Can I convince people Swedes aren’t weird?

Wreaths, tipple tunes, phallic worship... French exchange student Elodie Pradet has survived her first Swedish Midsummer, and wonders how she will ever explain it to her friends back home without making them think Swedes are crazy.

Can I convince people Swedes aren't weird?

Most of my French friends already think that I live in Care Bears land, a mythical land in the far north where everything is quaint, everyone is cute, and all is just a bit odd.

It’s quite hard for me to contradict them after my first Midsummer celebration. Swedes dancing and singing about frogs and violins around a tree that looks like male genitalia? Girls wearing wreaths of flowers on their head? Thousands of hook-ups taking place on just one night in the year? The exodus of thousands of citizens from the city to enjoy nature at their summer houses in the archipelago or in the countryside? It sounds like a big orgy, a fantasy.

Seriously, what can I tell my friends and family to convince them that Swedes are not that weird?

Should I avoid the fact that Midsummer revellers race against each other by jumping in sacks and that there are categories for men, women, and children? Probably.

IN PICTURES Images from Elodie’s Midsummer kitchen table

Maybe it’s no good either to explain that Swedes sit down for lunch with printed drinking lyrics nestling under their plates, just so they can whip out the words as soon as possible after someone has poured the first shots of snaps?

That they print the lyrics in case that one guy, this-guy-who-knows-all-the-lyrics, doesn’t show up or not. Let’s not take any risks, let’s print the lyrics, you know.

We would never sing songs to get drunk in France, we just wouldn’t.

Even though I think it’s pretty cute, I will try not to say a word about the Swedish girl picking seven flowers in order to put them under her pillow because then she will dream about the love of her life. With a flower crown on her head. Most probably, my French guy friends would think that I’ve been living in a fairy land – beautiful girls bedecked in blossoms searching for a mate.

And what about this male genitalia tree? The Maypole, they say. Celebrating life, they say. Guys, you’re dancing around a phallus! I can’t even show the pictures to my dear Catholic grandmother, thanks guys. (Puss grandma).

SEE ALSO: Top ten: Odd Swedish Midsummer traditions

Let’s forget, as well, this detail about our kubb game last Friday. Yeah, let’s avoid telling mum that the goal of the game was to drink. And that my team won.

I will keep quiet about this moment when a girl tried to hit on a guy, even though he is the boyfriend of a girl present at the party. I won’t say anything about the fight that ensued, the tears, and how the party retrieved its joy once the would-be home wrecker finally left. Yes, I will try to hide the fact that Midsummer is a traditional drunk party where everyone tries to get laid.

As I remember that a French friend found Sweden freezing when she came to visit me in May (while I was dying of heatstroke) I will spare her the tales of how these stubborn Swedes run to the lake in the middle of the night.

But I won’t avoid telling my French friends one thing: this Midsummer celebration is the most Care Bears celebration ever. People who run away from the city for a day to celebrate life, small frogs (Små grodorna), nature, and their country.

This is how I see Midsummer.

I guess that singing about little frogs makes the little amphibians join the Swedes for Midsummer, because at the end, as the sun finally set and dusk descended on the meadow, a frog emerged from the grasses and said hello. He became the star attraction. We abandoned our game of Kubb and sang Små Grodorna to him.

Elodie Pradet

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Ten things to hate about Midsummer in Sweden

Okay, we love Midsummer. But one must admit... there are a few things that can get on your nerves.

Ten things to hate about Midsummer in Sweden
Because the weather is always like this. Photo: Werner Nystrand/Folio/

This is a revamp of this old gallery article first published by The Local in 2014.

1. The day after Midsummer

It's still raining, and you've got a throbbing migraine and nausea in your stomach. And you keep thinking, “It's not worth it”. But you'll do it all over again next year…

Not worth it. Not worth it. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

2. Throat-charring booze

They don't call it “brännvin” (literally 'fire wine') for nothing. Despite attempts to dress up this second-rate moonshine with fancy names and flavours like elderberry or blackcurrant, the swill downed following songs sung around the Midsummer table will most certainly leave a bad taste in your mouth.

Snaps, akvavit or brännvin. It's got many names, but it doesn't change its flavour. Photo: Gorm Kallestad/NTB scanpix/TT

3. Enough with the herring already!

Why, WHY does every Swedish holiday require one to down copious helpings of pickled herring? No matter how many pieces of crisp bread or newly boiled 'fresh potatoes' you have with it, sill is still slimy and sour. More than enough herring is consumed at Easter or Christmas to amply satisfy the annual herring intake – so why not spend Midsummer grilling instead?

MEMBERS' QUIZ: Test your Swedish Midsummer knowledge

Herring, herring everywhere. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

4. The weather

It's the longest and supposedly the sunniest day of the year. But you know it won't be. It's bound to rain, or at least the threat of rain will hang over your head all day long. It may even snow (we're not kidding).

It will invariably start to rain. Photo: Susanne Nilsson /Flickr

5. Ridiculous costumes

Some may find them cute or endearing, but the traditional blue and yellow get-ups worn by many on Midsummer is just plain wrong for any number of reasons. For starters, what exactly does a pagan holiday rooted in the Middle Ages have to do with a contrived symbol for Swedish nationalism dating to the end of the early 1900s? If you want to look like a Smurf who spilt a can of yellow paint in your lap, be my guest – but save it for National Day, June 6th.

People wearing Swedish regional traditional wear. Photo: [kajsa] / Flickr

6. The curse of high expectations

Isn't it enough to have one holiday a year where we look back and inevitably feel let down by all that wasn't? Not unlike New Year's, Midsummer is so wrapped up in people's idealised images of how things are supposed to be that it's nearly impossible to come away feeling like the experience lived up to pre-show billing, no matter how much alcohol is consumed.

Midsummer… yay… Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

7. The mosquitoes

This is Midsummer, not Halloween! But it's summer and it's wet and the troops of blood-suckers are on the march. You insist on wearing your summer gear, which means your arms and legs will be covered by big red welts…

Photo: Maria Morri/ Flickr

8. Dancing frogs and prancing pigs

Soon after the Maypole has reached its fully erect state, Midsummer revellers enter some sort of zombie-like trance which prompts them to make utter buffoons of themselves by dancing and singing in a series of ill-formed concentric circles.

READ ALSO: The seven bizarre traditions that make up Swedish Midsummer

Watching Swedes fumble through “Små grodorna” ('Little frogs') is a bit like witnessing a slow-motion auditory and visual train wreck which leaves one's psyche scarred.


Un post condiviso da Frida Hjorth (@fridahjorth) in data: 29 Giu 2016 alle ore 23:10 PDT

9. It's the beginning of the end.

Indeed, the worst thing about Midsummer in Sweden is that it's the beginning of the end of the season of seemingly never-ending light. Even if you somehow manage to get through the snaps and sill, there's no escaping the fact that it's all downhill from here.

The days get shorter, the weather won’t get much warmer, and before you know it we'll be dusting off those winter boots again and watching the sunset on our lunch hours. (Sigh).

10. Not being Swedish

Then there are those of us who will never be Swedish. We don't have that little red cottage in the countryside. We weren't raised with midsummer celebrations, and we certainly weren't raised with sill. And we are thus cursed to either overdo it, or simply never “get it”.

Pickled herring and snaps? Still don't get it. Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/Image Bank Sweden