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Snapshot: Sweden (by Private)

Sweden. A country you probably know a fair bit about, no matter where you're from. Not least because of all the Swedes on this website (not including me, of course). We all know the basic stuff. Such as, Sweden, famous for its immaculate watches, premier chocolate, razor-sharp knives and-, oh wait, wrong country, my bad. Let's try this again. Sweden, famous for its....um, I can't think of anything. Or wait, ABBA, of course. And IKEA. The pacemaker. Astrid Lindgren. The Nobel Prize. There are actually a lot of things Sweden is known for. But before we dive into all that, let's take a look at some basic geography and history.

Located in the northern part of Europe, Sweden makes up the region known as Scandinavia together with Denmark and Norway. Despite being the fifth largest country in Europe by area (450 295 km2), it only has 10.3 million inhabitants. Sweden is sparsely populated, not least in the north, as 85% of the population lives in the southernmost third of the country. A majority of the people are Swedish, but the country also has a sizeable minority population, consisting of both immigrants and the indigenous Sami people. The three largest cities are Stockholm (the capital), Göteborg (Gothenburg) and Malmö, which are all located somewhere along the 2400-km long coast. Since Sweden is such a, what should I say, stretched out country, the climate and topography varies considerably from north to south, ranging from mountains and rivers in the north, through forests covering most of the country, to fields and farmland in the southernmost part.

Taking a brief look back in time, the history of what we would call modern day Sweden dates back to the 11th century, in which the first semblance of a unified area known as Svea Rike was established under King Olof Skötkonung. Fast-forwarding to 1523, this was the year Gustav Vasa became king. It was during his rule, and the subsequent rule of his grandson Gustav II Adolf, that the modern Swedish state administration, judiciary and military first saw the light of day. Skipping ahead to the 1800s, this was when the French marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, who was the forefather of the current royal family, became king. This century also saw the largest emigration in the history of the country. Due to widespread famine and religious persecution, more than a million people left Sweden for America in prospects of building a better future. Who knows, maybe some of you Americans are actually Swedish?

By the end of the century, the country had begun its move towards democratisation, curtailing the monarch's power and instating a parliament, paving the way for the introduction of universal suffrage from 1917 to 1921. In both of the two World Wars, Sweden was supposedly neutral. This is obviously not true, but to answer Pink: Yes, we can pretend... Anyway, in the 1930s, the then ruling party, the Social Democrats, had begun its expansion of the Swedish welfare state, colloquially known as folkhemmet – the people's home. The Social Democrats continued to dominate throughout the rest of the century, and have had a significant influence on modern Swedish society. Although much has been lost through the process of neoliberalisation, the people's home remains an important, albeit nostalgic, idea of how Sweden should function.

Today, Sweden is a constitutional monarchy in which the monarch and royal family's role is merely ceremonial, meaning that waving to the public from the castle balcony is their single most important task. As for actually ruling the country, this business is conducted in the riksdag (parliament), and led by the government, currently headed by Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, who has been in office since 2014. Sweden hasn't had a female monarch in modern times, but this will change once the heir to the throne, Crown Princess Victoria, takes over from her father, the current king Carl XVI Gustaf. And while Sweden prides itself with being the foremost champion of gender equality, we still haven't had a female prime minister. All the other Nordic countries have, so this should be a significant source of embarrassment for us. Nevertheless, four and a half of the leaders of the eight parties in parliament are women, which means there is a slight chance that we'll get a female prime minister within the next 30 years...

Now that we have finished discussing these more formal aspects, it's time to take a look at the fun stuff. Starting with the most important holidays, these include Easter, Valborg (Walpurgis Night), Midsummer, and Christmas. Easter celebrations often involve a lot of eggs (both regular and chocolate versions), candy, feathered decorations and children dressing up as so called Easter witches. While Easter is very child friendly, Valborg certainly isn't. Walpurgis Night is celebrated with huge bonfires. And lots of alcohol. Especially in my hometown of Lund, where more than 30000 people from all over the country gather in Stadsparken (the City Park) for a “spontaneous party” on the 30th of April every year, which also happens to be the King's birthday. Due to the corona virus pandemic, it was of course not possible to hold such celebrations this year. In order to deter people from partying in the park, the local city council fenced up the whole park and filled it with chicken manure. I think it's fair to say that there was definitely no bullshit there... The single most important holiday would however be Midsummer (together with Christmas), which is celebrated around the 23rd of June. During these celebrations, people sing, dance and leap like frogs around a huge decorated phallus, known as a midsommarstång, or maypole. Just like Midsummer, Christmas is a real family holiday, celebrated on the 24th of December. Celebrations usually start long before that, with restaurants serving so called julbord (a buffet with typical Christmas food like ham, meatballs and herring) from mid-November throughout December. People usually gather in front of the TV at 15.00 to watch “Donald Duck and his friends” (a very weird tradition, if you ask me), before moving on to eating a Christmas dinner and opening presents.

While on the topic of food, I'm sure you're all familiar with the term fika. Knowing what that entails, you might think that cinnamon buns, cake and coffee are the only things that Swedes consume. While fika does make up a large part of people's diets, we do actually eat other things as well. Such as meatballs. With lingonberry jam and potatoes. Or other types of meat. Again with lingonberry jam and potatoes. Or just potatoes. With lingonberry jam. Of course, we have also been greatly influenced by the outside world, resulting in a food culture that includes everything from pizza and sushi to kebab and pad thai, with East and Southeast Asian cuisine being especially popular. A classic staple food is the so called falukorv, which is a type of sausage contained in a red wrapping that needs to be removed before cooking it. Crispbread is also common, and can be eaten with just butter, a slice of cheese, smoked salmon or any other kind of topping you can think of. Apart from food and fika, Swedes also love their alcohol. Unlike in many other parts of the world, you can't just walk into your local supermarket to get a dose of spirits. Instead, people visit Systembolaget, a place with a name so obscure you would never have guessed it was a place to buy alcohol. Literally called the System Company, the intention, in true Swedish paternalistic fashion, is to make people drink less alcohol. Whether it works? Well, let's just say that Swedish people always get their hands on the booze, whether Big Brother (Stefan Löfven) likes it or not.

The explanation for Swedes' love of alcohol might be found in the peculiar culture of this Nordic nation. Often described by foreigners as cold and reserved, many Swedes would probably agree that a beer or two is just what it takes to get them to open up. As a testament to this reticence, it is seen as highly inappropriate to take a seat next to a stranger when using public transport, unless there are no other spots available. Greeting random strangers on the street is not recommended, as doing so will likely make people think that you are either drunk or crazy... Notorious for being extremely individualistic, Swedes highly value independence. At the same time, the so called Jantelag (the Law of Jante), which serves as an important set of rules governing social conduct, prescribes that you are not to think that you are someone special, or better than anyone else. As such, Swedes are loath to brag about their achievements, preferring to say that it was a team effort. This also leads to a consensus culture, especially at work places, where it's seen as crucial to listen to what everyone has to say before coming to a decision together.

Valuing order, Swedes are particular about queueing, having little tolerance for people who cut in lines, but being too inhibited to do anything more than give the person a subtle side-eye and discreet sigh (it's not very effective). Swedes are often reluctant to put on big shows of emotion, preferring to take on a calm and collected approach. This can be traced to the concept of lagom, which is the go-to word to describe Swedish culture. Often seen as untranslatable, this word means something like “not too much, not too little” or “just right”, which is reflected in people's eagerness to always find a middle way. However, this does not always apply. For example, Swedes are crazy about Eurovision. Really. The only country that might be more enthusiastic is Australia. Anyway, we love a good music competition. Which is why our national selection programme, Melodifestivalen, is a six-week long journey through Sweden, where we go on a hunt for the next big hit to send to Eurovision. We're pretty good at it. And that's not just something we say. We've won six times throughout the 64-year long history of the contest. Only Ireland has been more successful.

Speaking of music, it's safe to say that hits might be one of our biggest exports. Producing world artists like ABBA, Roxette, Ace of Base, Swedish House Mafia, Avicii and Zara Larsson, Sweden is certainly famous for its music. We are also highly skilled in writing fiction and series, especially in the genre known as nordic noir, with authors like Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell and Liza Marklund, and series like Bron/Broen (The Bridge), becoming worldwide successes. In order to continue this shameless bragging (I know, this is not very Swedish of me, but I'm not a Swede, so it's okay), let me just mention a few other famous Swedes: Ingmar Bergman (film director), Alicia Vikander (actress), Zlatan (football player), Greta Thunberg (climate activist), Anders Celsius (inventor) and Selma Lagerlöf (author). Of course, it would be a huge fault of mine not to also mention things to experience in Sweden, as this article has hopefully ignited a desire in you to come here. At some point. One of the first things that comes to mind is nature. Swedes are widely held to love nature, which is not surprising since the principle of Allemansrätten (literally “every man's right”) gives everyone the right of common access to nature. If you are more interested in stuff like museums, Sweden offers a large selection of exhibitions and art galleries all over the country, such as the National Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm, Kulturen in Lund, the Maritime Museum and Universeum in Gothenburg, and Jamtli in Östersund. If you instead would like to experience the thrills of amusement parks, the two largest ones, Liseberg (in Gothenburg) and Gröna Lund (in Stockholm), are the places to go. Other sites include castles such as Gripsholm in Strängnäs, Ale stenar (a historical stone monument) in Kåseberga, and the old medieval town of Visby located on Sweden's largest island, Gotland.

Now that you hopefully know a bit more about Sweden, I would like to finish off with some advice if you ever plan to visit us: If you are invited to someone's house, make sure to take off your shoes when you enter! Always be on time! Punctuality is highly valued, but arriving too early is frowned upon, so make sure you don't show up more than a few minutes before your appointment. Finally, while most people in Sweden speak English, it's always appreciated if visitors have put in a bit of effort to learn some basic Swedish, if anything, to impress people with your incredible skills. Can't be bothered to spend hours on Duolingo? Don't worry, I'll teach you everything you need to know!

Hej! = Hello!
Hejdå! = Goodbye!
Hur mår du? = How are you?
Bra, själv? = I'm fine, how about you?
Jag heter... = My name is...
Trevligt att träffas! = Nice to meet you!
Trevlig helg! = Have a nice weekend!
Förlåt! = Sorry!
Ursäkta, var är IKEA? = Excuse me, where is IKEA?
Köttbullar, tack! = Meatballs, please!
Oj! = Go-to Swedish exclamation to express surprise

Last but not least, some funny direct translations!
Smörgås = Butter goose (sandwich)
Tandkött = Tooth meat (gums)
Påtår = On toes (refill, when talking about drinks)
Klockrent = Watch clean (perfect, exact, precise)
Avskedad = Off-spooned (fired)
Bläckfisk = Ink fish (octopus)
Nyckelpiga = Key maid (ladybird)
Soppatorsk = Soup cod (run out of petrol)

And, that's a wrap! I hope you enjoyed this article, and I hope to see you in Sweden soon!



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Comment on the article Snapshot: Sweden.
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Private wrote on 23-11 00:03:
BloomCissi wrote:
Rochellette wrote:
This article is really nice and love the translations ..... I can use this now

Trevlig helg!
I'm glad you liked it! 

Now the weekend is already over, so ha en bra vecka! (Have a nice week!)
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Ellem wrote on 22-11 16:42:
Ellem wrote:
BloomCissi wrote:
Ellem wrote:
I very much enjoyed the direct translations but I’m a bit disappointed that kroppkakor wasn’t mentioned!!! 
Haha, I could add that. 
I mean it’s a true Swedish dish can’t be forgotten hehehe
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Private wrote on 22-11 13:55:
BloomCissi wrote:
December wrote:
as a swede i really appreciate this!! great article, good job also the direct translations makes me realize how weird our language really is lmao
I'm glad you liked it! 
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Private wrote on 21-11 22:40:
BloomCissi wrote:
Ellem wrote:
I very much enjoyed the direct translations but I’m a bit disappointed that kroppkakor wasn’t mentioned!!! 
Haha, I could add that. 
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Private wrote on 21-11 17:15:
BloomCissi wrote:
Crawk wrote:
nu jävlar så kör vi !
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Private wrote on 21-11 14:57:
BloomCissi wrote:
Archangel wrote:
Köttbullar, tack!
Varsågod! (Here you go!)
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Helia wrote on 21-11 09:34:
Helia wrote:
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Private wrote on 21-11 00:52:
Rochellette wrote:
This article is really nice and love the translations ..... I can use this now

Trevlig helg!
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Private wrote on 21-11 00:47:
AtlantaG1912 wrote:
so basically they are ruled the same way the UK
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December wrote on 21-11 00:24:
December wrote:
as a swede i really appreciate this!! great article, good job also the direct translations makes me realize how weird our language really is lmao
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Ellem wrote on 21-11 00:23:
Ellem wrote:
I very much enjoyed the direct translations but I’m a bit disappointed that kroppkakor wasn’t mentioned!!! 
Report | Quote | X
Private wrote on 21-11 00:09:
Crawk wrote:
nu jävlar så kör vi !
Report | Quote | X
Private wrote on 21-11 00:06:
Archangel wrote:
Köttbullar, tack!



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