‘Swedish people love it, but they find it quite odd’

Meet the web developer and entrepreneur using traditional Scottish ceilidh dancing to break the ice with Swedes.

'Swedish people love it, but they find it quite odd'
Scottish entrepreneur William Macdonald. Photo: Michael Campanella

During the day you might find William Macdonald doing all manner of coding things beyond the understanding of many of us, but at night – four times a year at least – you will find him coaxing Swedes and other foreigners into loosening up on the dance floor.

In November 2015, around St. Andrew's Day (Scotland's national holiday), Macdonald organized his first ceilidh in Stockholm. A ceilidh (pronounced: ˈkā-lē (kejli)) is a traditional Gaelic dance with folk music. It has been in the Scot's blood since his childhood in western Scotland.

“I went to a school by Loch Lomond, and I've been doing ceilidhs since I was seven. It was like gym glass. And it is: you get hot and sweaty doing this. We did it at secondary school too, and then any time there's a wedding in Scotland,” Macdonald explains to The Local.

Having moved to Stockholm almost ten years ago with his then wife, a Swede whom he met at a pub in London, Macdonald started looking for ceilidh events in Sweden's capital.

“There was a ceilidh group on, someone else had set it up, but he'd never actually organized any ceilidhs. No one ever did anything about it. And I was really trying to find a ceilidh, so I then contacted this guy and said 'do you mind if I try to organize one?' He said 'go for it!' So I took control of this group,” he says.

Musicians performing at one of Ceilidh Stockholm's events. Photo: Sofia Nahringbauer 

From there he began working with three other people, forming 'Ceilidh Stockholm', who have helped to make a success of the venture. The third one took place at the end of August and the next one is pencilled in for just before St. Andrew's Day on November 27th.

Macdonald speaks of wanting “to organize something that's fun, lively and energetic”.

The ceilidhs appear to be getting bigger and more professional each time. On the topic of the past summer's ceilidh, he says:

“We got a live band this time, which was a first. For the others we had just been using Spotify to play the music – because it's very hard to find a ceilidh band in Stockholm.”

At his ceilidhs you'll find everyone from Swedes who studied at universities in Scotland or the rest of the UK, to Stockholm residents from Hong Kong who went to international schools where ceilidh dancing is still taught today. Not forgetting his fellow Scots in the city, of course.

While Sweden's licensing laws among other things present obstacles, one of the aims for the future is to find a bigger venue than the Grammofon bar in Stockholm's Norrmalm, where previous events have been held.

Before then however, Ceilidh Stockholm could be set to expand in other ways.

“I've been contacted by someone who has a good idea – to turn ceilidh dancing parties into team-building exercises, because a lot of offices do these things like go off and build a raft,” Macdonald reveals.

“At least with a ceilidh, it's cheap, simple, a lot more fun I think.”

Ceilidhs aren't for the shy. Photo: Sofia Nahringbauer

Our conversation turns to Swedish work culture and Stockholm's reputation of being the startup capital of Scandinavia.

Macdonald, who still runs a web-hosting company he created back in the UK alongside his full-time job, bemoans: “I've had a go at setting up a business here in Sweden, but it's just a lot of paperwork, book keeping… a lot of hassle.”

Conversely, he says that his problems with Sweden from a business perspective are made up for by its family law and what it's like to work here:

“When you're an employee here, it's a great place, it's a fantastic place. I was married but we divorced unfortunately, but here the way it works is that the father and the mother share custody of the children. You work it out among yourselves, but if both of you agree to it, you share the custody, you share the costs, there are no alimony payments, everything is shared down the middle, and I think that's a wonderful thing. Whereas in Britain, fathers only get the kids every second weekend, and I would hate that. It's really bad for the children.”

Macdonald taking part. Photo: Sofia Nahringbauer

“Also, when you have a job here and have children, people leave to pick their kids up from daycare at about four o'clock. In offices like mine, half the office goes at four! And it's a wonderful system, I think it's so good here. If you come back from maternity or paternity leave and say 'I want to work 80 percent', they will tend to accommodate that too, especially if you have children,” he adds.

Running the ceilidhs has also taught Macdonald a great deal about online marketing and the social media age, he comments:

“When I sent out a newsletter I said 'Thank you for coming! Here's a link to our Twitter account and our new webpage, and here are some photographs from the ceilidh event'. The only thing people clicked on was the link to get photographs of themselves. That's all people care about. They're very narcissistic!”

The money raised by Ceilidh Stockholm goes to Feedback Madagascar, a charity he praises as being resourceful, effective and “small enough that you can still see what the money is going to”.

Another of the dances. Photo: Sofia Nahringbauer

Macdonald is trying to make a difference, as well as come some way towards introducing Swedes to Scottish up-close, fast-paced dancing with complete strangers.

“Swedish people love them. When we first started it they were a bit perturbed by having to dance with strangers – being thrown around very quickly and all of a sudden you’re in someone else’s arms,” he laughs.

“So they find it quite odd I think. But overall they like it, once they’ve had a bit of alcohol.”

Article written by The Local's intern Jack Schofield.

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Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

A reader got in touch to ask how long he had to work in Sweden before he was eligible for a pension. Here are Sweden's pension rules, and how you can get your pension when the time comes.

Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

The Swedish pension is part of the country’s social insurance system, and it can seem like a confusing beast at times. The good news is that if you’re living and working here, you’ll almost certainly be earning towards a pension, and you’ll be able to get that money even if you move elsewhere before retirement.

You will start earning your Swedish general pension, or allmän pension, once you’ve earned over 20,431 kronor in a single year, and – for almost all kinds of pension in Sweden – there is no time limit on how long you must have lived in Sweden before you are eligible.

The exception is the minimum guarantee pension, or garantipension, which you can receive whether you’ve worked or not. To be eligible at all for this, you need to have lived in Sweden for a period of at least three years before you are 65 years old. 

“There’s a limit, but it’s a money limit,” Johan Andersson, press secretary at the Swedish Pension Agency told The Local about the general pension. “When you reach the point that you start paying tax, you start paying into your pension.”

“But you have to apply for your pension, make sure you get in touch with us when you want to start receiving it,” he said.

Here’s our in-depth guide on how you can maximise your Swedish pension, even if you’re only planning on staying in Sweden short-term.

Those who spend only a few years working in Sweden will earn a much smaller pension than people who work here for their whole lives, but they are still entitled to something – people who have worked in Sweden will keep their income pension, premium pension, supplementary pension and occupational pension that they have earned in Sweden, even if they move to another country. The pension is paid no matter where in the world you live, but must be applied for – it is not automatically paid out at retirement age.

If you retire in the EU/EEA, or another country with which Sweden has a pension agreement, you just need to apply to the pension authority in your country of residence in order to start drawing your Swedish pension. If you live in a different country, you should contact the Swedish Pensions Agency for advice on accessing your pension, which is done by filling out a form (look for the form called Ansök om allmän pension – om du är bosatt utanför Sverige).

The agency recommends beginning the application process at least three months before you plan to take the pension, and ideally six months beforehand if you live abroad. It’s possible to have the pension paid into either a Swedish bank account or an account outside Sweden.

A guarantee pension – for those who live on a low income or no income while in Sweden – can be paid to those living in Sweden, an EU/EEA country, Switzerland or, in some cases, Canada. This is the only Swedish pension which is affected by how long you’ve lived in Sweden – you can only receive it if you’ve lived in the country for at least three years before the age of 65.

“The guarantee pension is residence based,” Andersson said. “But it’s lower if you haven’t lived in Sweden for at least 40 years. You are eligible for it after living in Sweden for only three years, but it won’t be that much.”