Taking a one-post hiatus from my normal blogging routine of waxing lyrical about the sunrise and mooning over Keats, I thought I'd give you a lowdown on how to survive in Sweden.
- Have a go at the language. Generally Swedes speak great english, but it is nice to hear someone having a go (or a good laugh - I look back to my apalling pronounciation when I first arrived in shame, but I'm sure it brightened up the cashier's day at least). Best to have a little practice beforehand, though, all those ö's, ä's and å's take a bit getting used to.
- Never do the swedish chef impression in front of Swedes. Ever.
- Know how to dress like a Swede. Sweden is a country of ridiculously good-looking and well-dressed people. Appropriate attire includes slim-fit anything, paired with trainers, because if you're not cycling somewhere, you're walking. Wear white in the summer, and black every other season of the year. And if you're not in to looking smart 100% of the time, invest in some fitness gear. Fitness is celebrated in Sweden, and practically everyone runs or goes to a gym.
- Need a haircut? No problem, because there are literally a minimum of 2 hair salons on every street. I'm not joking, and I don't understand this at all.
- Get naked. Saunas are installed in most changing rooms of swimming pools, and swimming costumes are generally not allowed. Changing rooms are communal, as are the showers, and it's totally normal to strip off. I also love it as it exposes kids and teenagers to normal body sizes and shapes in a non-sexualised way. All along the coast, there are "bath houses" open throughout the year where you can go to sauna, and then take a plunge in the sea.
- Take your shoes off. When entering someone's house, it is expected that you remove your shoes. Even in schools, children leave their shoes by their pegs.
- Buy your booze early. You can only buy alcohol from Systembolaget, a state-run store. They close around 6pm on weekdays, at 3pm on Saturdays, and are shut on Sundays. Going out will cost you a fortune (prices for a beer start at around £6.50). And note that alcohol is measured in centilitres here, so don't bother asking for a pint.
- If you eat out, have lunch. It's super expensive to go for dinner, so going for lunch or fika (see below) is much cheaper.
- Get on yer bike. No, seriously. Sweden is a country of cycling, with dedicated cycle routes throughout the country, and free bike pump stations to top up your tyres. Cities are much smaller than in the UK, so cycling is often the quickest way to get around.
Four strange Swedish phenomena:
- fika. If there is one word you need to know in swedish, it is 'fika'. Take your pick from kanelbullar (cinnamon buns), kladdkaka (a rich chocolate cake served with cream), or seasonal treats like semlor (a cardammom bun with cream and marzipan in, available up to easter) or lusselbullar (christmas saffron bun usually shaped in an "S"). Coffee is drunk black, and is as strong as petrol. It's usually available as "vanlig kaffe" on a refillable station, so you can have as much as you want.
- fredagsmys (friday coziness). "mysig" is a swedish term, a little similar to the danish term "hygge", which means something along the lines of cozy, although it can't be directly translated to an english word. It can be anything from sitting down to a film with some dill crisps, to having a glass of wine or three, or relaxing to your favourite music. In the darkness of winter this usually involves candles, and in the summer, being outside by your summer house.
- smörgåstårta. This literally means "sandwich cake" and is something of a building project, using white bread as the bricks and a healthy mix of mayonnaise and cream as cement. Incredibly filling.
- spotta groda. A particularly disgusting/fun party tradition (depending on how childish you are) in which grown-ups and children alike take turns in seeing how far they can spit a green frog sweet.
And finally, some useful phrases:
Hej!/Hej då ("hey"/ "hey door") - hi/bye
En kaffe och en kanelbulle, tack. ("en kaff-eh ock en kan-ell-buller, tack") - a coffee and a cinnamon bun, please.
Ska vi fika? ("scar vee feeka?") - Shall we have coffee? I'm getting withdrawal symptoms.
Skål! ("skorl!" - sort of.) - cheers!
Såg du melodifestivalen igår kväll? ("sorg doo melodee-festivarlen ee-gore kvell") - Did you watch Melodifestivalen last night?
(Melodifestivalen is a month-long contest to pick a finalist for Sweden in the Eurovision contest. It's so popular that even other countries join in and vote.)