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WINTER

The Local readers’ guide to making it through Sweden’s winter darkness

We have a long, dark winter ahead of us, but there's light in the darkness. The Local readers share their advice on coping with a Nordic winter, even in times of corona and travel restrictions.

The Local readers' guide to making it through Sweden's winter darkness
Lights and walks outside were two popular and free tips. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Light

Many suggested light, whether sunlight or candlelight, as important to cope with Sweden's darkness.

“Trying to go outside during daylight hours everyday. It's shocking how instantly uplifting it is.” – Maitri Dore, from India, living in Gothenburg

“I'm a foreigner and this is my second winter in Sweden. The darkness really affects my energy in winter so I bought smart light bulbs to adjust the light I need over the day. When the weather is bad, I set my room to a very white and bright colour. This way, I don't feel like going to sleep at 5pm!” –Thomas, from France, living in Stockholm

“I put up more Christmas lights this year than last year and I've noticed that many of my neighbours have done the same! It makes me smile every time I drive into my neighbourhood and see our trees, front porches and windows filled with twinkling lights and advent stars.” – Emilie Blum, from the USA, living in Karlstad

“I try to keep myself warm all of the time. I keep brightening up my room with candles and electrical bulbs.” – Dyna, from Cambodia, living in Lund

Keep busy

Many of our readers said they turned to hobbies or little luxuries to fill the long evenings, including ceramics or photography courses online, indoor exercise visitors, cooking, planning their next trip for when travel is possible safely, crafts, reading, writing, gaming, and virtual activities with friends overseas.


Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

Move your body

Maybe this is a good time to dust off that treadmill you have in the basement? Or try out online yoga and meditation sessions free of cost?

Readers suggested:

“Walks or gardening during weekday daytime, at least twice a day, even if for just 5-10 minutes. Weekend walks in the forest.” – Lejla Somun Krupalija, from Bosnia-Herzegovina, living in Stockholm

“Gym first thing in the morning to wake up fully, then a lunchtime walk to catch the daylight.” – Mike, from the USA, living in Stockholm

“Making sure to go outside at least once a day for a walk. This is really good to help you feel you have achieved something and the fresh air is energising.” –Rachel Stewart, from the UK, living in Stockholm

“It's a first for me, but because I don't go to the gym anymore, I tried a sports app. I have never been especially fit or a big sports fan, just trying to move a bit, as I spend my day sitting in front of a computer. It's only about 30 minutes per day, but I feel really more energised than last year! And I also try to keep going outside every sunny day, to enjoy the little light we have here in the North!” – Jade Bruxaux, from France, living in Umeå


File photo: Sören Andersson/TT

Finding ways to adapt

“Listening to music and listen to positive motivation videos, attitude of gratitude.” – Shwetha, from India, living in Gothenburg

“Try to stay positive and just enjoy the little things, winter is a great time to appreciate what you take for granted on a daily basis.” – Linus Schenell, Swedish, living in Stockholm

“This is the time when I usually go back home to India. To add to that, we don't really celebrate Christmas. But this year, I am embracing the situation and doing everything I can to feel the spirit, stay busy and beat the blues. I've started to decorate at home, put up lights, made glögg and even hung a mistletoe (which my partner is not really amused with!)” – Parul Ghosh, from India, living in Helsingborg

“Vitamin D tablets every morning; contact with friends and family by phone, Skype, Zoom, e-mail etc; reading; cooking; eating,” – John Nixon, British-Swedish, living in Gothenburg

“Walking to the beach to watch the sunrise and then again to see the sunset is my way of dealing with darkness. Along the Baltic shore, the sun rises and stays just above the horizon during the daylight hours. It moves from east to west horizontally as the daylight hours progress then dips back into the sea. Each day, even if it's cloudy, you can usually see the sun below the cloud layer. There are only a few visitors at the beach, so I'm isolated. It keeps me in good spirits. I follow the routine with some regularity. It brings me closer to nature and reminds me of all those folks in mainland Europe, just south of me who are undergoing difficulties this year.” – William Seitz, from the USA, living in Hanö Bay

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LIVING IN SWEDEN

Are these the 50 most ‘Swedish’ things in existence? (part two)

Quick-cook macaroni and ketchup, always knowing the week number, Queuing tickets, and soaking in every tiny ray of sun in spring: These are some of the objects, foods, and behaviours our readers (and other foreigners) consider the most Swedish in existence (part two in a series of two).

Are these the 50 most ‘Swedish’ things in existence? (part two)

You don’t have to be living in Sweden long before you start puzzling at some of the things that pass for normal, so, half in jest we asked The Local’s readers for what they think are the most “Swedish” things in existence.

We got so many responses that we’ve divided our article into two parts. This is the second part in a two-part series. You can read the first part, on Swedish “objects” and “clothes” here

THE MOST SWEDISH FOODS

It’s fair to say that many of the foods people came up with did not give the most flattering picture of Swedish cuisine. 

The most common suggestion for an uber-Swedish dish was quick-cook macaroni with tomato ketchup. This perhaps reflects the horror some other nationalities feel upon witnessing it. (As it happens, Swedes are world-class ketchup consumers, each of them wolfing down 2.7kg of the tangy red gloop a year, behind only Finland and Canada, and way ahead of the US.) 

Other unflattering food suggestions included “bearnaise with everything” (largely true), Kebab pizza (yum, and also, if you’re Italian, an aberration), and Flygande Jakob (vile). 

Pasta with heaps of ketchup. Photo: Antti Nissinen/Flickr

On a more general level, several people simply cited “salt“. For them, the most Swedish thing was to load already salty foods with even more salt. Could this be the result of a country that before the advent of refrigeration lived off salted fish, meat and vegetables for much of the year?     

On the borderline of the questionable foodstuffs category came various types of food in tubes, such as skinkost and räkost (processed cheese with bits of ham or prawn blended into it), and Kalles caviar (objectively delicious).  

I’d personally also put korv, Swedish sausage, in the questionable category. While arguably the national snack food, I find the classic Swedish varmkorv hot dog sausage of considerably poorer quality than their German equivalent. Thank God for falafel rolls. 

I’d make an exception for a tunnbrodsrulle, the flatbread common in northern Sweden which is often used to make a sort of hot dog wrap, with potato, a sausage, crispy fried onions, ketchup and mustard. It justly got a mention.

Salty liquorice (sweets flavoured with ammonium chloride) which came up a lot, is certainly beloved of Swedes, but disliked by many, perhaps most, others.

Also on the borderline was potatisgratäng i en påse, or “potatoes au gratin in a bag”, the supermarket packets of sliced potatoes in a creamy sauce which can be simply poured into a tray and shoved in the oven. 

But Swedish food can also be fresh and delicious, and its cake and pastry-making is often up there with some of the best baking countries. 

The suggestions reflected this, with some readers putting forward truly delicious (and extremely Swedish) treats. 

The ingredients for Janssons Frestelse Photo: Janerik Henriksson / TT

Obviously, many people mentioned the Swedish staples such as meatballs with lingonberry, Janssons Frestelse, and pickled herring (which is served whenever there’s a celebration, so Easter, Midsummer, Christmas). 

Other delicious Swedish foods mentioned included smörgåstårta, a type of savoury sandwich cake, in which layers of white bread are stuffed with prawn, tuna, liver pâté and ham, sometimes all in the same cake. I think it’s fantastic, but it’s not for everyone. 

Dill, the go-to herb the love of which Swedes share with Russia and much of eastern Europe, obviously got tipped.  

As did boiled potatoes, which are often flavoured with it. If they do not seem like something particularly Swedish to you, then you have yet to be initiated into the Swedish secrets of how to cook them properly (prodding them with a provsticka, to get the perfect softness, and then steaming them dry in the pan). You have also probably never tasted the first chestnut-flavoured potatoes of the summer. 

A kladdkaka. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

On the sweet side, the obvious Swedish favourites like kanelbulle cinnamon rolls, got mentioned. 

But there was also nyponsoppa, the rose-hip soup Swedes see as a cure-all for any sneeze or sniffle, ostkaka med saftsås, the Swedish baked cheesecake, and rabarberpaj med vaniljsås, the Swedish rhubarb crumble that is a common summer treat. 

Semla buns, the fluffy buns stuffed with almond paste that are traditionally eaten on Shrove Tuesday but now seem to be eaten throughout the spring, also got a mention. 

I’m not certain if kladdkaka from ICA, the sticky, semi-chewy chocolate cake you buy frozen from all Swedish supermarkets, should be classed as delicious or questionable, but it’s certainly very Swedish. It’s the lagom, “not great, but good enough” option for every late-remembered birthday or office leaving do celebration. It was mentioned by at least one respondent, as was daimtårta, a similarly trashy-but-nice cake made with crushed-up Daim bars. 

MOST SWEDISH HABITS OR PHENOMENA 

One respondent mentioned “sunning yourself in February by closing your eyes and leaning against a wall or in the middle of a park“. There is something very Swedish in the way people will cross the road to walk for a few seconds through a tiny patch of sun.  

On a similar theme, several respondents suggested “eating outside“, noting that their Swedish colleagues would take pack lunches out into the nearest park to eat even in spring when the weather is quite chilly. The same goes for the restaurant terraces, which have sprung up over the last decade, which are often busy from April to October. 

Another respondent wrote “being outside every day, no matter what“, which as a person from rainy Britain, I’d disagree with.

In my experience, Swedes tend not to go for a walk or send their kids out to play if it’s raining, whereas Brits very much would (otherwise we’d get no fresh air at all). 

Respondents had a different response to Swedish unsociability, with one noting approvingly “the very Swedish ability not to notice others”, saying that as a disabled woman, it was empowering that no one offered to help her, while another bemoaned the lack of chit-chat with strangers. 

Other Swedish habits that came up were an obsession with the ability to light the most perfect fire when camping, which I would argue is part of a larger cultural phenomenon.

An unusually large proportion of Swedish conversation seems to revolve around detailed instructions on how to perform certain tasks properly, such as insulating a roof, freeing a car trapped in snow, or growing asparagus. 

Another reader mentioned “never carrying cash“, which reflects Sweden’s lead in the shift towards a cashless society. 

Being able to walk on those icy, unsalted sidewalks without slipping and falling“, came up, and this is certainly something Swedes (particularly those living north of about Kalmar) can do effortlessly, and which many foreigners never learn. 

There were other examples cited of Swedes’ easy way with extreme cold, with one pointing out how Swedes use nature as a refrigerator or freezer, sticking food or beer outside their kitchen window or on the porch. On the same theme, one mentioned cycling on five-metre-thick snow. 

Is snus, Swedish sucking tobacco, a food or a habit? It’s certainly so universal that you will witness even the smart-suited chief executives of Swedish companies jamming their finger into their lip to secure one of the tobacco bags. 

Make sure to brush up on your snapsvisor or Swedish drinking songs if you want to fit in at Midsummer. Photo: Janus Langhorn/imagebank.sweden.se

Swedish alcohol habits also came in, with several readers putting forward the snaps and singing as extremely Swedish, perhaps this is down to what another reader described as the Swedish dual personality, “drunk and not-drunk”. 

One observant reader noted that in Sweden there is often no music in restaurants, shopping centres, or cafés. To the extent this is true (and it’s not always), this seems to be a result of the importance in Sweden of not imposing oneself on others. 

One person pointed out that pretty much everything closes in July. Swedes value their holidays and the sense of solidarity means that few begrudge a summer break even to bureaucrats, nurses, and shop and café staff. At least in the last two weeks of the month, you’ll struggle to get much government admin done, and you might find your favourite neighbourhood café shuts its doors. 

Several people brought up the Swedish habit of watching Kalle Anka at Christmas, which I think is only the most prominent example of the Swedish love of doing apparently lame things in very large numbers or to a strict routine

Somehow linked to this is the Swedish love of special days for special foods, such as Taco Friday, Lördagsgodis (Saturday sweets), or days like Kanelbullens dag, all of which got mentioned

MOST SWEDISH THINGS TO SAY 

One person argued that the most Swedish thing to say was “ah”, with the sound then repeated “100 times when listening to a person talking to you”.
 
The same person suggested Näämen!”, an expression of surprise, as the most Swedish phrase/word imaginable.  Then there’s “jahaaa” to signify a realisation. 
 
Another mentioned the Swedish breathing-in noise for yes Swedes make (north of about Uppsala) to signify agreement. See The Local’s viral video here
 
For me, the word tyvärr, meaning “unfortunately”, is the most Swedish of words, used as it is to tell someone they can’t do something, while avoiding a direct conflict by pointing to some external rule or circumstance.  
 
It’s almost certain in a list like this, that we missed out some of even more Swedish things. Is there anything else that should be here? Please tell us in the comments below. 
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