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HOLIDAY

Why I’ll never find a cure for Swedish cabin fever

As Sweden's summer rolls into July, The Local's David Landes wants to know if he'll ever get over his annual struggle with Swedish cabin fever.

Why I'll never find a cure for Swedish cabin fever

It’s only July, and I’ve got a serious case of cabin fever – Swedish style. This year, my symptoms first flared up back in March amid high-stakes negotiations for time off from work during the summer holiday period. At the office, colleagues sparred and strategized in hopes of securing the ultimate prize: week 27 through week 30 (in layman’s terms: the month of July).

After hours, friends crowed about cabins that had either been in the family for generations or had been purchased last autumn, tenderly renovated, and were now awaiting fresh occupants. As each regaled in the splendours of sommar på landet (‘summer in the countryside’), I felt my stomach turn and my palms begin to sweat.

Truth be told, I think I’ve been infected with Swedish cabin fever ever since watching comedian and actor Will Ferrell on some talk show in the US many years ago. As I recall, he waxed poetic about the stuga in Sörmland where he spends summers with his Swedish wife and their three children. As Ferrell garnered giggles with his goofball pronunciations of stuga (“Stoooga, stüüga, stugaaah”), I began to wonder where my then-Swedish girlfriend’s family had their summer home.

IN PICTURES: David asked The Local’s followers on Twitter what parts of Sweden they would like to buy a summer house in

Having seen so many postcard pictures of red summer cabins with their delicate white gables, I naively assumed they were doled out to everyone shortly after birth like a personal identity number (‘personnummer’). Would I be summering in the Stockholm archipelago? Or maybe near a village in the rolling fields of Österlen in the south? Better yet, how about the foothills of Dalarna, perched on a slope with a view over Lake Siljan?

As I courted my future Swedish wife, she spoke fondly of the summers she’d spent with her family on the Baltic islands of Åland. Perhaps not the most accessible location for a summer home, but with all that water, I figured it couldn’t be all bad even if it was technically Finnish territory. So I never bothered to dig deeper into the issue, figuring any prospective son-in-law would only be allowed to set foot on the family plot after officially tying the knot.

Imagine my shock, then, when I later brought up the matter with my father-in-law, casually joking that I was looking forward to my first pilgrimage to Åland as a member of the family. He looked at me quizzically before bursting into a fit of laughter that left his cheeks red and his glasses sliding off the front of his nose and over his bushy moustache.

“Silly boy,” he bellowed affectionately. “We don’t have a cabin out there! We simply rented a place for a few years when the girls were young.”

When I finally came to, mighty Göran dragged me up off the floor and sat me in a chair. The rest of the family rushed over and rattled off explanations for their relative Swedish cabin poverty: no obligation to head out of town every weekend; the freedom to visit other places instead of being tied down to the family stuga; no need to attend to latrines, leaky roofs, or burst pipes, etc etc.

While their arguments provided temporary solace, it was hard to escape the stinging realization that I had managed to marry into perhaps the only family in Sweden in which no one – not even aunts, uncles, nor long-lost cousin Lars – had a stuga. After all, apparently 20 percent of the roughly 9.5 million Swedes actually own a summer house.

That’s nearly two million stugor, and if you assume that most families in Sweden likely have at least five or six members (if you count siblings, parents, cousins, in-laws), then it stands to reason that, indeed, EVERY family in Sweden has a summer cabin. Right?

Every family except mine, it would seem.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m fully aware that my Swedish cabin fever is very much a lyxproblem and hardly something to whine about. One friend suggested my long-running affliction represents my private struggle to “keep up with the Svenssons” and prove to myself and everyone else that I too, can be a “typical Swede” with a typical Swedish cabin.

And I certainly don’t hold any sort of grudge against my wife’s family for not having a stuga of our own to call home every summer. Since we first met, my wife and I have instead enjoyed amazing stays in rented cabins or those belonging to friends at more than a dozen places in Sweden. Ironically, however, it’s often in the middle of these wonderful trips that my cabin fever breaks out in earnest.

And this year was no exception.

As the kids frolicked in the ample yard of our rented cabin in Dalarna, my wife and I admired its vaulted ceiling, wood burning stove, modern kitchen, and proximity to the water. Helped by the never-ending twilight and a few gin and tonics, it didn’t take long for us to conclude (again) that life in Sweden wouldn’t be complete without a cabin of our own.

I reached for my smartphone and clicked on a property listings app that had been dormant since we purchased our home two years ago. After punching a few parameters into the search tool, we scrolled through listing after listing, flicking through dozens (hundreds?) of pictures featuring red-painted façades, blackened stone fireplaces, sun-drenched porches, cosy guest cabins, and even a few outhouses, convinced that the stuga of our dreams was simply one more click away.

Just before the phone’s battery died and my fingers started to cramp, we emailed a few especially promising listings to others in my wife’s family. Surely any future cabin should be considered an investment “by the family, for the family”, we reasoned.

The next morning, with the rain having washed away our planned excursion to the beach and the kids fighting over who should get to play Candy Crush, I began to rethink our grand cabin plans.

Just then my phone pinged with a response from my sister-in-law that I nevertheless hoped would kick start my entry into the anything-but-exclusive club of Swedish summer cabin owners. A few years my senior and also married to a foreigner, sister-in-law Anna seldom fails to deliver sage advice and helpful insights about life in Sweden. I opened her message with anticipation.

“Put your phone away. You’re on holiday!” she commanded tersely. “Hold out till August. This cabin obsession usually passes by autumn. Trust me.”

Right.

I followed her advice and actually did manage to make it back to our suburban Stockholm home without once again getting sucked into the dizzying assortment of summer cabin listings. Since then, however, as I’ve stumbled back into the daily grind, I can’t seem to resist the temptation to browse through the tantalizing array of cabins.

Indeed, this year’s struggle with Swedish cabin fever feels like I’m battling an addiction rather than trying to simply expunge a temporary infection. No doubt my smartphone and that damn property app bear much of the blame.

And so the stuga surfing continues, often in secret, and despite the knowledge that financial realities and other priorities mean that any potential purchase is likely years away. By then, we’ll likely have stayed in plenty more cabins. And with luck, maybe have a better idea of whether or why we might want one.

In the meantime, I’ll just have to learn to live with cabin fever and revel in the dreams it continues to spawn. After all, sometimes the dream, forever remaining just out of reach, can be more fun than the reality.

David Landes

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HOLIDAY

I went on three consecutive weeks of leave and this is what happened

Sandy Errestad, who works for Malmö startup hub Minc, decided to take advantage of Sweden's famously long summer holidays for the first time. This is what she found out about life, work and herself.

I went on three consecutive weeks of leave and this is what happened
I switched on my out-of-office e-mail reply and decided to enjoy the summer. Photo: Nevenova/Depositphotos

It's now been almost a year since I relocated from London to Sweden, but it still feels pretty fresh. I reckon it's because I haven't yet gone through a full year of all seasons, festivals and other happenings that are bound to be different in Sweden from what they are in London.

READ ALSO: Five Swedish summer habits that confuse newcomers

One such thing is annual leave – although I technically only have seven more days of annual leave in Sweden than I did in London (30 versus 23), most people in Sweden take about four consecutive weeks of leave during the summer. Yep, that's a full month's worth of leave in one single go. Last time I had that much time off in one go was before I started my first job, age 14. In other words, it's been 14 years since I last went more than one or two weeks without having any work to do.

Committed to my newly found Swedishness, I decided to take a full three (!) consecutive weeks off work during July and August. Mind you, once I went on leave most of my colleagues, and indeed Sweden at large – or so it felt – had already been off and away from the office for about two weeks. In other words, I was already pretty relaxed as I went on holiday, as opposed to stressed out and on the verge of a breakdown as was often the case when I went on leave in London.

READ ALSO: Here's what happened when this Swede introduced fika at her London office

Nevertheless, having never done this before, I decided to look at how I was affected by being detached from work for so long. Here's what happened:

Week 1: Itchy reflection


Three days and four books into my holiday.

I went to Kos, Greece, with my sister and her two kids. Three days in I started getting a bity itchy and couldn't believe I was going to do basically nothing for three weeks. However, knowing that I had another three weeks of nothingness ahead allowed me to look back at the previous six months and actually spend a good amount of time thinking about my key learnings, drawn from achievements as well as fuck-ups, both in my professional and personal life.

Going on leave for just a week doesn't really mean you get a fundamental break – it's just a blip in a longer time period, and chances are you'll also try to cram as much stuff as possible into that one week to “make the most of your holiday”, meaning you'll have less time for reflection. I had none of that in Week 1 – in fact, I was borderline bored only a few days in.

This might explain why I'd towards the end of Week 1 already found enough peace to make a plan of what I hope to achieve and want to change in the coming autumn. We're all very good at making quarterly and annual plans for work, but most people don't seem to do the same for their personal lives – and I know I certainly didn't back when I was living in London, simply because I didn't have the emotional bandwidth that's needed for that sort of reflection.

Week 2: Holiday stillness


Ten days in and all fun and games.

I went to Lisbon with a group of nine friends and felt completely switched off from work. This was a pretty active holiday with loads of surfing, tennis and half marathon training, so there was a lot less time for reflection and reading than in Week 1. We essentially spent a week just playing games and making afternoon cocktails, and it's some of the most fun I've had in a long time. I think we spoke about work once in an entire week – but we still had plenty of other conversations and activities going on, which forced me to remember who I am and what I like doing outside of work.

This was the week when I was reminded of my love for heated debates, feminist literature and – who would've known – sports. I even signed up for tennis lessons in the autumn, so we'll see how that goes.

Week 3: Onwards (and a bit of cheating)


18 days in and feeling somewhat clueless.

In Week 3 I was moving houses – very exciting, particularly considering that I moved into my first own (!) piece of real estate. I also started mentally preparing for going back to work by going to the hairdresser, getting my nails done, and essentially just removing any trace of me having lived in a pool for the past two weeks.

I was seriously excited about going back to work – and then a prospective client got in touch and wanted to meet up for a coffee. There may or may not have been a nervous giggle from my end, and a brief thought as to whether I could still do my job after having been out of the loop for so long (two and a half weeks that is, but it felt like a lifetime). I went for the meeting, apparently remembered how to pitch a client, sealed the deal and went on to draft a first media strategy. The next day I had to go into the office for a strategy and planning day, which further pushed me to put my work hat on and remember what it is that I do, and why. I even started jumping up and down as we discussed the coming plans for the autumn.

I'm amazed at how quickly I could switch off from work, and how quickly I could switch back on. Both processes made me slightly anxious before it had actually happened, but chances are that says more about me than it does switching on/off… Three weeks, or, as it were, two and a half, was just the right amount of leave for me. I know some people take five (!) and I'm sure it depends on whether you have kids or not (Swedish school holidays are never-ending – they go on for about ten weeks in the summer) but I reckon that would be way too much for me. But then again – who knows – maybe I'll learn to love it…

Sandy Errestad is PR and Communications Lead for Minc, the startup house in Malmö. Minc hosts an incubator, a co-working space, and Fast Track Malmö, the most popular startup accelerator in the Nordics. This post was originally published on sandyerrestad.com