unless someone points it out to you, but once “enlightened”, you can never go back to the old way of opening a fridge. Apparently it is done to ensure the appliance lasts longer as pressing the pedal releases air so that the door’s rubber isolating layer does not get ruined.

Supermarkets

Most Swedes carefully place their shopping on the conveyor belt so that the cashier can scan the items, taking extra care in aligning everything so that the barcode faces the scanner. There are two schools of thought on why they do this: some say it is to make the transaction faster and be able to reduce to minimum the contact they are forced to have with the person serving them; whilst others instead believe that they do this to help the cashier as they are such nice people. I follow the latter school of thought, as Swedish people tend to be kinder rather than introverted and this just underlines how extremely kind they are.

Splashing Out

On the 25th of every month all Swedish students in full-time education get ‘CSN’ that is money from the government around 3000 SEK in the form of a grant and up to 7000 SEK in the form of a student loan. On that day, Swedish students from Malmö to Umeå go absolutely crazy and start spending like there is no tomorrow, so you will find massive lines outside clubs and hordes of booze-craving Swedes raiding System Bolaget (the only place to buy liquor in Sweden).

‘Inappropriate’ Songs

One of the major causes of mortality amongst young people in Sweden is suicide. Many people call on the government to invest more resources in creating a special department within the public health system to address this issue. One would understandably think that this would be a taboo topic in Sweden, instead it is not. On the contrary, there are even some chart topping pop songs with lyrics that talk about dying young. To mention two: ‘Shoreline’ by Broder Daniel and ‘Some Die Young’ by Laleh. These songs are regularly played on Swedish radio and in clubs; what better song could you choose to show off your moves?

Food

Swedish cuisine tends to be rather healthy, but there are some peculiar dishes which one can only find here. One example is meat with jam such as the traditional meatballs served with lingonberry jam. A more recent invention is the ultimate fast-food and all-time favourite pizza in Sweden: the ‘Kebab Pizza’. As odd as it may sound, it is a simple Margherita base (tomato sauce and mozzarella) with a full on kebab on top of it. From personal experience it sounds like a recipe made in hell but it is rather tasty, definitely a top-notch hangover cure. What I cannot culturally accept is pasta with ketchup. They say that Swedish ketchup is better than the one you find elsewhere, but as an Italian I refuse to even consider trying it.

Bastu!

Sauna culture in Sweden is a big part of the folklore, not as big as it is in neighbouring Finland but still something everyone does regularly. People have private saunas for their block of flats, at the gym or there are public ones. Most of them are sex segregated but there are some that are mixed. As a true Swede wearing a swimming costume or underwear is a big No, so one must enjoy the sauna completely naked. One would believe that the stereotypically awkward Swedes would be even more reserved when in their birthday-suit but oddly they are not. On the contrary, many engage in conversations with strangers, even if they are completely sober.

English Accents

It is rare to find a Swede with a truly Swedish accent when speaking English, which in my opinion is a real shame. At least that tends to be the case amongst the younger generations. Most of them pick-up the accent used in their favourite TV series or if they have had the experience of living abroad either on exchange or just working and travelling , they most likely will have the accent of the English-speaking country they have visited. It is amazingly funny when a Swede tries hard to put on a posh British accent, which is considered really cool of course.

No small talk.

Small talk with strangers or even acquaintances such as neighbours is not the done thing in Sweden. Waiting in line in any given situation or going to a café must be done in total silence, unless you are with someone you know. Your Mp3 player and big, antisocial headphones become your best friends.

Personal space, please!

When in Sweden respect standard personal space and double or triple it. When sober, Swedes like to keep distance.

SwEnglish – Swedish ways of communicating whilst speaking English

Some, mostly the older generations, tend to gasp when having a normal conversation. At first one is taken aback by this way of communicating and believe it may be related to something said that particularly shocked or scared the Swede. Most likely that is not the case, it is just a way of showing interest and understanding when someone is talking. To express mild surprise Swedes say ‘jaha’ (a combination of Yes and ‘Aha!’) and this often makes its way into the way they speak English too. To an to a British person ‘aha!’ might sound mildly sarcastic but in Sweden it is not meant that way. It shows interest. In the north of Sweden people say ‘yes’ by breathing-in sharply and briefly; the first few times you experience this it is quite amazing.

Dealing with Stress

If a Swedish person had to choose between dealing with Satan in person or a stressful situation the choice is easy, Satan all the way. Stress is seen as a quintessentially negative thing in Swedish society so when someone says ‘I feel stressed’ it is a big deal here in Sweden. The first contact I experienced with Swedish society was in a London airport boarding my SAS, Stockholm bound flight. It was one of those rare occasions in which it was snowing rather heavily in England and as it is so rare, nobody knows how to deal with it and everything is absolute mayhem. The Situation got so bad that they were planning on shutting the airport and grounding all flights at which point a SAS stewardess made an announcement on the intercom and I quote: ‘Ladies and Gentlemen good morning and welcome on board this SAS flight to Stockholm! We don’t want to stress you, but please take your seats as soon as possible as they are threatening to close the airport and we really want to get back to Sweden’.  She said this with a slight note of panic in her voice; one cannot blame the poor soul for wanting to get back to Sweden as the thought of being stranded in London for an unspecified amount of time with a full-on snow storm is anyone’s idea of a nightmare. The key point is that even with apocalyptic weather (for English standards) the stewardess felt the need to make sure that nobody had to stress whilst hurrying up.

Snus

The drug many people are legally high on in Sweden. It is basically tobacco in a sachet that people put under their lip which releases a nicotine fix up to 10 time stronger than the average cigarette. It also gets to your brain much faster as the sachet releases its ‘magic power’ through the gum straight into the blood stream. It is apparently very bad for your health and it is illegal to sell in every other EU country, but when Sweden joined they asked to be exempt from the ban as part of the conditions for joining the Union. Some people are heavily addicted and get through more than a pack of 20 a day. The fact that Snus is legal, readily available and fairly cheap (average price for a box is around 30 SEK) is something worth looking into. Both Snus and Cigarettes are fairly cheap considering the average wage, whilst alcohol is super taxed and other drugs including ‘recreational ones’ such as Marijuana are banned with punishment for those found in possession very high. Why is this? Well, my theory is that cigarettes and snus are not heavily taxed as a nicotine-fix makes people less stressed and most of all increases their efficiency levels. On the other hand, if somebody gets drunk, the next day they will be hungover and that would have a severe impact on their efficiency, which in Swedish society would be totally unacceptable.

Forget being a gentleman.

If you go on a date and wish to pay for your Swedish partner, even if it is just a cup of coffee and a cinnamon bun, you will be in for a surprise. Women here feel very independent and the idea that a man must pay for them makes them feel ‘inferior’ or ‘in debt’, so they would rather go halves as opposed to getting a free ride. If you offer to help a lady with carrying stuff or executing a physical chore they might get offended; you might hear answers such as: ‘do you think that only because I’m a woman I cannot cope?’. Some might say this jokingly with a smile on their face, others might take serious offence and give you a lecture on feminist propaganda (the latter tend to be a minority referred to by some Swedes as Femi-Nazis).

Donald Duck at Christmas

On the 24th of December at 3pm every year the exact same episode of Donald Duck, dubbed in Swedish, is played on national television and everybody watches it. It is truly an institution and people have compared it to the Queen’s Christmas message which in Britain is broadcast every year at 3pm on the 25th on national television.

 

A tool for everything

Every Swede has an ample set of tools in their house and each has its specific function. Some are unique to Sweden or rarely can be found anywhere else (except possibly IKEA). A Cheese-slicer, how else is one supposed to cut cheese, surely not with a knife? A Spray for dish washing, A shoe-horn and the list continues…

 

Putting Effort but Not Showing it

Taking ages to comb hair to make it look perfect, not only for women but also men, is a normal thing in Sweden. The key is making it seem as if they have made no effort and that it was a natural look. Stockholm guys did not pick-up on this social cue and use tons of hair gel to go for the combed back hair style (some controversially refer to it as ‘brat look’).

 

 

Standard Swedes

Standardisation all the way, people of Sweden tend to conform quite a lot. Here are a few examples: where does everyone buy furniture from? IKEA. Where do people get their music? Spotify. Clothes? H&M. Underwear? Björn Borg. Cars? Volvo. Phone/Laptop? Apple. Bags? Fjällräven. Shoes? Adidas, All Star or Timberland (for winter). Alcohol? System Bolaget / Booze cruise – Viking Line (from Stockholm to either Helsinki, Riga or Tallin).

Tak for idag!

Translated literally ‘thanks for today’ is something I first heard when helping out at the Fika at the end of a shift and it is really nice to hear that from your bosses as it makes you feel appreciated. You then notice that people say it in many other situations too, such as after an outing, when leaving a pub (in which obviously everyone paid for their own drinks) or after a night clubbing.

 

Article originally published in ‘Nya Gamla Phosphorus’ Östgöta nation’s periodical magazine in December 2016.

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From Church to Research

The University of Uppsala is the oldest in the Scandinavian peninsula as it was founded in 1477, even before Columbus discovered America. Few people know the reason why Uppsala was chosen as the ideal location for the first academic centre in this northern part of the old continent. As many things back in the day, it was strongly connected to the presence of the Church and as it was pre-reformation, the church in Sweden was Roman Catholic.

When Christianity first arrived in Sweden back in the 800s it’s first centre was on the island of Birka, approximately 58 kilometres south of Uppsala, on lake Mälaren. It was a strategically important place as a lot of trade at the time passed through there. However, Sweden’s first Archbishopric (the place where the Archbishop, the most ‘important’ Catholic priest of the region, has his headquarters) was instituted in Gamla Uppsala in 1164. Why Gamla Uppsala out of all places? The reason is simple – just as the Catholics have done throughout history when trying to expand the fellowship of their religion, they tried to ‘localise’ it and adapt to the previous cult of the region. In this period  this was connected to the Vikings Norse religion which had its most sacred centre in Gamla Uppsala. This is also where the great men (stormän) of the time (“kings” per se didn’t exist at this time, they were other great men) resided – so both spheres of power, religious and rule of the land were located there.

If you have a chance Gamla, Uppsala is surely worth a visit. Located 5 kilometres north of Uppsala city centre, it is the Mecca of many Swedish school children who learn about the Vikings in the well presented museum and surrounding area. Outside the museum, one can see the mounds, artificial hills, in which previous great men were buried and also the spot where sacrifices to the gods were made; in fact, historians are still debating whether they also conducted human sacrifices on this site.

The choice of Uppsala as the site for the centre of the Catholic religion was obvious and the transition between the Viking culture and Christianity can be observed if one looks at the Viking runes situated in the garden in front of Universithuset (University house) which is located between the Gustavianum museum and Snerikes nation.

The importance of the connection between Church and university can also be observed by looking at the oldest university building in Uppsala, which is currently the site of ‘Gustavianum – Uppsala University Museum’, located in front of the cathedral’s main entrance. When the university was founded, it consisted of four faculties:

  •      Philosophy – taught in academic circles since ancient Greek times, it was the study of the world, a science before Galileo invented the ‘Scientific Method’ which then distinguished philosophy as we know it today from scientific studies.
  •      Law – to educate future lawyers, judges, bureaucrats and rulers of the land.
  •      Theology – to teach aspiring priests the knowledge and skill set they needed to become an active part of the Church.
  •      Medicine – which started being studied at the beginning of civilization but in late medieval times was studied more methodically in many universities.

These are the four categories mentioned in ‘O Gamla Klang’ an old student song that has it’s original version in  German (O Alte Burschenherrlicheit) a Swedish version of it was written by August Lindh, the founder of Uppsala’s ‘secret’ student society ‘Juvenalorden’, in the early 1900s. This song is normally sang at the end of all gasques/ formal dinners and students from the different categories  stand up and sing their part according to what they study and for the last few verses of the song everyone is standing on their chairs and toasting. Once the song is over people must not sit down again as if they do, it is said that they will not graduate. Everyone follows this rule with the exception of Västergöta Nation members who for some reason have a tradition of sitting down again and singing one more song.

When you tell your friends that you study in Uppsala University, mention some of the above facts. You are after all, part of a small group of students who study in an environment full of quirky traditions and student madness that strongly influences the rest of the city surrounding the university.

4 Years of Blogging 

On the 8th of February 2013, barely 1 month into my Erasmus exchange study program, I published my first article in ‘Lost in a Cup’. The title was ‘Sweden at Heathrow‘ and talked about my first contact with Sweden on the tarmac of the busiest airport in the UK.

Since then I wrote other 84 articles and published 40 odd pages through the years although most of my work was written in the first half of 2013 during my exchange.
If you want to read more about the choice of title for this website/blog and its chosen content check out the About page.
If instead you want to find out more about me, the writer, check out the Biography page.
Plans for the future are to keep analysing Swedish society and student life as I’m now once again in Uppsala to study although things have changed a lot since 2013. This time I believe I have more direct contact with Swedish people as opposed to last time in which I hanged out mainly with internationals. Also I am now an ‘ämbetsman’ (officer/elected worker) of 2 student nations here which are at polar opposites in the ideals they have and way they function (lots of interesting material, hurra!).
As always keep comments flying in either publicly or in a private message (check out ‘Get in touch’).
Last but not least give a Like to the Facebook page which if you enjoy this so that you will get the latest publications on your newsfeed: http://www.facebook.com/lostinacup
Stay lost and drink espresso!
Alex
P.S. Are you in Uppsala this evening and want to celebrate with me 4 years of blogging? Plan is to have a few beverages at my place, some tea and a good cup of Italian espresso and then off to the student club ‘Valvet’ at Östgöta Nation. Fun times all around!

Goodbye Fika

When towards the end of May I found out that I had been offered a place on the master course in anthropology at Uppsala I immediately contacted the student nation I was member of during exchange and asked the 3Q (head of personnel) if there were any vacancies.
The idea of the student nation is to offer services for students run by fellow students. Most positions are covered by volunteer workers who dedicate around an average of 10 hours a week to fulfilling their commitments within the organisation.
I was offered the position of ‘Fika host’ for which I had to commit to work 1 full shift a week in the nation’s cafe and help clean the building once a month.
When I was on exchange I had already worked at the Fika as a ‘helper’ or ‘non-responsible worker’ which I really enjoyed. This time instead, I agreed to be the responsible one who kind of ‘runs the show’ during the weekly shift.
The work load isn’t hard, you mainly serve behind the counter, clear plates, wash up, prepare sandwiches and wraps and that is pretty much it.
You do not get a salary for the work you do but you obviously have some benefits such as staff price on all food and drinks at the nation. The main reason I joined was to meet new people, which I did, big time! Everyone within the work force of the organisation knows each other and it is almost like a big extended family.
When I worked shifts I always enjoyed myself, had free food, loads of coffee and would play my cheesy playlist of music (a lot of 1 Direction, Justin Bieber and occasionally Italian pop). Plus every time I worked I would try and drag more people into the work team so that everyone could work less = no stress and plenty of time to chillax (chill and relax).

Everything went fine until I reached a point in which I could not commit for 2 weeks as I had 5 university deadlines concentrated in a short period of time. My idea was to work double as soon as this period was over, with the intention of finding a colleague who would be willing to swap with me.
It’s at this point that the messenger group chat between all the fika hosts and the fika bosses got messy. One of the bosses was taken by an urge to reaffirm his position/authority and reminded me and another colleague (who had the same problem as me for the same period of time) that ‘this is not how things work here’ and that ‘fika is serious business at the nation’.

At this point I flipped.

I pointed out that the fact that it all of a sudden was not acceptable to keep the place shut for not finding enough hosts to cover shifts or that people could not work alone was ‘big news’ as nobody seemed bothered before when I pointed this out.
The reaction from my boss (who I considered to be also a friend) was very defensive and he clearly didn’t appreciate criticism for the fact he hadn’t been as present as he probably should have in the past weeks.
To follow the situation degenerated further with a big component of the team using a healthy dose of passive aggression (for more info on this see related article by clicking here). Others took a more direct route via the messenger group chat and reminded me of my responsibilities (as if I hadn’t adhered to them in the previous 2 months).

Why all this?

Because I was unable to find someone to cover my full shift as I had an exam in those 2 hours and nobody was able to cover for me.
The person reminding me of my responsibilities had ‘sacrificed themself’ in order to cover for me (for 2 hours). The whole thing was very hypocritical as the same individual had a last minute work commitment the previous week and left me to work alone for an entire shift. None of the bosses, nor my colleagues intervened in my defence or to point out that it was unfair to crucify me for 2 hours whilst a week before this individual skipped 7!
Ultimately I was left very upset, stressed and disappointed to a point that I couldn’t focus on my studies and had to work on an assignment in less than 24 hours (which in the end went ok).

For this reason exactly a week ago, after the Monday meeting, I handed in my staff card and officially resigned from my position for this semester. What is the point of doing something if you are feeling stressed or unappreciated?

Hopefully I will find some other position of responsability to cover within the organisation as I really enjoy working there and look forward to trying out something new.

Passive Aggression: a Beginners Guide

A few years back I did a hint of psychology classes in which the teacher/psychologist explained that human beings have 4 main different behavioural types: aggressive, passive, passive aggressive and assertive.

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In an ideal society everyone should be assertive, unfortunately under this aspect, this is one of the rare times you will hear me say that Sweden is not an ideal society. This is the Mecca of passive aggressiveness to a point in which I might be experiencing a mild form of ‘culture shock’. In Italy and southern Europe in general people tend to be very open and if they have an issue with you they will let you know, you might have a confrontation, everything that needs to be said comes out and once that’s done you either work things out or go your separate ways. Everything is clear cut, no misunderstandings, no repressed tension.

In the north of Europe however, things don’t work this way.

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What is the point of being ‘passive aggressive’? That’s a really good question to which I struggle to find an answer. I guess it’s in Swede’s nature to avoid confrontation at all costs so being aggressive isn’t an option yet they don’t want to be completely passive either. So passive-aggressive is the middle ground, perfect solution for the Swedish way of going about life. Another useful aspect of passive-aggression is that when you accuse someone of behaving that way they can deny it, making you look like a paranoid psycho.
In fact, the key to passive aggressiveness is to be subtle. Sometimes it is so subtle that it can be difficult to perceive.

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Most important thing to remember when dealing with passive aggressive people is never to start letting it affect you. If not it becomes a downward spiral in which you start thinking everyone has got it in for you even if they are just in a bad mood for other reasons or maybe they didn’t say hello to you because they genuinely didn’t see you.
I have learnt to be passive-aggressive and I use it sometimes to prove points and make people have a taste of their own medicine. The best way to deal with a passive aggressive is with overwhelming kindness bordering sarcasm; massive (fake) smiles, lots of super duper sweet words (Ned Flanders style), high pitched voice and vaguely camp attitude. You will see them slowly burning inside , guaranteed (although they will never admit to it).

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One day people will realise how pointless being passive aggressive really is and hopefully will find alternative solutions to dealing with disputes.

My Favourite Swedish Songs

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This is a selection of my favourite artists and their songs that I really like. For some like Avicii, Axwell ^ Ingrosso, Zara Larsson and Swedish House Mafia I just put one song but I could put many more (as they are particularly  great in my opinion).

Have a listen, enjoy!

Avicii – You Make Me

Tim Bergling famously known as Avicii is an amazing DJ from Stockholm who produced many dance floor fillers and this single is probably my favourite one, although it was a tough call to pick one song.

Axwell /\ Ingrosso – Sun Is Shining

This duo formed in 2014 after their experiance together in ‘Swedish House Mafia’ with Steve Angelo which disolved in 2013. They produced many hits, this is one of them that came out roughly a year ago but is still popular now.

Daniel Adams-Ray – Gubben i lådan

First song in Swedish I really liked and appreciated back when I was on Erasmus in 2013. I did my best to learn it by heart even if it is 100% in Swedish and I can’t speak the language. I kind of managed thou, which is good! #proud

Familjen – Det snurrar i min skalle

Jakob Karlberg – Fan va bra

LALEH – Bara få va mig själv

Laleh is a Swedish singer and songwriter with Persian origins. She became famous in 2012 with her hit single ‘Some die young’. Many of her songs are in English, this one is her latest big hit and is in Swedish. The title of this song translated literally means ‘just get to be myself’.

Måns Zelmerlöw – Fire In the Rain

Originally from Lund (the other big University city in the south of Sweden). He won a talent show in 2005 and won Eurovision song contest in 2015 (with the single ‘Heroes’). This bellow is a big hit now that they keep playing on Swedish radio.

Norlie & KKV – Din Idiot

Norlie & KKV are a Hip-Hop duo from Stockholm. They have produced quite a few hits since they started in 2008 but they are mainly known in Sweden as their songs are all in Swedish. I broke the rule of 1 song per artist as they are not known outside of this country I thought I would give you a broader flavour of their music.

Norlie & KKV – Du får göra vad du vill med mig

Norlie & KKV – Ingen annan rör mig som du

RMK & Toppen – Oss

Swedish House Mafia – Save the World

Released in 2011 this is probably the band’s most famous hit. They have made many great songs and most of them are extreamly popular in Sweden (understandably) and are still played in clubs.

Veronica Maggio – Jag Kommer

Veronica Maggio is my favourite Swedish singer, born and raised in Uppsala. Her mother is Swedish but her father is Italian and the great thing is that she inserts a few Italian words in most of her songs (including the two I posted here).

Veronica Maggio – Välkommen in

Zara Larsson – Lush Life

Zara is a young Swedish artist (turns 19 in December) from a place just north of Stockholm. In 2010 she won a Swedish talent show and in 2013 she released her first big hit ‘Uncover’ which reached the top of the charts in Scandinavia but made it to the top 40 in many other countries too. She sings mainly in English as many Swedish artists do. People say that Swedes need to make it big in Britain and USA to be truely appreciated in their home country.

Related Articles:

  • Songs about Uppsala!

Songs about Uppsala!

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These are the 2 most popular Swedish songs on Sweden’s 4th biggest city, known also as ‘the city of students’, Uppsala.

 Veronica Maggio – 17 år

Veronica Maggio was born and raised in this beautiful city and in this song she talks about when she was 17 and mentions a few street names and places in the city including the road where I live. At the beginning of the video you can also see my student housing area (the white buildings at 00:14).

Labyrint – Välkommen hem

Another group from Uppsala sing ‘Welcome home’ and talk about their city describing it and naming many of the neighbourhoods and part of the video was filmed on the Flogsta roof-top (Flogsta is the biggest ‘student ghetto’ in the suburbs of the city with tall buildings all inhabited by students).

Related articles:

Swedish Pop: Magdalena’s List

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The other day I attended a gasque (a traditional formal dinner typical of Nation’s life in Uppsala and Lund) at Gothemburg’s Nation and sat next to Magdalena, a really cool Swede who is very passionate about music and at the dinner promised me she would send me a list of classics of Swedish Pop that everyone knows and loves in Sweden.
A few days later she sent me the list, so here it is:

Bert och Heman Hunters – Älskade ängel

 Roger Pontare – Vindarna viskar mitt namn

Mauro Scocco – Sarah

Basshunter – Boten Anna

This song has an English version too which hit the UK charts roughly 10 years ago (the title is’Now You’re Gone’). Who knew he was actually from Halmstad (south-west coast of Sweden).

Glenmark Eriksson Strömstedt – När vi gräver guld i USA

Freestyle – Vill ha dig

Sarek – Genom eld och vatten

Veronica Maggio – Hela huset (ft. Håkan Hellström)

Carola – Främling

Ebba Grön – Staten & Kapitalet

 Broder Daniel – Shoreline

Cornelis Vreeswijk – Somliga går med trasiga skor

 Ted Gärdestad – För kärlekens skull

Lena Philipsson – Det gör ont

E-Type – True Believer

Roxette – Listen to your heart

 Gyllene Tider – Sommartider

Magnus Uggla – Efterfest

Magnus Uggla – Kung för en dag

The Cardigans – My favourite game

Icona Pop – I love it

John Ossi – Whats the point

 Ace of base – All that she wants

Another example of a world famous song that comes from Sweden (although few people know that!).

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Guess Who’s Back?

Ladies and gentlemen after 3 years of absence I’m back in Sweden to live for at least 2 years as I’m doing a Master course in Cultural Anthropology at Uppsala University.

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After all observing people and drawing cultural comparisons is what I’ve done as a hobby in this blog for years so might as well try and get a qualification in it! I returned to Sweden on the 19th of August but didn’t get round to write as life has been quite hectic. Now that the days are getting shorter, colder and greyer I can turn my attention on writing the things that I observed and over analysed.

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Watch this space, lots of stuff coming soon!!

‘Bastu!’ Sweden’s Sauna Culture

Sweden is a country full of surprises and the sauna culture is no exception.

 

First of all what you need  to know is that Swedish saunas have a strict no swimming costume rule and all you can bring is a towel and something to drink. The first time I went to a sauna was in 2013 when I lived in Sweden during an exchange. It was actually on a ferry crossing from Stockholm to Helsinki and that possibly made it worse as the Finns are known for being hard-core sauna lovers who like it extra hot and will pretend not to speak English if you try to ask them to tone it down.

Although my other exchange friends I was with were slightly confused at the idea that I wanted to pay to spend time in a small room full of naked men, my answer was that in Scandinavia it is a big part of their life so I had to try out this cultural experience. I managed to convince a friend and went. The experience was overall good, although I found it too hot and had to run out to have a cold shower every 5 minutes.

 

Three years later I finally returned to Sweden to visit a good friend in the southern most region called Skåne. He’s American but Swedish at heart so he came up with the idea of going for a sauna. At first I was a bit wary, but then I decided to go for it. It was a bit unexpected as we were at a house party playing drinking games and at one point the host shouts out ‘half an hour to sauna time’. So half an hour later the party moved to a small room in the basement with a wooden interior and a special heater on which you would pour hot water to make it steam. Once you surpass the Victorian style thinking process about nudity and British prudishness , you feel quite relaxed.

 

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On my last day  in Sweden, my friend took me to another sauna this time a public one by the sea and that evening entrance was mixed, for both men and women. This was by far the best sauna experience, partly due to the big windows overlooking Malmö and the sea and also for the fact that you could throw yourself into the cold sea water when feeling too hot as opposed to just showering. Funny thing is that nobody seemed to care that people were swimming naked in broad daylight off a pier.

 

This was the ‘real experience’ as you had a bunch of Swedes that did not know each other in the same room, relaxing. And if there is one thing Swedish people are famous for is being shy and awkward around strangers in normal day to day situations, but oddly enough this did not happen there. On the contrary they were chatting away in Swedish, so I did not understand a word, but my friends managed to hold a conversation as they are both fluent in the language. Apparently they talked about everything from cultural comparisons to society and so on, all this whilst completely naked. I was left startled. As you can see the British/Victorian sense of prudishness is something hard to overcome, but I’m working on it!