Something Swedish

Biking

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The first thing I noticed when I first came to Sweden was all the bikes. Everywhere. I’ve seen more bikes than people. I’ve seen people talk on the phone, text, smoke and walk their dogs while on their bikes. It was clear to me that in order to ever truly become integrated into Swedish society, I would need a bike. I even got asked multiple times, ‘Don’t you have a bike?’ as if walking just doesn’t cut it.

Sweden is a very health and environment conscious country, center stage being the strong biking culture.

This commercial was just released by our county explaining that people who bike are superheros:
(Translation:
~ Halmstad is a biking town.
~ 21% of Halmstad residents travel via bike.
~ We have 21 (swedish) miles of biking trails. [= 210 kilometers = 130 miles ]
~ We are building super bike lanes
~ Everyone who bikes is a superhero)

It took a year, but last year I finally loaned a bike from my in-laws and have been riding it nearly every time I go anywhere.

Even though I’ve been able to ride a bike my whole life, this was different. Biking to commute to work/school or when you go to a friend’s house or when you go grocery shopping is a lot different than riding your bike around the block for fun as a kid or to exercise as an adult. In NYC you don’t see too many bikes, it’s simply not a common way to get around. It’s as if I had to relearn how to ride: bike lanes, hand signals, traffic laws, and getting used to so many other cyclists and pedestrians. Oh how things have changed; before I started biking I had no idea. I was amazed by by husbands ability to hear the tire treads of a bike approaching from a block away. I was blissfully unaware of the high pitched yet gentle dinging of a bike bell telling me to move out of people’s ways. Bike lanes seemed like wide sidewalks. Every time a bike whizzed past me I thought for sure that I would be run over.

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Today my husband and I took our bikes out for a ride together for the first time. It was nice to bike for the fun of it instead of using it as a mode of transport. It’s truly the best way to learn your neighborhood, too. Even though I’ve lived here for two years, biking today allowed me to see more places and understand where everything is in relation to each other and the fastest ways to get around. I learned that there is a separate traffic light for bikes, which means that I’ve wasted a lot of time waiting for the pedestrian one instead. Better safe than sorry though! Enjoying the beautiful Swedish weather on a nice long bike ride followed by a picnic in the park is the way to go.
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Welcome to Sweden

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When you first move to a new country you wonder and worry about a lot of things:

“Is this ever going to feel like home?”
“When will I get used to the way things work here?”
“How long will it take to feel normal again?”
“How long until I can speak the language?”
“Will I ever find a job? Make friends? Get used to the food and traditions?”

For me, the overall answers are, “Yes” and “About two years.”
A few months ago I noticed that I no longer felt the need to take pictures of everything I saw or did. A few months ago I noticed that things were no longer strange and exotic. A few months ago I realized that I had found my place in Sweden, started working more, can speak the language and have a strong group of friends. I began to forget how hard and different it was when I first moved here two years ago. The differences that made me laugh or get frustrated are now part of my everyday life. A few months ago, I stopped blogging.

Today though, I decided to pick it back up. Stopping was never my intention, it just sort of happened as a side effect of being busy and not finding anything fun or interesting to write about. This weekend I watched a new show about an American who moves to Sweden and I felt the need to comment on it, criticize, and continue doing what I can do to help other people who are still finding their way.

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About the show that motivated me to write again: Welcome to Sweden – it is a semi autobiographical comedy of Greg Poehler (Brother of actress/comedien Amy Poehler) moving to Sweden for love (Which he really did do about 7 years ago). Sound familiar? I thought so too, so I was eager to watch it.

This interview (which is in English) and short clip from the show make it seem like the perfect show to watch:

And it’s true; it is about being a “fish out of water” and trying to reinvent oneself. For some reason though, I couldn’t connect to the actual show.

While it shows a lot of stereotypes (of both Americans and Swedes) I can’t say i was personally able to relate to all of it. Greg Poehler plays the over the top ignorant, oblivious, culturally obnoxious American who moves to a country without doing a single second of research or putting a single thought into it. The way the character is portrayed is supposed to be funny and charming, but is a bit insulting. His girlfriend’s parents expect him to fail and go home and wonder why he hasn’t found a job and can’t speak the language after two days. Yes, there are pressures and expectations, but this is exaggerated for no reason.

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“…and so you moved to Sweden to live with our daughter. You have no friends, no job…”

Now, I know its hard to make reality into a show (aside from reality tv) and still make it fun and captivating, but part of the problem for me is that most of the show doesn’t make sense because it’s simply not the way things work. Immigration interview after you’ve already moved to the country? Illegal. Needing to get your drivers license changed to Swedish immediately? In reality, you have a year. The Swedish teacher speaking English to the class/the class introducing themselves in English? Should never happen. Not knowing about taking off your shoes indoors until you’ve lived there for three weeks? Seriously? Come on! Perhaps this is exactly how it was for him, but parts of feel hard to believe.

Maybe I am too serious and like to be overly helpful and informative, and a comedy show doesn’t need to get all the facts straight because there is an artistic freedom, however, I find some of it to be misleading or annoying at some parts. Of course everyone has different experiences and I don’t expect it to portray my exact struggles or observations, but there are a lot of things that are overly exaggerated and even more basic (and potentially very funny) things left out.

Those in Sweden- What are your thoughts on the show? (If you haven’t seen it yet, it is being aired on TV4 play) Those in the US – you’ll get your chance to see on July 10 2014 (My wedding anniversary) as NBC has bought the rights and renewed the contract for a second season – so it must not be so bad. Even if I don’t think it’s great, it’s interesting to see and I will certainly tell my friends and family to watch it to get an idea of what it’s been like for me…kind of.

I will continue watching because it does have potential. I can see the appeal and there are funny parts and parts I can kind of relate to, but it’s still an overall “miss” for me so far.

I think I can do better (in written form)- and maybe one day I will. For now though, I’ll continue blogging.

Welcome back Something Swedish.

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Meeting and Greeting in Sweden: Handshake, Hug, or Kiss(es)?

I started writing this post almost a year ago, when it was more relevant to my newness here in Sweden and attending SFI:

When I first started visiting Sweden I wasn’t familiar with the small details of Swedish culture, like what you do when you meet someone new, or when you say hi to a friend.  I was always a little annoyed with my then-boyfriend-now-husband, because he never introduced me to people that he was talking to in front of me that I hadn’t met yet. I thought it was rude, but it was simply a difference in culture.  In NYC, It’s more common to be introduced by the mutual friend, “Meg, this is Randomname, Randomname this is Meg” handshake greetingwith pointing and gestures to indicate who is who – usually received with a wave and a smile or a handshake. It’s a lot less common to introduce yourself in NYC and comes off to be a little too forward.

In Sweden, however, you have to take it upon yourself to step up and reach out your hand and announce your name with a solid handshake and eye contact. Naturally, I never did this the first few times I visited and it got to be pretty awkward as I didn’t officially “meet” a lot of people.  Finally, I confronted my then-boyfriend-now-husband who explained it all to me. After that, I started doing it Swedish Style; introducing myself right away instead of awkwardly standing around waiting for him to do it.

Once I got over the hurdle of MEETING people in Sweden, I realized that I’ve been GREETING people all wrong. When researching how to greet people around the world, Sweden is usually not on any of the lists, because there is nothing too specific about a Swedish greeting – except maybe moderation. There is no special way to hug or shake hands that could be rude, offensive, or embarrassing. It is good to know that they generally don’t kiss on the cheek though, singlekissgreetinglike many other countries do. It wasn’t until our wedding in Sweden that my mother-in-law pointed out (in a friendly, shy and giggling way) that my family kisses on the check, which was a little strange to her and she failed to reciprocate since it’s not something normal for her. Meanwhile, this is something I have always done since being in Sweden, but it’s never been pointed out to me. Thankfully, I’m a ‘light contact’ cheek-to-cheek air-kisser which might have gone undetected or else I might have been making a lot more people a lot more uncomfortable. Towards the bottom of this interview HERE I mention it as one of the most embarrassing mistakes I’ve made in Sweden, going around kissing stand offish Swedes who generally like their personal space; at least until you are good friends.

So, I’ve braced myself and committed to being a little gentler with my hello’s and goodbye’s, reserving hugs till I’ve built up a friendship instead of freely handing them out to people I’ve only just met – and then I started making other expat friends and had to start all over again. I never thought any of my anxiety would be over how to say hello or good bye to friends and classmates, but there it was.

The thing with being an expat is you generally tend to hang out with a lot of people from different countries, we go to school together, learn the language together, and socialize together more than I’ve ever hung out with any Swede aside from my husband. This is especially true in Sweden, as anyone new to the country is given the opportunity of free language courses (SFI) everyday. Expecting SFI to be all Swedish and Swedes, I wasn’t prepared to find so many people from around the world. I thought I was well diversified coming from NYC, but it is a whole different thing when everyone has just moved to Sweden straight from from their home countries – Iran, Thailand, Africa, Iraq, Turkey, Spain, Serbia, Germany, Bulgaria, Russia, Lithuania, Korea, Croatia, Egypt, Romania with a light sprinkle of New Zealand, Australian, UK, Canada, and the U.S. All trying to adjust to living in Sweden, while bringing in their own traditions and cultures, such as how to greet one another.

Every country naturally has their own way of greeting friends, so I was thrown back into the whirlwind of what to do with who; not just “stop kissing Swedes”. I always try to take the other persons lead, but sometimes slip and turn a hatriple kiss greetingndshake into a panicked cheek kiss because there was a moment hesitation from both of us and I didn’t know what to do. Sometimes it is a light hug, a wave, a smile, or a strong embrace depending on where someone comes from. A handshake varies from a light gentle graze or a very firm grip. In some cultures it is offensive to kiss on the cheek, and in others it is offensive not to, and then you never know how many times to do it, once twice or thrice. Throw in everyone’s effort to integrate into Sweden and no one seems to know what to do outside of their own culture groups. Greetings become a little blurry and shaky, unless you have the same traditions and already know how to handle greeting each other. For my birthday I was given  triple or double cheek kisses by some cultures, hugs from others, handshakes from the rest as they congratulated me.

Upon saying good bye to new found friends from England, Canada, and USA (Places with the same customs as myself, so this should be easy) I froze and automatically (read: awkwardly) stepped back and offered a hand shake instead of what would be a friendly wave or a hug. We stumbled through it, laughed it off and ended up hugging instead.

All in all, it’s just a funny observation of a sometimes awkward situation that maybe you’ve also experienced while learning the Swedish language along side other people learning the same thing, all from different places around the world, speaking different languages inbetween classes and bringing in all sorts of delicious food that I’ve never seen or heard of before for class parties. SFI is a unique place; a smörgåsbord of cultures all brought together to learn about one thing we all have in common: Sweden.

List of THINGS TO SAY to Greet People in Sweden

Hej! or Hej Hej! = Hey/Hi – Most common, appropriate for both formal and informal.

Hallå = Hello

Hejsan = Hey

Tjena = Hey – Less formal, between friends

God Morgon/Dag = Good Morning/Day

Trevligt att träffas!  = Nice to meet you!

Hur är det? = How is it? (Whats up?)

Hur går det? = How goes it? (How’s it going?)

Hur läget? = How are things?

Vad hittar du på? = What are you finding? (What’s are you doing/up to?)

Hur mår du? = How do you feel?

Hej då! = Good bye!

Adjö! = Bye!

Ha det så bra! = Have it so good! (Have a good day)

Vi ses snart! = See you soon!


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S:t Lucia in Sweden

Yesterday I finally got to celebrate Lucia for the first time!

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Photo Credit: Recepten.se

Days (or even weeks) before December 13:e, you can find Lussebullar (also called Lussekatter or saffronsbullar) in all of the bakeries in anticipation of Lucia Day.  This is a  traditional bun shaped like an “S” with saffron flavoring, which gives it the classic yellow tint and a distinct flavor.

Here is the  Recepten.se recipe.

Halmstad Lucia 2011

Preparations for Lucia festivities start about a month before December 13:e, because Lucia’s all over the country need to be chosen. Every town votes for a Local Lucia through a contest which is held in newspapers, such as the one to the left, Hallandsposten, where everyone can vote via SMS for their favorite Lucia. Contestants are always teenagers, and are meant to look the most serene, calm, and soothing. They also need to be able to sing, as you will see in this interview of this years crowned Halmstad Lucia: here. On the first advent the town’s Lucia is publicly named and crowned. All of the Local Lucia’s are also runner up’s to become the National Lucia on TV. This is not the only Lucia you will find on Lucia day, as every church and school (from universities to kindergartens) also has their own selected to perform for Lucia concerts throughout the whole day.

At 5:30pm yesterday we went to the library for a Lucia concert, which featured the Halmstad Lucia. The town Lucia often also visits senior centers, community centers, city hall, and schools. This was a beautiful bite-sized (15 minutes) performance, which a selection of all the most popular Lucia and Christmas songs. The smaller setting allowed me to see the halo of candles, wreaths of lingom, red sashes, and white robes up close. (although I was a scared of so many candles walking around so many books!)

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Lucia was first celebrated in Sweden in the late 1700’s, but not in the same way as nowadays – it wasn’t until 1927 that Lucia became a public event. Lucia was originally a celebration observed only within the household by each family. The oldest child would wear a crown of candles and bring their parents breakfast in bed (Normally consisting of Gingerbread cookies) while singing Lucia songs. This is still a common family tradition today, every year stores sell the Lucia Crowns that families can use at home:

Next was the nights main event. We arrived at the S:t  Nikolai church an hour early and it was already half full. After an orchestra performance the lights dimmed down low and the beautiful voices surrounded us. The Luciatåg (Lucia procession) of tärnor (Lucia maidens) holding a single candle each walked slowly up the aisles towards  Lucia, who lead them to the front of the church. It was truly magical.

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This Lucia procession was by an all women’s choir, but many Lucia performances include male members. Boys dress up as stjärngossar (Star boys), wearing cone shaped hats decorated with stars, tomtar (Santas) wearing all red, or gingerbread men, which is common for the much younger boys.

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Saint Lucia is one of few Saints celebrated in Sweden, representing the spreading of light when the dark nights are longest and warmth when the winter is coldest.  There are many different stories of Lucia’s history. Her feast day is widely celebrated as a Scandinavian tradition, holding Germanic pagan traditions. Born in Sicily (283-304), she is said to have become a Christian Martyr after seeing an angel in her dreams when she prayed for her dying mother. She devoted herself to Christianity, distributed her wealth and dowry to the poor, and refused to give up her virginity even after marriage.

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Some versions say that when she was sentenced to be defiled at a brothel and refused, nothing could move her. Not even 1,000 men and packs of oxen could make her budge from where she stood. Instead they built a fire around her, but she did not burn. They stabbed her in the throat but she continued to sing and preach.

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St. Lucia is known as the patron of sight, often portrayed holding a platter of two eyes. Some say this stems from her being tortured with eye stabbing when she wouldn’t move or burn, but she was still able to see. Other versions state that she removed her own eyes because they were too admirable and attracted attention from men and unwanted lust. In both cases, God restored her eyes to be more beautiful and with better sight.

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Lucia is seen as a protector. She cared for her mother when her father was absent. She spreads light to cure the darkest part of winter. In the old almanac it was believed that December 13:e was the Winter solstice, and thus this longest night of the year. It was also on this night that “Lussi’s,” known as witches or demons, supernatural beings, trolls, and evil spirits of the dead would roam the darkness. It was Lucia who would protect people against harm by bringing hope and joy through spreading the “light in her hair”.

Others say the date of Lucia is to celebrate the first of the “12 Days of Christmas.”

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It was an amazingly beautiful event to see. Now I know why it is a beloved tradition  in Sweden. Even without understanding all the lyrics to the 15 songs they performed, I had goosebumps the whole time. They did sing (in Swedish) a few songs I recognized such as Silents Night and Hark the Bells.

A video so you can experience Lucia, too!


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The First Advent & A Christmas Market

Yesterday was the start of the longest holiday season: Advent. It was the fourth Sunday from Christmas and it’s a big deal in Sweden.

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Every Swedish family (I would assume) has Advent candles that they light gradually every week, creating a staircase effect. Yesterday we lit the first candle. Most traditional advent candles have an area where moss and decorations can be arranged. Everyday in town square you can find stands selling this moss, along with wreaths, decorations, pine branches, and advent candles:

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Another type of Advent candle that is lit a little bit each day:

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To celebrate the first advent, there was a Christmas market from 2pm-7pm filled with homemade items and foods to buy as Christmas presents.

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Many of the people selling things were wearing Santa caps. Even the horses and hot dog vendors:

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During the Christmas market there were things happening all throughout town. There was caroling and music, horsey rides400042_10151463854640312_657501302_n and face painting for the kids, dancing around the Christmas tree, free gingerbread cookies and glögg, an Advent concert at the church, and the town’s Lucia was crowned. Lucia is a very big holiday here, which I’ll write about in about a week. It was too cold to stick around and see everything that was going on, unfortunately.

Despite the below freezing temperatures (-7°c/20°f) and the night time darkness at 4:30pm (it felt like 9pm), it was the most crowded I’ve seen Halmstad. These two things are also the cause of only a few low quality photos, my fingers were a bit too frostbiten. (See said finger in photo below)

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Traditionally, the first advent was also the day that stores revealed their Christmas window displays and decorations – meaning all the stores in town are open ON A SUNDAY! Nowadays, most of the Christmas decor has already been displayed, but the stores open their doors anyway. It was unbelievable how many people were out shopping yesterday, to the point that it was difficult getting in and out of places, without any special sales – just because it is tradition. (And exotic to shop on a Sunday!)

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This count down to Christmas became popular in the 1930’s in Sweden, without so much emphasis on the religious origin; the “coming” of Christ. Instead it gives the country a reason to celebrate and be festive. Special Advent decorations are in all the windows, advent calendars are opened, candles are lit, and even an annual advent 24-episode kids show is used as a count down to Christmas. By the first Advent, Southern Sweden only has 6-7 hours of daylight, so the extra decorations, lights, candles and festivities are a huge plus for moral. For Northern Sweden, where the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon, this time is also a count down to the Winter Solstice on December 21st, when the daytime sunlight will return. “It will soon turn,” is supposed to be a common greeting in Northern Sweden, waiting for the Winter  solstice to come and bring back daylight.

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Vocabulary

First/1st: Först/ 1:e

Christmas: Jul

Christmas Market: Julmarknad

Christmas Present: Julklapp

Stores: Butiker/Affärer

To shop: Att handla

To buy: Att köpa

Advent Candles: Adventsljusstake

Decoration: Dekoration

Freezing: Frysning


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International Food Fair

Over a dozen tents are in town with different food from around the world for four days. Town square is packed with food, people, culture…and food – it’s amazing and tasty!

Above is what we bought…so far. Cheeses, sausages, fudge, jam, and pastries (French flan, Italian cannolis etc) We found the Italian fudge to be a lot better than the English sort.

Hubby ate Brustwurst both days so far. I switched it up a bit -

First day: Pirogies. Second day: Paella

From the “Best British Fudge” to Traditional paella and churros from Spain

Polish Pirogis and Belgium waffles

Greek Gyrios and Homemade Baklava

Authentic German Bratwurst and Currywurst

French cheeses, Italian cheeses, Dutch cheeses, British cheeses

Sausages from Italy, Holland and Spain

French pastries and Italian pastries

English jams & mustards and Greek olives & dried fruit

Thankfully they are only here until Saturday, or else we would be broke and fat very quickly!
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Some people asked which recipe I used for the kanelbullar in my last post, I haven’t had time to translate it but you can find it here. DO NOT google translate the measurements, use a converter for all the numbers from metric. 1 cup = 2.5 dl etc. Lycka till! (Good luck!)


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Street Theater Festival: “Gatuteaterfestivalen”

Performers and sideshow acts flooded the streets of Halmstad as they entertained us by telling unique stories with magic tricks, illusions, crude jokes, fire juggling, sword swallowing, cultural dancing, claustrophobic acrobatics, music, improvisation, and flipping off of trampolines. The Gatuteaterfestivalen is the only street theater organized in Sweden. Every year for the past 15 years over a dozen performances from around the world- Italy, France, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Australia, Belgium and more, come to Halmstad to entertain.

Many of the acts are fun and light-hearted, while others have a more serious tone and convey meaning and emotion. Some are heavily influenced by culture, while a few were inspired by silent films. Most performances take place outdoors, while a couple have limited seats in small places like moving containers and trucks.

Joel Salom To say that this act from Australia is a juggling act would be an understatement. An hour filled with huge personality, hysterical improve, amazing and unique juggling, singing, cool musical effects, an “accidental” strip tease, and a robotic dog named Erik.

CampingTeatret A Danish Traveling Circus

Tony Rooke – Once we climbed into the small container and were immersed in total darkness, stories unraveled before us in a small light box. With only his hands, magic, illusions, and story telling skills, this performer from Australia creates a magical atmosphere where you forget the man behind the curtain.

Karolin Kent – Hailing from Sweden, this dancer incorporates yoga, martial arts, photography, improvisation, and theater into her performance. Wearing nothing aside from the burden of a humongous and heavy skirt dragging behind her, she makes her way to her stage. Perched atop of a pedestal 4 meters tall, she tries to talk but has no voice – only gurgling sounds. The theme of this beautiful and striking performance is the oppression of women in societies and cultures around the world.

Cirque Inextremiste – From France, an extreme and dangerous juggling, balancing, jumping, and climbing act that keeps the audience on their toes. High on a trampoline with fire, propane tanks, and a gigantic ball, you don’t want to blink and miss a beat. Very funny and interactive with the audience, be careful you don’t get your hat lit on fire!


Cie Circ`ombelico – “Da/Fort” is an amazing show from Belgium worth piling into the back of a warm truck with 40 other people to experience. Silently the performers fill the small “room” with intense emotions of everyday life and relationships through body language, facial expressions, and a lot of acrobatic physicality. You never know if they are coming or going, leaving or staying, falling or rising. No photography allowed, but they stick around to chat afterwards and serve drinks.


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Swedish Wedding: “Svenskt Bröllop”

Last week I went to my first Swedish wedding!

Attending weddings from different places is a huge insight into the cultures, traditions, and beliefs of the country and people. Having already researched Swedish weddings for my own wedding here in Sweden last year, I knew what to expect but was excited to see if we did it “right.”

1. The Church vs Civil Marriage: (Kyrkbröllop vs. Borgerligt) Despite being a secular country, where most Swedes don’t attend church on a regular basis, many Swedes choose to have a church wedding. Many Swedes have their weddings in church because of strong long standing traditions and/or to have a higher power present at such an important moment. Civil marriages are also very popular and common because many weddings in Sweden are more casual and small. Civil marriages are often done outside of city hall, on a beach, in a field, in the garden, at the family’s summer cottage.

Our friends had their wedding in a picturesque  church with red and white wooden exterior. It was beautiful and quaint, with a view of the ocean. Their ceremony was surrounded by old paintings, stained glass, and candles. Our civil wedding was outside surrounded by nature, in the  grass and sun, under a tent with birch trees. To me both locations/styles seemed perfectly Swedish.

2. Vows & Ceremony: It is not common to write and say your own vows in Sweden, especially when you get married in a church. Although, that tradition has been catching on and is becoming more popular recently. The “I do” I’m so familiar with is replaced with “Ja,” the Swedish word for “Yes.” The legal rights are the same between church and civil marriages, but the ceremony is not. The “long” version of the civil ceremony is two minutes. Our officiant was nice enough to extend and alter the short civil ceremony to include both English and Swedish, our own vows, a poem, and a sand ceremony.

3. Seating: The most common way to arrange the table at a wedding in Sweden is in the shape of a “U.” All the tables are connected and everyone is together. There is a “head table” but it is not separate than the others, just in the center. I think this is a great way to seat all the guests, easier to mingle and meet new people. We sat families and friends together, basically creating an English side and a Swedish side. At our friends wedding they decided to make it fun and mix it up by seating new people next to each other (even couples are slightly separated) with information about each guest in the program, this is apparently a very common thing to do at Swedish weddings.

4. Wedding Favors: It is not common to give out wedding favors in Sweden, unlike  in the U.S.. Wanting to bring the two cultures together at our wedding, I decided to give wedding favors anyway since it is a pretty big part of American tradition. I was not surprised to see no wedding favors at the wedding we attended.

5. Presents: A different tradition that I was looking forward to seeing is the opening of the wedding presents at the wedding in front of the guests. We did not do this at our Swedish wedding because we thought it might make American guests uncomfortable.

6. Toastmaster: In Sweden each wedding has a person especially appointed to handling the organization of toasts, games, and events. Anybody and everybody gives toasts at a Swedish weddings so it is a big deal and commonly takes up a large part of the reception (Making the meal last a long time!), the toastmaster makes sure this goes smoothly by being notified of all speeches beforehand and timely introducing each toaster throughout the party. The toastmaster is commonly the best man or maid of honor, but not always.

7. Games & Songs: Unlike an American wedding, most Swedish weddings have a variety of entertainment planned by the toastmaster – usually at the expense of the bride and groom. The games are often “tricks” or quizzes that the newlywed couple need to play. This is something we did not include, so I was thrilled to see it at our friends wedding. The first game was for the blindfolded bride to pick her husband by feeling the legs of the groom and three other men. The second game was for the groom to pick the bride by being kissed (on the lips) by her and three other women. Except that the when the blindfold went on, the women were switched with men!

8. Bridal Party: In Sweden it is uncommon to have the large entourage of people involved in the wedding like in America. Instead of five or six bridesmaids/groomsmen it is usually only one or two.


Some More Traditions:

  • Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” holds true for both American and Swedish weddings.
  • In this gender-equal society the father of the bride never “gives the bride away” at the ceremony, instead the couple walk into the wedding together- hand in hand, as equals.
  • When the groom leaves the room at the reception it is common for people to jump up and kiss the bride (on the cheek) while he is away. Same goes for when she leaves.
  • Some Swedish brides wear a bridal crown of flowers, ribbons, and/or myrtle leaves.
  • Swedish brides traditionally have a silver coin in the left shoe from her father and a gold coin in the right shoe from her mother. This is so she will ‘never go without.’
  • It is said that whoever steps inside the church first or says “Ja” (I do) the loudest will ‘wear the pants’ in the marriage.
  • Throwing the bouquet and garter belt is not a tradition in Sweden.
  • The cake cutting does not typically involve smashing cake in each others faces.

Swedish Wedding Trivia:

  • Try not to wear a red dress to the wedding – some might think that you slept with the groom.
  • The bouquet used to be made of the foulest smelling weeds to ward off trolls, thankfully this is no longer tradition.
  • The verb for “Married” in Swedish is “Gift” [yift]. If read as a noun “Gift” means “Poison.”
  • Civil weddings were introduced to Sweden in 1908
  • Sweden was the 7th country to allow same sex marriages. In May 2009 civil marriages were allowed, in April 2009 all marriages are gender-neutral, and in November 2009 same sex marriages are allowed in churches.
  • The bride usually wears three bands, one for engagement, one for marriage, and a third for motherhood.
  • Midsummer is an extremely popular time to get married in Sweden, but according to a poll in 2010 August has the most registered weddings in Sweden.
  • The Bride is called “Brud” and the groom is “Brudgum” (Bridegroom) and the two together are “Brudparat” (Bride pair).

GRATTIS PÅ BRÖLLOPET!


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Smörgåstårta: “Sandwich Cake”

As promised in the end of this post, it’s finally Smörgåstårta time! Last weekend was the first time I had this very special Swedish treat while celebrating my husbands nephews birthday. As you can tell by the name this is no typical cake – or sandwich. It’s something in between. In the shape of a cake and eaten on special occasions as a meal, Smörgåstårta is something Swedes look forward to. I’ve always been so curious about this sandwich cake and was so excited to have a slice – although I did it all wrong.

My slice was seriously lacking. What I didn’t know is that piling on extra shrimp (A plate full) is customary and expected (in this family at least!), almost like a race to see who can get the most from the neighboring parts of the cake! I took some shrimp from my husband because after looking around my plate looked rather naked!

When I first came to Sweden the thought of  grossed me out because I kept comparing it to cake, which you have to get out of your head. Smörgåstårta is served cold and has everything a sandwich could, plus more. The only “cake” aspect is the size, shape, and the layering of creamy food and bread. But instead of things like custard, pudding, or jam it is mayonnaise and sour cream or Creme fraiche, lots of bread instead of cake, and most commonly lots of shrimp, eggs, cheese, ham, cucumbers, salmon, and tomatoes. As you could imagine it is very rich and filling, and not too healthy with all that mayo! The cake we had also had fruit cocktail in the mix, I really liked the contrast.

Each smörgåstårta is unique and different because the possibilities are endless of what you can put inside or on top as decoration. Feast your eyes on this Pintrest board I started especially for different Smörgåstårtan to share with you all! They can be decorated so elaborate and beautifully you have to take a look! Pinterest.com/SomethinSwedish/smorgastarta/

If you are in Sweden then I think Smörgåstårta is a specialty that must be sampled! Especially if there is any type of celebration or party!

Oh, and don’t worry- we also had a very delicious and perfectly sweet dessert cake afterwards!



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Melodifestivalen!!

Yikes! Second Saturday into February and I haven’t mentioned Melodifestivalen?! “The Melody Festival” is a huge event in Sweden and cannot will not be ignored! Melodifestivalen is the most popular, maybe most important, show in Sweden. Every year 3-4 million Swedes faithfully watch it (have I mentioned that the population of Sweden is roughly 9.4 million?). Melodifestivalen is tradition since 1959. But what is it!? It’s a competition.

Let’s just say that in 1974 a band named ABBA won the Melodifestivalen. That year Sweden came in first place in Eurovision. The whole purpose of Melodifestivalen is that the winner of the competition goes on to represent Sweden in the international Eurovision Song Contest, which is an even bigger deal… a huge deal, 100-600 million viewers world wide type of a huge deal. Four winners of the Melodifestivalen have also won the Eurovision contest, Sweden has been placed in the top 5 places 14 times. With four wins under its belt, only four other countries have won more often, so Sweden must be doing something right with this Melodifestivalen!

Melodifestivalen is something I’ve heard of but never seen, until now. Having remembered too late, I missed the first installment (Hence the post two weeks into the month) but I made sure not to miss today’s performances. I enjoyed it a lot- more than I expected considering I couldn’t understand most of it. Maybe next year I’ll be able to understand the introductions, interviews, and the comic relief, and all of the songs instead of half. Or maybe I’ll force my husband to watch it with me next week and do some translations (Ya, right! He’s not a fan of the competition)

Every Saturday in February the Melodifestivalen competition continues, and all across Sweden people watch it unfold. Over time and with a bunch of changes to the festival over the years, including the 2002 introduction of weekly semi-finals, the amount of competitors has risen from 5 to 32, thus stretching the competition out for the duration of five weeks  instead of a single night of two round elimination. A panel of judges along with a public telephone voting system now determines the semi finalists each week.  The semi final show and finale being the most watched segment.

If you are thinking somewhere along the lines of American Idol, you are half right but not really. There are no embarrassing auditions aired (the best part and the only episodes I watch). There are no obnoxious commentary from judges, although there is a few minutes between each performance of the hosts talking about something or other that I can’t understand, seems  to be comic relief filler. Each performance is well polished, rehearsed, with set design, wardrobe, back up singers, and back up dancers. Remember this isn’t just a competition for some money or fame, its to become the face of Sweden in the bigger international contest. However there is a trophy – “Den stora Sångfågeln” (The Great Songbird), and of course there is fame. Only days after the Eurovision contest ends does the selection process for contestants and song choices begin for the following year, thus taking 9 months to narrow down the competition for next years Melodifestivalen. There is a mix of begining and experienced performers, songs are not limited by language, but most are Swedish or English, and the genres have become increasingly diverse.

Each of the six shows are aired live, the first four shows consist of eight songs that are voted on solely by the viewers to determine which proceed to the final round or second chance round, which are then determined by judges.

Onto the  show!

Tuning in via webcast I was greeted with a count down of when the live show would start, with a photo of the hosts in the background:

After a small amount of talking and joking in the beginning for a few minutes the first performance was on stage rather quickly. It wasn’t until half way through that I realized that it was the hosts  in black vests and hats along with two men singing a melody of boy band songs such as “I want it that way” and “Larger than life.” (I’m pretty sure those are both backstreet?) I’m assuming that each show starts with a performance from the hosts.

The audience is waving colorful balloons which makes it feel like a party. It starts with showing photos of each of the eight contestants for the evening. I tried to get screen shots or each performance and jot down some thoughts. Each contestant is introduced by the host and they walk up the catwalk with a voice over and music. I assume the voice over is a short description of each performer, but I wasn’t able to understand it.

The first act was a teenage boy named Ulrik, I assume 16 or 17 since you have to be 16 to enter the contest. He went on stage armed with a guitar, a harmonica, a great voice, messy hair, and stunning eyes. He sang a song in English, “Soldier” which was very catchy and well done. He didn’t dance but he was multitasking instruments, so who can blame him?

The second performance was Five guys  with 60’s styled slicked back hair, called Top Cats singing a song in English, “Baby Doll.” They were extremlly energetic while each playing an instrument- piano, drums, guitars, and a cello. Fun old school rock and roll sound while the pianist is standing and dancing while playing and  the  cello player is standing ON TOP of his cello.

The third performance was a slow paced Swedish ballad by Sonja Alden. She was alone on stage, no back up dancers or singers, no instruments aside from her soothing smooth voice. The set was filled with smoke and lights for atmosphere and a bridge. She wore a beautiful flowing dress that moved in the wind as she sang. Seemed like a classic song, was a bit too slow for my taste.

The Fourth artist was a guy named Andreas Lund, he strutted and danced up the catwalk to a Jay Z song, which I found pretty amusing in his shiny gold and black suit. He sang a Swedish song called “Aldrig, Aldrig” and had a great stage presence and a lot of energy.  He had three back up dancers/singers all dressed the same as him but with reversed colors.

The fifth performance was a Swedish song by four young women, blond hair and beautiful- the stereotypical Swedish woman in an Americans eyes. Their set was filled with smoke and they were joined by 3 male dancers.  They stayed pretty close to their microphone stands but did break away and move a little bit twice. The unique part was their instruments: Guitar, accordion, violin, and flute- and they all sang beautifully in unison with perfect harmony.

Sixth up was David Lindgren who sang an English song “Shout it Out.” Upon first seeing him in his suit and sneakers fist pumping to the music I thought he was awkward but I was wrong. He was soon joined by four co-ed dancers and he starts to dance along while singing, before you know it he shed his jacket and starts break dancing! It was interesting to see him sing and dance mixing in and even being in back of the other dancers. He was fun to listen to and watch- I was a bit scared to look away after being surprised with Flames shooting from the set and him break dancing.

The Seventh contestant up was Mimi Oh singing a Swedish tune. She was wearing bright yellow and pink along with massive eyelash extensions and doe eyes. She was surrounded by four co-ed dancers but only managed basic movements, slight dancing with mostly jumping and walking. I can’t really recall the song or how she sounded.

Last but not least was the eccentric Thomas Di Leva, I wish I could understand the background information on him, I am guessing it was pretty interesting. He sung a Swedish  song and wore a long sleeved, floor lengthed “dress?” with a lightening bolt on the chest and long curly hair. He only sings  but has a male and a female back up dancers in white and gold who move somewhat unconventionally. He was the only performer to walk into the audience, shaking hands and singing into the crowd.

All eight performances with some short dialogue and introductions in between took about 45 minutes. Then there is a recap rundown of each performance with a 15 second clip of every song along with which number to call to vote for that contestant.

I expected that to be the end, but the show went on. There was about five minutes of some stuff I couldn’t understand and then it was back to the contestants waiting with some comic relief from the host with a sign pinned to her bottom saying “Do not touch” – too bad I didn’t understand the context.

Apparently the votes are tallied immediately and you only have a few minutes to vote. I expected the results to be reveled next show. Within ten minutes of the eighth song the five songs that are voted to stay are announced followed by a second vote. I found it interesting that the contestants wait on the floor sitting at tables, as opposed to standing on stage.

There is a bonus performance while we wait, a “mash up” with who I can only assume are previous contestants from last year or last week? I was admittedly confused.

And the winner is…..

Ulrik- the first performer! He quickly ran to the catwalk and posed for photos, jumping high with his arms stretched out. He was rushed to the stage to perform an encore of the same song he played before. I thought the winner would be Lindren, the cheers were loudest for him.

I thought it was over but then… to my surprise there was a THIRD vote. What the heck!? Then I recalled reading that there are two semifinalists from each week. The vote was from the remaining four contestants and seemed much quicker. and the winner is….Lindgren! So, my suspicions were spot on. When his name was called his eyes were filled with tears and there was laughter in his voice as he performed his song again. It really felt like a celebration. The winners were given huge bouquets of flowers and posed for photos together.

So, that’s the Swedish Melodifestevalen in a very big nutshell. It was enjoyable and I’ll probably watch it again,  however I will certainly skip the hectic gathering of notes and screenshots. Hope you all enjoyed this piece of Swedish Entertainment! Search for “Melodifestivalen” on youtube and watch some clips!

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