Seven things? Why seven?
Easy, five was too few, and I couldn’t think of 10.
This is an informative and complete list of things you should know about Sweden before you come visit. Because I know you will.
- Do NOT speak to anyone in public with whom you do not have a very close relationship, going back at least three years. Ever. Under any circumstance. You will be glared at like you have the black plague, and then shunned. Swedish people do not do ‘small talk’ or ‘polite chatter’. The old people do because they’ve embraced the prospect of being ‘old and senile’ enough to chat it up with any old person, and they no longer feel compelled to abide by the social norms of this country. But, polite conversation with the elderly requires a fluency in Swedish (they have forgotten all their school-learnin’ at this point).
- Everyone speaks English. (Aside from the very young and very old.) And by very young I mean so young that they don’t yet speak any language. They start teaching English at preschools. Okay, not ALL preschools, but some! English is also actually incorporated into the learning curriculum by age 7. No wonder they’re the best English-speaking country of Europe. (Yes, including the UK.)
- They actually do have their own language. (Which might be hard to believe after reading point 2, but hear me out.) They speak Swedish. Which is apparently very similar to Norwegian. And has some similarities to Danish. These three Nordic languages are so close that the Danes and Norwegians understand the Swedes when they speak their native tongue. Swedes, however, have no fucking clue what the Danish and Norwegian people are saying when they speak their own languages. It’s a strange situation. Then there’s Finnish. Which isn’t like anything. Literally. It stands alone on the ‘language tree’. (At least basically alone, I tried to find a good image of a language tree – but it got too annoying). No one understands Finnish. Not even most Finns. Luckily they learn Swedish in schools in Finland. (Some nostalgic thing about previously being owned by Sweden — note that they do not learn Russian in schools…we can discuss what this means from a sociopolitical standpoint at a later time.) So if you come to Sweden and learn some Swedish – bam – you get four countries for the price of one.
- They have a King. Also a Queen I guess I should mention, she’s from Germany. What’s more exciting is that they have a crown princess. Victoria. She will be Queen, and in 2010 she married a commoner (long before William married that hussy — excuse me — Kate). This commoner, Daniel, is now a prince. When Victoria is Queen, he’ll still just be a prince. ‘Cause he can’t have a higher rank than the Queen, duh! Also, the lives of the royalty are often splashed across covers of gossip magazines which seem to be the Swedish equivalent of People magazine, US weekly, and all the other really high quality magazines found in the U.S. (Most recently the birth of the next crown princess has been top news, check out Estelle here). I think the U.S. didn’t fully consider the possibilities of ‘royalty scandal’ articles that could be written, and imaginatively made up, by future journalists when we entered the ‘Revolutionary War’ and fought for ‘no taxation without representation’ and other such ‘freedoms’. Geeze, what were they thinking?
- The winters are COLD. I have never been in as cold weather as I have been here. I have been on the top of a mountain in the middle of the winter in northern VT with a wind chill of -15° F. Then I moved to Sweden, and I stepped out of my apartment to a brisk -40° F. Now, I realize there are colder climates. The midwest is apparently very chilly, I hear that Siberia is rather icy, and apparently people choose to inhabit the northern, colder, parts of Sweden (you can tell by the black area that lots of people choose to live up there). However, I do not live there, and thus have no gripes about the weather there. This is the real life situation of ‘Scandinavia in the winter’.
- The sun never sets in the summer. I believe this is done to make up for the almost unbearable cold of the winter. Although some like to argue it’s as a result of the tilt of the earth and its relative position to the sun. Now, in some parts of Sweden this is literally the case. Where the sun is in the sky 24 hours a day, and there is no darkness. Since I’m located in what is considered the South this isn’t my the exact reality. The sun technically sets for a few hours each night. However when I say sets, I mean that in the loosest definition of the term. Some may say that a ‘the sun is set’ is not a concept up for interpretation, but I disagree. When the sun has ‘set’ in the summer the sky is a vague darkish blue color. And saying ‘darkish’ is really being quite generous. Not black, like a true night’s sky should be. As you can clearly see, this doesn’t REALLY count as set. Or at least it’s up for debate. And yes, it is hard to sleep when the sun is constantly shining through your window and into your eyes. But this is of no concern, because after hibernating away the chill of the winter, you are left with copious amounts of energy, and don’t actually require any sleep during the summer months. Plus you’re super happy all the time because of the warm weather and sunshine, so nothing can get you down. Not even staying awake for 127 hours in a row.
- Fika is an integral part of every day, and you had better prepare to accept that, and partake in its rituals, or never become fully integrated into Swedish society. There is no adequate English word to translate fika to. The closest is ‘to go have coffee’. But really ‘fika’ implies so, so much more. Going for fika with someone is to meet up and have a beverage (coffee, tea, hot chocolate, soda, juice – whatever you like) and eat pastries. The eating of the pastries is the key aspect of having fika. Now these pastries come in a wide variety, and will satisfy all of your wildest dreams. As long as you wildest dreams directly relate to the consumption of sweet bakery items. To ‘go for fika’ is so much more than ‘to go for coffee’ as we’re prone to do in the U.S. I recommend just coming over and experiencing it. Because the true soul of ‘fika’ cannot be expressed in the written language. Or at least not in English.
That about does it!! Now you know how to follow social norms, how to communicate with the locals, how to talk politics, and what season of the year to come visit. What else could you possibly need?
(List subject to change)