Something Swedish


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First Snowfall: Första Snöfall

When many people (Read: Americans) think of Sweden they think of snow. And Polar Bears (Which there are none of). A snowy winter is how I know Sweden to be, not only because of that stereotype, but because I have spent all of my visits here during Christmas time.

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I’ve always loved snow, but I welcomed this snow with extra glee. It doesn’t snow nearly as much in the Southern tip of Sweden as in the rest of the country. Yesterday was my first “first snow” in Sweden, especially because I finally have something to compare “Snowy Sweden” to. The best part of the first snow early in December? Saying goodbye to Dreary Grey November. I’ve never experienced a Swedish November before, and I have to say it was the worst. On December 1st the sky finally opened up and revealed it’s blue self again, and then gave us snow to brighten our long nights as we hung decorations.

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This will be my forth Christmas in Sweden, but my first full winter. My visits were usually barely enough time to enjoy Christmas and New Years. I’ve never been here long enough to enjoy Christmas shopping, Christmas Markets, Lucia, or Advent.

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I was surprised to see so many cyclists out braving the weather. I could barely walk without falling. There are more tire tracks than footprints in the snow.

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An interesting difference that I find in Sweden is the lack of shoveling. As soon as the snow accumulates at all in NYC you hear the whole neighborhood shoveling as its still snowing. And then again an hour later, and early in the morning. The sidewalks are COMPLETELY shoveled. In Sweden – not so much. I didn’t see or hear a single shovel, nor see a shoveled sidewalk. Instead, we just walk on the bumpy and slippery snow and ice on our way to work and school and try not to fall down. I guess it is also a different mentality than “If someone falls on my property because I didn’t shovel they can sue me” which is pretty unlikely to happen in Sweden.

In Sweden, instead of using rock salt before it snows or right after, there is always a layer of gravel on the ground from December – April. I guess it gives traction and breaks up the snow a bit, but it doesn’t melt snow and ice like rock salt does. And it looks so messy for months!

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Some photos of the beautiful sky we had today, taken from the new bridge that goes over the train tracks (2:30pm). I couldn’t quite capture it. To see photos of today’s picturesque sunset from a great view, visit this blogpost: MovingtoSweden

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A snowman I found outside my apartment, and a soda can – perfect way of measuring snow!

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Vocabulary:

Snow: Snö

Snowman: Snögubbe


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Swedish Seasons

Now that I’ve been in Sweden for almost 10 months (wow!) I’m getting to experience all the seasons in Sweden, and it has been a roller coaster! A very cloudy and rainy ride recently.

Southern Sweden is a comfortable mix of warm, but not too hot, summers, and cold, but not unbearably freezing, winters. Notice I only mentioned two seasons? Spring and Fall/Autumn come and go so quickly you can barely feel it in the air.

In SFI we learn the seasons (årstider):

Summer (sommar): June-Mid August [2.5]
Fall (höst):  Mid August-October [2.5 months]
Winter (vinter): November-March [5 months]
Spring (vår): April-May [2 months]

But in fact this is only an estimate.

In Sweden there is no small talk about it officially being the first day of Fall. Not because the season is so brief, but because seasons are not noted on the Swedish calendar. You “feel” when a season arrives, you don’t “know” ahead of time. Just by looking at an American calendar I can tell you the dates of the seasons in 2012 are: March 20th, June 20th, Sept 22, and Dec 21st.

In Sweden (and Finland) the seasons are determined according to a consistent 7-day temperature reading. Its Fall/Autumn because its been below +10°C (50°F) for long enough to consider the season change. When will it be Winter in Sweden? When it’s cold enough 7 days in a row (Below 0°C/32°F). This means that the seasons change at a different times all throughout Sweden since there is such a huge climate difference in the North and South.

Rain, Rain, go away…

Before moving here I didn’t really think about Sweden having a lot of rain, just the stereotypical land of snow. For the past two weeks it has rained at least a little (usually a lot) everyday, with an overcast hiding any proof of  sky or sun. I started wearing my light winter jacket and scarf this week, mostly because of the wind, but it reminded me that winter is coming and the days are getting shorter. Not that I wouldn’t mind the extra 15 degrees(F)/8 degrees (C)  in NYC, but I think  I’ve adjusted to the Swedish weather. I don’t mind the rain and cold as much and have gotten used to always carrying a sweater and umbrella all year round. Aside from the wind and rain it doesn’t feel like the temperature has dropped too drastically, but that’s because we had a chillier than normal summer. In fact, I read a newspaper article about Swedes needing to take extra D-vitamins to make up for the lack of sun this summer and  that the sick season will come early.

The end of summer means the end of some of my favorite things:

The hustle and bustle of tourists ended over a month ago, now the streets feel empty without all the outdoor dining and the sound of clanking plates and glasses.

Eating waffles in the open air  museum

Buying gelato from the local ice cream truck.

“The tower is closed. Welcome back next summer.” Looking over the town from above the trees.

I’m determined to spend the next few weeks of good weather taking long walks before it becomes too cold and dark. After that I think I’ll be baking cookies. Something to look forward to!


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Swedish Weather: “Svenskt väder”

When I first moved to Sweden people thought I was crazy for arriving in the middle of winter. They are even more surprised to learn that over the past three years almost all my visits have been in the dead of winter, and I still wanted to move here! Sweden is known for its harsh weather- lots of snow, wind, freezing temperatures, and 17 hours of darkness during those winter months (November – March). The climate between Southern and Northern Sweden is severe. Where the January temperatures in our town usually bottom out around -4 C (25F), that is nothing compared to Middle/Northern Sweden where Winter temperatures hit -15 C (5F). Our 17 hours of darkness is nothing compared to the 20+ hours of night the further North you travel. Thankfully our Southern weather is not as drastic: less snow, more light, less frigid, but more wind. The winter months affects all Swedes though, and everyone looks forward to summer days filled with sunshine and warmth.

When Spring begins to peek out of hiding Sweden starts waking up from its many months of slumber. A few weeks ago Spring had sprung and even showed a glorious preview of summer. The streets were crowded, the parks were sprawling with sunbathers, the ice cream and gelato trucks were out, people were grilling and picnicking. It was a week of bliss. A week of exactly what makes Sweden tick. It’s an amazing feeling to finally feel the warm sun on your skin after months of dark and cold.

It  was. WAS. For the past two weeks temperatures have fallen and the sun went back into hiding. It has been raining almost everyday, cloudy, or windy. This type of unpredictable, ever changing weather is common in April, but I was hoping not so much in May! At least we now have 15 hours of daylight (Even if it is filled with clouds) and the temperatures are  usually above 10 degrees Celsius (in the 50’s F. The hottest it usually gets in Southern Sweden is around 80 degrees Fahrenheit, which I think is perfect!)  The sun makes a guest appearance a few times a day, but never long enough to be considered a “nice day.” There was one beautiful day in the past two weeks and it is supposed to start looking better on Friday (A little cloudy but no rain). It feels like One day forward, three days backwards these days. I’m beginning to understand why Swedes are so quick to jump in the sunlight as soon as it appears – it might not last very long!

EDIT: Mother nature most have read my post because that 80% rain forecast turned out to be a pretty nice day! Some clouds and wind, but mild. We even played tennis.


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Valborg- How We Welcome Spring in Sweden

The warmth of Spring showed its shy face yesterday, and we think it’s here to stay this time. We felt the sun on our faces, admired the beautiful blue skies, enjoyed the smell of barbeques cooking, saw people enjoying picnics, and soaking up the rays – sunbathing anywhere and everywhere. We spotted our favorite gelato truck and knew it is finally Spring. What perfect timing as yesterday was Valborgsmässoafton, which is the eve of Walpurgis Night – a time to welcome and embrace Spring. Thankfully it embraced us right back.

This celebration of Spring is common in many European countries but not in the States so I was very excited. The festivals are most popular in Southern Sweden (maybe because of the climate difference?) and may be influenced by the pagan Northern European traditions of May Day. Large bon fires litter the Swedish towns as the main event for the celebrations, which is said to have originated because on May 1st farm animals were allowed out to graze and fires were set in an effort to protect them from predators.

In Halmstad our bon fire is set up on the Nissan River- out of reach for any pranksters to light it early.

The band started at 7:30 and people started to gather an hour before, some early to enjoy a picnic in the park and others to grab a good spot near the river. Thousands of people show up to listen to the music, the choirs, the speech, and watch the fire burn. Traditional spring songs are a huge part of the celebration, along with the national anthem.

The speech was given by the headmaster of the university, aside from a few random words the only sentence I caught was “We hope Spring always comes back.” The first choir was students from the school, named köörmit (kör=choir, the name is a wordplay to sound like Kermit) and the second is the ‘Men Choir’- which oddly enough was lead by a women conductor.

Some examples of traditional Spring songs:

Vintern rasat ut
Vintern rasat ut bland våra fjällar,
drivans blommor smälta ned och dö.
Himlen ler i vårens ljusa kvällar,
solen kysser liv i skog och sjö.
Snart är sommarn här i purpurvågor,
guldbelagda, azurskiftande
ligga ängarne i dagens lågor,
och i lunden dansa källorne.

The winter raged among our peeling;
drift flowers melt down and die.
The sky smiles in the spring’s bright nights,
sun kisses lives in forests and lakes.
Soon it is summer here in purple waves,
gold coated, azur shifting
lie the meadows in today’s flames,
and in the grove the wells dance.

Majsång (Sköna maj, välkommen)

Sköna maj, välkommen till vår bygd igen!
Sköna maj, välkommen, våra lekars vän!
Känslans gudaflamma väcktes vid din ljusning;
jord och skyar stamma kärlek och förtjusning;
sorgen flyr för våren, glädje ler ur tåren,
morgonrodnad ur bekymrens moln.

Beautiful May, welcome to our area again!
Beautiful May, welcome, our playful friend!
emotions godly flame rose at your dawn;
earth and clouds stutter love and delight;
sorrow flee for spring, happy smiles from tears;
morning blush from troubled clouds.

At around 8:45 we spotted a kayak approaching with two flames, which were held by a small boy who looked very excited to light the fire. They circled and lit it from all sides- quickly plumes of smoke filled the air.

Then came the flames. Then out came the ducks! Only two or three but they swam away at full speed:

Once the fire was roaring more kayaks came to perform the torch parade. There was 10 kayaks with fire at the front and end of each. The circled the fire a few times, making different shapes and patterns.

The fire did not burn for as long as I expected, I’m sure it lasts longer in other places where this tradition is an even bigger deal such as Goteborg, Uppsala, and Lund which are known for having a large Sista April (Last Day of April) celebration including events from the graduates of their universities.

For someone who has never experienced such a celebration it was something special. What else is better than celebrating wonderful weather? This is the time when Sweden shines.

The rest of the night was celebrated with great friends and liquor, the best way to spend Valborgsmässoafton.


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During Swedish Winter: Under den svenska vintern

Swedish News: Sweden’s official twitter account is completely run by its citizens, each week a new Swede is updating for @Sweden, completely uncensored to show the true people of Sweden. Isn’t that neat? See the video here. Right now the user is a lesbian truck driver, and boy is she chatty! I guess I would be too if I was updating for a whole country. I wonder who will be next. I can’t seem to find anything relevant to say on my new twitter. I’m sure the more I experience the more I will tweet? For now I’ll write long comprehensive sentences linked together to make paragraphs, but I think it’ll be fun in the future. For the time being I’ve learned how to use hashtags (#) and read stuff that people are writing about #Sweden and #Swedish.

Our local library (biblioteket)

I try to go for a walk everyday to get more comfortable with my surroundings and stay on some sort of schedule since I’m not working or going to school yet,  but that still doesn’t keep me from sleeping late. Yesterday I ventured out at 10:30am (my earliest outing yet) and saw four long lines of the cutest  little kids walking to and from the library down the block from us (which is a beautiful glass building overlooking the Nissan River that I still haven’t gone inside). Made me want to take my walks earlier from now on, I was tempted to take a picture of the kids but I thought that might be creepy.

Anyway, my new schedule of sleeping late isn’t a habit I’m used to, I love mornings, so I suspect its due to the weather/season. It still hasn’t snowed here yet, instead its all grey skies and lots of wind. At least snow brightens everything up a bit. Depending on what time our alarm goes off the sun still hasn’t risen or seems like its struggling behind the clouds. I’m the type of person who needs light, not only to wake up but to function.

A few people regularly ask about how much daylight I see these days, what time the sun rises and sets.

For those who don’t know anything (or much) about Sweden- its very long and very North (relate to it this way: Sweden is almost the length

For the sake of comparison, I deleted the Atlantic ocean and moved Sweden a few thousand miles south.

of the whole U.S Eastern coast; the Southern

tip in line with Northern Canada, and the North tip in line with Northern Alaska) In Southern Sweden (Where we are least effected by the harshest cold weather and the longest days or nights) we had 6 hours and 47 minutes the winter equinox on Dec 22nd, waslong. In New York the same shortest day of the year was 9 hours and 15 minutes. Today the sun rose at 8:28 and will set at 4:11, and let me tell you it feels like it rises slow and sets fast! I hope you guys are enjoying your extra two hours of sunlight! Come Summer you will be jealous, so it makes it all worth while, I get to enjoy 17 hours and 45 minutes of daylight! It sounds like a lot but its a great way to brighten up your day! I’m just relieved to be in Southern Sweden so we aren’t stuck with even longer or shorter days, that must be rough. At least they have snow now, I’m jealous of that, but not of the weather difference, I’ve been enjoying my 4 degrees C (39 F), which is about to change but at least snow is on its way!

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