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July in Sweden: Clock off, tune in, chill out

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July in Sweden: Clock off, tune in, chill out
14:17 CEST+02:00
The Year in Sweden - July: Journalist Kim Loughran sketches a month by month account of the country he has called home ever since his accidental migration in 1966.

Short sleeves, bare midriffs, ice cream, fishing in a country lake. To counterbalance a life of functioning infrastructure and technological modernity, people are nostalgic for the primitive, rural life. Five weeks' vacation is the minimum. Every fourth employee works less than 40 hours a week, although there is a growing army of young ‘no-clock' workers — mostly in IT — in an increasingly skills-based economy. Women's wages are 86 percent of men's in the private sector, 84 percent on the public side.

On a hot July Sunday afternoon, you can walk the streets and hear only the singing of birds. Manufacturing, enterprises and organisations take a break, earned or not.

Meanwhile, the countryside is humming with activity. Often literally — music festivals and performances waft tunes to the winds. The Hultsfred Festival, a rock n' tent happening, draws big-name acts. The Lake Siljan folk music week is famous for innovative sounds and soft kisses in moonlit parks. Stockholm has its jazz and blues week on a harbour island. Choir week on harsh Fårö Island. Arvika for electronica week.

Every tenth Swede has played a musical instrument in the last seven days. Four percent have sung in choirs in the last month. People swoon at the sound of an accordion if there are waves and seagulls in the background. The accordion and much music came from the south through Germany. The neighbouring Norwegians, behind a mountain range sometimes called Kölen, the keel, interacted with the fiddles of the Scottish isles instead.

It's a good month for bargains, with more than 2,000 flea markets in country seats and city suburbs.

Parliament is closed, but on the first week in July representatives of the major political parties can be heard speechifying in the same park. Almedalen Park is in Visby, the mediaeval capital of Gotland, Sweden's island province. The island's flat, open roads bring families while Visby's lively bars draw party-makers. The speechifying started in the late 1960s when the Social Democrats brought in the charismatic (later mysteriously murdered) Olof Palme to add to the appeal of summer seminars. Now all parliamentary parties clamour for speaking slots. The casual setting of the park helps when clarifying ideologies.

In the far north, the midnight sun still shines. Kiruna, the main city of the northern wilderness, doesn't see a sunset from May 30th to July 15th. On the flip side, the entire region above the 72nd parallel will suffer through four months of total darkness when winter comes.

Keen to get a head start on the rest of the year? The Year in Sweden by Kim Loughran is on sale now at the AdLibris online bookstore.

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