• Sweden edition
 
January in Sweden: Week one, thirteenth day, thinking time

January in Sweden: Week one, thirteenth day, thinking time

Published: 05 Jan 2010 14:45 GMT+01:00
Updated: 05 Jan 2010 14:45 GMT+01:00

The Year in Sweden - January: Journalist Kim Loughran sketches a month by month account of the country he has called home ever since his accidental migration in 1966.

Welcome to Week 1. Every week in the Swedish calendar has a number. This combines efficiency and inefficiency: instead of scheduling a meeting for a day of the week that begins with the 5th, you suggest Week 32. Easy to find in a diary, impossible to remember without one. Only Week 1 and Week 52 are easy to keep track of.

Wherever you are, it’s cold. The trees are bare, and you can now see from one side of a city park to the other. Even in the extreme south, the mean temperature is zero Celsius, although the country’s western face to the North Atlantic and the Gulf Stream provides a relatively mild winter climate considering Stockholm’s shared latitude with, for example, Anchorage, Alaska.

The last of the Christmas holidays is the thirteenth day after Christmas, celebrating the visit of the Three Magi to the infant Jesus. The following Monday, schoolchildren slip back to their desks after the holidays — some after taking unapproved time on distant charter islands. July has always been the major holiday period because of the weather; now there’s competition from December-January — also because of the weather. Charter flights to Spain started in 1955, flashbulbs popping for the first departures.

These days, Thailand is the most popular destination. Nine million people generate ten million charter trips annually. One poll said that 60 percent would prefer more vacation time to a bigger paycheck. Sweden’s travel operators are efficient. When the 2004 tsunami hit southeast Asia, 4,500 Swedes were in Thailand. The effective help provided by Sweden’s biggest Thailand operator, Fritidsresor, has since been included in Harvard University’s leadership training curriculum.

This is the poorest sales month for Systembolaget, the state alcohol retail monopoly. By their philosophy, poorest is also best. The monopoly grew from an 18th-century decree banning the use of grain for private distilling — poor harvests had led to a scarcity of bread, a major food. The monopoly is cursed, ridiculed — and beneficial. Juggling with taxes and tariffs while fighting off EU trade infringement charges has produced results. Swedish alcohol consumption, once among Europe’s highest, dropped to among the lowest after the monopoly became law. Alcoholism is seen as either an illness or a rebellion against conformity.

The state has also produced booze. Before it was sold to a French company in 2008, Absolut vodka was earning zillions for the same state that took every opportunity to rap its population on the knuckles for its drinking habits. But the message about the dangers of drink was a mixed one, and the state no longer manufactures demon rum while tut-tutting its users. Systembolaget is an efficient monopoly: the selection of beers, wines and spirits is broad, sophisticated and available anywhere. If you live in the countryside far from a System outlet, they’ll send your order by post to the nearest food store.

Coffee al fresco in January? Swedes drink more java per capita than anyone in the world after the Finns. And in the depth of winter — at least in the southern third of the country — mocca addicts who are also smokers take their espressi outdoors under radiator heaters.

Culture blossoms in deepest winter. Myriad art courses involving eco-beads from ancient, musical cultures. And people buying theatre seats and popcorn. The Swedish word for cinema is bio, derived from the Biograph, an early German projector. The Guldbagge Awards for film (the word translates to Gold Bug, but the actual prize is a 1.2-kilo copper beetle) are awarded with fanfare in January. Swedes are avid moviegoers — apparently everyone goes one and a half times a year. Some swear that watching subtitled movies from childhood helps foreign language skills, a possible explanation for the Swedes’ excellent English compared to most people from Germany, France or Spain, where markets are big enough to support dubbing. Sweden and Denmark top EU rankings for state support of culture and numbers of citizens putting rear ends on seats.

At the end of the month, the architectural gem that is Stockholm’s Liljevalchs museum gallery opens its salon for amateur artists. The salon is open to all comers, but almost a century ago it was the major entry point to the art establishment. Easily the most successful Swedish artist is Carl Larsson (1853 – 1919). He has visibly impacted Swedish taste and might be considered the aesthetic root of Ikea. He painted countless interiors with loving precision, a diary of life in a perfect home. His wife Karin, a designer and artist, once commissioned a rocking chair from a local carpenter who delivered the finished product in the gloom of night because its plain lines embarrassed him.

They say it used to rain dead Christmas trees on Knut’s name day, twenty days after Christmas when children took a last whirl around the tree before packing down the ornaments. By tradition, the trees would be jettisoned on the nearest pavement. These days, the tarry wood is collected to fire furnaces for district heating.

Fewer dinner invitations this month. Christmas budgets are overdrawn. But after the mad partying of December, Swedes are pining for that insulating darkness again. Thinking time.

The Year in Sweden by Kim Loughran is on sale now at the AdLibris online bookstore.

Paul Rapacioli (paul.rapacioli@thelocal.com)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

21:59 January 6, 2010 by calebian22
Great article! Thanks.
00:36 January 13, 2010 by lingonberrie
A mind relaxer.

Yes, the so-called gloom from the dark is often the best refuge for thinking--and for escaping

the mindless chatter, complaints and the omnipresent opinions from people with minds like onions.

This article is simply a good way to relax.
Today's headlines
Ikea to introduce 'green' vegetarian meatballs

Ikea to introduce 'green' vegetarian meatballs

Swedish furniture giant Ikea is planning to put vegetarian meatballs on the menu in an attempt to cut down on its carbon footprint, the company has announced. READ () »

Students to keep paying off debt beyond 67

Students to keep paying off debt beyond 67

The Swedish government has proposed scrapping the 25-year span for repaying student loans, by suggesting those who attend higher education should keep paying the money back well into retirement. READ () »

Drowned puppies found in crayfish cage
The crayfish cage in the picture is not the one mentioned in the story. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

Drowned puppies found in crayfish cage

Police in eastern Sweden have launched a preliminary investigation of animal cruelty after two puppies were found drowned in a crayfish cage. READ () »

Three rescued after cruise ship sinks boat
Rickard Rundgren Björk of the coastguard services speaks to the media after the rescue operation on April 19th 2014. Photo: Maja Suslin /TT

Three rescued after cruise ship sinks boat

Three Saturday morning sailors had a lucky escape after their small boat collided and sank after it crashed into a cruise ship whilst sailing in the Stockholm archipelago. READ () »

Missing Swede found alive and well in UK
Sofie Marie Jansson. Photo: Metropolitan Police

Missing Swede found alive and well in UK

British police have found the missing Swedish girl Sofie Jansson in London, exactly a week after she was last seen, with authorities saying she is doing well. READ () »

Social Democrats make tax pledge to elderly

Social Democrats make tax pledge to elderly

Sweden's opposition party has stepped up its efforts to secure the pensioner vote by pledging to lower taxes for the elderly and make higher earners pay more. READ () »

Malmö Nazi attack victim on the mend
Showan Shattak pictured in Malmö before his attack. Photo: Facebook

Malmö Nazi attack victim on the mend

The 25-year-old man, whose stabbing by neo-Nazis sparked mass demonstrations across Sweden, has made a strong recovery in hospital and took to social media to thank supporters for campaigning against fascism. READ () »

Police seeking missing Swede in London

British police have issued a plea for tips in the search to find Swedish national Sofie Marie Jansson who hasn't been seen for almost a week. READ () »

University applications rocket to record high

University applications rocket to record high

Swedish universities continue to draw vast amounts of applicants with the number of prospective students seeking a third level education increasing for the seventh year in a row. READ () »

Man jailed in US over Lars Vilks murder plot
Swedish artist Lars Vilks pictured in New York in 2012. Photo: Linus Sundahl-Djerf/TT

Man jailed in US over Lars Vilks murder plot

American authorities have sentenced a 20-year-old accomplice of 'Jihad Jane' to five years in prison for an attempted terror plot to kill Swedish artist Lars Vilks, after getting involved with the murder plans when he was a teenager. READ () »

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
TT
Society
Kids in Victorian garb mark Swedish Easter
Shutterstock
National
Swedish MP ordered chemtrail probe
Society
Swedish supermarket Ica pulls contested Easter commercial off air
Kungahuset
Society
Swedish royals set baptism date for princess
finest.se
Gallery
People-watching April 16
Politics
Who's the prime minister's heir?
Alfie Atkins
Society
Are children's books the key to families integrating in Sweden?
National
'Sweden Dem protests cater to party's martyr image'
National
'Swedish research grants were fantastic, but now it's like Australia'
Society
Only in Sweden: The ten problems you'd never encounter elsewhere
National
Swedes stopped to take my picture, but didn't look me in the eyes
Business & Money
A swipe of the hand replaced cash and cards in Lund
Advertisement:
YouTube
Features
Video: Oliver Gee finds out how to embrace The Swedish Hug
TT
National
Abba duo hints at reunion
Private
National
Flash mobs hug it out across Sweden
Finest.se
Gallery
People-watching April 11-13
TT
Politics
Swedes to give six-hour workday a go
TT
Society
Aussie choir member wows Abba in Sweden
YouTube
Society
Stockholm magic a surprise YouTube hit
Fastighetsbyrån
Society
Gallery: The Local's Property of the Week
Private
Society
Swedes find 200-year-old gravestone in living room
Stockholm School of Economics
Sponsored Article
Why a bachelor's degree is no longer enough
Deepti Vashisht
Features
Deepti Vashisht dissects the magic of Sweden's personal ID number
Shutterstock
Society
Ten signs you've been in Sweden too long
Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Blog Update: The Diplomatic Dispatch

28 October 15:16

The Green Growth Group Summit »

"Today on the 28 October in Brussels, a large group of key EU Ministers and business people, including UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Edward Davey, and Swedish Environment Minister Lena Ek, will meet to discuss green growth. They all have a stake in resolving a challenge which, although it is crucial..." READ »

729
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com