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.
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.”
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.