Today I decided to be a little bit braver.
Every April in Sweden you will see or be approached by children between 10 and 13 years old selling Majblomman. For the past couple of weeks I avoided them, not understanding what they are saying or selling and not knowing how to respond. Today after passing a few girls by with the quick “Nej, tack,” I decided to go back and talk to them- in Swedish. I know what to say and how to say it, I need to start speaking. And who else is better to practice with than children?
“Hej, min svenska är inte så bra och jag förstår inte vad du gör. Kan du förklara för mig?” Hi, my Swedish is not so good and I don’t understand what you are doing. Can you explain for me? The girl froze and looked at me for a few seconds, I assume not knowing how to respond. Then I asked “Talar du Engelska?” to which she quickly looked at the second girl who ran to ask the third girl for help. At first I thought maybe my Swedish was so bad that they couldn’t understand a thing, but it was just that the third girl spoke the best English.
She explained that they are selling May flowers and that the money goes to children in Africa that have nothing, “As you can see there are many of us selling them.” I was blown away by her English, “Din engelska är jatte bra!” Your English is very good! I tried to respond to her in Swedish as much as I could, while she continued in English. She asked if I was from England and if I am visiting or if I live here. “Jag kommer från New York och jag bor i halmstad nu.” I am from New York and I live in Halmstad now. I asked her how much a Majblomma is and bought one for 30 kr. There are a few different types available, ranging from a simple single flower pin for 10 kr to a large patch for 50 kr, showcased in a pouch the kids carry with some information and prices.
I wish I snapped a photo of the three girls I bought from, they were so adorable and helpful.
Majblomman has been sold in Sweden since 1907, it is one of the worlds oldest children’s charities originating in Goteborg as a foundation where children could help children. Thought up by Beda Hallberg, the effort started off as charity towards children with tuberculosis, its success spread the cause to 17 other countries by 1932. Nowadays only Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Estonia still participate in selling May flowers, whose cause has adapted over the years to help support children in need. Right now the majblomman being sold are an effort to tackle poverty. The idea of majblomman was so that everyone has an opportunity to help, with a price so low that anyone could buy a flower. For a woman to try to sell over 100,00 paper flower pins for 10 cents each (Remember this is 1907) was very controversial, even more so when that goal was exceeded and 139,000 were sold. Beda Hallberg was the first woman nominated by the Goteborg City Council election in 1912. The majblomman purchased today is not the same as from 1907, or any other year; every year the design for the Majblomman changes color and sometimes flower type (My favorites are from 1907-1922). The designs can be voted on by the public for next year here.
If you see children trying to sell you something from a little pouch in the month of April, know that it is for a good cause and to not hesitate because they are only collecting donations for two weeks. Not only does the money go towards a good cause but it is also an effort to get the children involved.
I’m excited to have a memento to remember this small interaction in Swedish while contributing to a good cause and learning about an amazing woman who created such a long lasting charity that is now a staple of a Swedish April. It really goes to show that something small like making an effort and talking to a child for a few minutes makes a huge difference, I felt more comfortable and able – which is a long way from two months ago.