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CULTURE

‘Why is it funny to point out something that everyone already knows about Swedish culture?’

What's the worst social offence you could commit in Sweden? How do Swedish people react when they run into each other on the street? These are some of the cultural quirks TikTok marketer Liam Kalevi delves into in a series of viral videos.

Liam Kalevi
Liam Kalevi. Photo: Society Icon

The 23-year-old started making TikTok videos while in lockdown in a cockroach-ridden apartment in Barcelona in March 2020. 

He’s made over one hundred TikTok videos in the last year and a half, showing off his talent for impersonations of European accents. Those videos have notched up a total of 9.1 million likes on the platform, and he has even been featured on Sweden’s official Instagram page. 

His most popular videos are skits imitating various languages deciding on words or on different cultures clashing, although his favourite is one about people who read horoscopes. 

@liamkalevi

Awkward #comedyskit #sweden #scandinavia #language

♬ original sound – Liam Kalevi

Kalevi grew up in one of the most multicultural households you can imagine, with a Finnish father and a Kenyan mother who spoke six languages between them. He spent four years in the UK before moving back to Sweden when he was five.  

“My mum comes from a very warm culture and she’s very outgoing and an extrovert. And my dad… isn’t.” 

He started out imitating his parents’ accents which grew into doing impressions of random people he’s encountered around the world. 

“I just did what came naturally to me and made up random sketches.”

@liamkalevi

SUOMI 🇫🇮 #tiktoksuomi #tiktokfinland #finland #lol #comedyskit

♬ original sound – Liam Kalevi

The videos are low-budget affairs, with Kalevi performing all the parts, sometimes using towels on his head instead of wigs to differentiate between characters.

Now back in Stockholm, the popularity of his videos has surprised him, and has even landed him a job at microinfluencer company Society Icon as their head of TikTok marketing.

“In the past week, three people came up to me on the street and said ‘I like your videos’.”

He thinks that the funniest thing about Swedish culture is the fear of conflict and the uncomfortable situations this can lead to, like when you eat terrible food at a restaurant but can’t bear to tell the staff.

“A lot of the comedy I make stems from the awkward situations because everybody is kind of concerned about what the group will think.”

@liamkalevi

True or nah? 🇸🇪 @hailemariam.b #sweden #comedyskit

♬ original sound – Liam Kalevi

He says his comedy “is kind of for everyone”. His videos don’t laugh at a culture, they laugh with it. You’re always in on the joke too. 

“When you make comedy about a nationality then everyone in the nationality can relate to it, whether you’re young or old.

“If you can relate to something, you feel like you’re a part of something. This is like our thing now. It’s something to do with community.”

A big part of Kalevi’s humour is finding a weirdly specific characteristic that lots of people take for granted. Despite being born in Sweden, English is his first language, and having a little bit of distance helps him notice the silly quirks of a culture that might not be obvious to the average Swede.

Still, he says he doesn’t know why people think his videos are so funny.

“Why is it funny to point out something that everyone already knows?”  

@liamkalevi

Please treat the butter with respect. #butter #comedyskit #sweden #sverige

♬ original sound – Liam Kalevi

But every culture has something funny about it, he says. He doesn’t think that Swedish culture is any funnier than others.

“Kenyan culture is funny in a completely different way. People are extroverted, pushy. They want their kids to be doctors. It’s the other extreme.”

@liamkalevi

Sorry for the horrible Danish accent 😭 #tiktokdenmark #comedy

♬ original sound – Liam Kalevi

He likes that Swedish people are not pretentious, but adds, controversially: “I think Swedish pizza is better than Italian pizza. It’s more down to Earth, more genuine.”

He stands by his love for Swedish pizza, even when it has banana and kebab and meatballs and fries on top.

“I’ll go on record to say that Swedish pizza is better than Italian pizza. Kebab pizza is top tier pizza in my opinion.”

He has not yet been to Italy.

Follow Liam on TikTok here and Instagram here

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SWEDEN AND INDIA

IndiskFika: The Indian dance group taking Sweden by storm

IndiskFika are a group of Indians in Sweden with a shared passion: dance. Two of the group's leaders tell The Local how they came to be finalists in Talang, one of Sweden's top TV talent shows.

IndiskFika: The Indian dance group taking Sweden by storm

“We’ve been very passionate about dance from childhood,” says co-founder Ranjithkumar Govindan, who shortens his name to Ranjith. “I’ve been dancing from childhood, like first grade. So once we got into our professional lives and career, I wanted to continue my passion.”

“Like Ranjith, I have been dancing since the age of three, ” adds Aradhana Varma, who joined the group in 2020. She’s been competing in and winning dance competitions back in her hometown of Mumbai ever since. 

With just a handful of members back in 2019, the group now numbers over 50, including dancers, videographers, choreographers, editors, and production crew, and they are still growing.

Listen to Aradhana Varna from IndiskFika on Sweden in Focus, The Local’s podcast. 

Click HERE to listen to Sweden in Focus on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.

Govindan says started by dancing at various events in Stockholm alongside fellow Indian dance enthusiasts before the idea came to form the troupe. “Then, one fine day, me and one of my friends, Vijay [Veeramanivanna], said ‘why don’t we do a cover song?'” he remembers. 

“He’s very passionate about camera work, cinematography. I’m very passionate about dance,” Govindan says of the collaboration. 

Their initial idea was to take advantage of their location in to shoot dance routines out in Swedish nature, in the same way that Bollywood movies sometimes shoot routines against European scenes such as Swiss mountainsides or Italian plazas. 

“Indians are very famous for movies, like Bollywood, so we wanted to do a cover video of a particular song from a movie which was going to be released. Since we are living in Sweden, we have plenty of opportunities to cover good locations and nature, so that was an idea,” he explains.

The name ‘IndiskFika’, (“Indian fika”, a fika being a Swedish term for a coffee break in the middle of the day) came from Govindan and Veeramanivanna’s wish to combine Swedish and Indian cultures. 

IndiskFika performing in the Talang talent show. Photo: TV4

“We started with five to seven people in 2019, that was the first thing we did, and we did a shoot and edited everything, then we realised that if we wanted to release it, we should have a name,” Govindan says.

“So we started thinking ‘what name should we pick for this team?’. We came up with the idea IndiskFika. Everyone knows about fika in Swedish, right?” 

Their videos, some of which have over a million views, became popular both among Indians at home and among members of the Indian community in Sweden, whose interest helped the group grow further.

More and more Indians living in Stockholm started asking to join, and soon they were doing live performances:  one at the Chalmers University in Gothenburg, and another at the Diwali celebrations held by the Västerås Indian Association. 

When the pandemic hit, IndiskFika didn’t let it stop them. They started planning a digital one-year anniversary for the group, and began looking for other groups to collaborate with. 

That was how Govindan began collaborating with Varma, who had been performing with a different dance team. “I had been performing at various events like Namaste Stockholm with a different dance team based in Stockholm since 2017, but during pandemic, everything had come to a halt since it was a tough time for all of us,” she explains.

When new people joined IndiskFika, it gave the group a new impetus. “That’s when the boost started,” Govindan remembers. “We became stronger and stronger. So, so many things happened.”

IndiskFika first came to the attention of ordinary Swedes with an article in Ingenjörenthe members’ magazine for engineering union Sveriges Ingenjörer. Many of the group’s members are IT engineers or students at KTH, the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. “They did an article about us, about the engineers continuing their passion for dance, so that reached a more Swedish audience,” Govindan says. 

This led to more in-person performances, which in turn caught the eye of the producers responsible for Talang at Sweden’s broadcaster TV4.

“The Talang people said ‘we read about you and we’ve gone through all your YouTube videos, why don’t you come and participate in Talang 2022?’. The rest of the story you know. We participated in Talang, and we got a golden buzzer from David Batra in the prelims, so we went direct to the finals.”

David Batra, a Swedish comedian with an Indian father, is known for comedy series such as Kvarteret Skatan and Räkfrossa, as well as Världens sämsta indier (“World’s Worst Indian”), a series where he visits India, alongside public broadcaster SVT’s India correspondent Malin Mendel, and tries his hand at living and working in the country.

Batra is also one of four judges on Talang, whose golden buzzer meant that the dance team were awarded one of eight places in the final – four are chosen by votes and four are chosen by the Talang judges.

The group were among the top eight teams in the finals on March 18th, but for Indians in Sweden, reaching the final was a win in itself. They were invited for a fika with India’s ambassador to Sweden, where they were treated to both traditional Indian and Swedish treats.

The IndiskFika troupe on stage at TV4’s studios. Photo: TV4

Many of the group’s members work full-time alongside dancing, which can be difficult at times.

“It’s not easy to be so dedicated by spending extra effort after office hours, with hectic weekend schedules for rehearsals especially when everyone in the team has a full-time job,” Varma says. “There’s a lot of things that take place in the background from logistics to costumes, hall bookings, co-ordinating everyone’s availability, social media activities and so on.”

Like many foreigners, though, Govindan and Varma have taken their time adapting to life in Sweden. 

“All I knew about Sweden was that it was one of the cold and dark countries,” Varma says. “Eventually you start liking it, and you know, everything is worth it for the summers that you get here. The fika tradition, the amazing work/life balance, the nature, that’s the best part that we have here.”

“I didn’t have much of an idea about Sweden,” Govindan agrees. “The temperature, where I come from, throughout the year is between 25 to 40 degrees. In terms of temperature, nature, the people, everything is different.”

“India is very rich in culture, right?” Varma says when asked about the differences between Swedish and Indian culture. “We have a lot of colours and a lot of different flavours and you know, that’s the kind of performance we gave. That was the plan: to give a very energetic, powerful, and colourful performance.”

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