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‘Sweden is the perfect country for me – and for lots of people’

"Whenever I'm feeling terrible about myself, I remind myself that I've moved to a foreign country, been on a TV baking competition in front of thousands of people, and done it all in Swedish. How many people can say that?!" laughs Bradley Peter.

'Sweden is the perfect country for me – and for lots of people'
Bradley Peter on Hela Sverige Bakar. Photo: Anette Lindmark

Less than two years after he moved to Sweden from his native South Africa for his work in cancer research, the 27-year-old is one of the contestants on Hela Sverige Bakar, one of the most popular shows on Swedish TV and currently showing on TV4.

In the show, 12 amateur bakers battle to be crowned Sweden's best. The researcher can't reveal who wins, but says he approached the competition in the same way he approached the move abroad. He says the key in both cases was to “just be yourself, don't take things too seriously, and try to give out a positive vibe!”

Baking was one of the things that helped him integrate into his new country and workplace.

Though his work was done in English and many of his colleagues were international, he says Swedish fika culture was a good way to make friends. “In South Africa, we bake, but it's not part of the culture like here, where fika runs through every Swede's blood, so I thought I could use cake to impress my boss and new colleagues,” he explains. 

And it was Peter's work colleagues who persuaded him to enter the show. In fact, he argues that science and baking, as well as his other passion, dance, have each taught him skills which have been useful in the other disciplines.


Bradley is also a classically trained ballet dancer who has represented South Africa in world championships. Photo: Graham Terrell

“Baking is one of my creative outlets, like dance, where I can express myself, but it's also like working in a lab – you have to weigh out the ingredients carefully, and follow the right protocol,” he explains, and the cake he created for the casting tape was a 'micro semla bun', made using equipment from the lab at work.

Despite doubts as to whether his baking or Swedish skills were up to the challenge of entering the show, Peter was invited to auditions, and this summer he found himself in the prestigious ‘bakers' tent' at Taxinge Slott, a castle an hour west of Stockholm where the competition is filmed.

Each episode was filmed within a single day, but those days sometimes stretched to 13 or 14 hours long. Still, Peter says the experience was “amazing on so many levels”, and that although emotions could run high in the tent, the competitors bonded over the shared experience.

“It sounds horribly cliched to say we were all great friends, but we really were. Meeting people with similar interests is so important when you move abroad, and that's how you improve your language and confidence. Even now we still try to meet up regularly and have baking get togethers!” he says.


The contestants. Photo: Anette Lindmark

Hela Sverige Bakar is based on the globally successful Great British Bake Off, but of course it has a Swedish flavour, with episodes dedicated to national specialities such as småkaka (small Swedish biscuits) and bullar or Swedish buns.

Even the name, which literally translates as ‘all of Sweden bakes' highlights the centrality of baking in Swedish culture. Although this put Peter at something of a disadvantage when faced with obscure cakes he'd never heard of before, he enjoyed the chance to discover new Swedish baking traditions.

“There's not much I don't like about it; I don't get salt liquorice or saffron, but I love all things almond and I go crazy for semla buns. I love that fika is so popular here, and that they have days dedicated to different pastries. It's one part hilarious and one part cute, but deadly serious! It's basically a human rights violation if you don't get a kanelbulle on Cinnamon Bun Day,” he jokes.

READ ALSO: Seven delicious food dates in Sweden


Peter puts the finishing touches to a cake. Photo: Anette Lindmark

The Swedes might not take their buns lightly, but the researcher notes: “On a programme like that you want to impress and to show off, but usually it's only when you stop taking everything so seriously that you bake your best cakes – and that's applicable to all kinds of situations outside the baking tent.”

Unlike the other contestants, for Peter, the pressure of producing perfect cakes within a strict and stressful time limit was added to the challenge of doing it all in a foreign language.

“I'm fine speaking Swedish with friends, but on TV in front of so many people, that's a different ball game,” he explains. “During the technical challenges, we just got a very brief recipe with a few Swedish words and I had to somehow follow it. That was terrifying to be honest, but I knew I just had to figure it out – and glance over at what the others were doing if I needed to!”

He adds that the nerves meant he often didn't know exactly what the panel – made up of Birgitta Rasmusson, whose book Sju sorters kakor (Seven sorts of cake) is Sweden's best-selling book after the Bible, and award-winning baker Karl Johan Sörberg – were saying to him when they were judging his bakes.

“I was so stressed out and trying to interpret what they were saying through a mouthful of cake, so I'd catch maybe 50 percent and just hope it was positive!”


Dancing in South Africa. Photo: Graham Terrell

“Watching it back, I generally have a gin and tonic on hand to cope,” he adds.

“I was so stressed that I don't remember what I said or did most of the time, so before the ad break they'll show me making a crazy face and I think 'Oh no, what am I going to do!' I also hear my accent coming through and I get very embarrassed by that.”

He says the reaction he's had since the show began airing in late September has been overwhelmingly positive, including from his parents back in South Africa, who “have no idea what's going on, but think it's really cool”. 

Peter's parents were his inspiration in baking: as a child he went into the bakery where his father worked to learn how his favourite cakes were made, and he's also been influenced by his British mother, who introduced him to baking traditions from her home country.

They were also a source of support when he began to be teased for his hobby.

“In South Africa we have a very traditional culture, with stereotyped gender roles, so primary school was quite hard for me and children can be very cruel. I was a dancer which was very unusual for a boy, and I really liked baking too,” Peter says. “It was my parents who would tell me that all that mattered was doing what made me happy.” 


On the show. Photo: Anette Lindmark

After speaking out about these experiences in last week's episode of the show, Peter has been sent multiple messages from viewers calling him a role model and praising him for talking about the experience.

And he also hopes to have acted as a role model for immigrants in Sweden. As the only non-Swede on the show, Peter says he felt a responsibility to show that foreigners can integrate fully into Swedish society.

“There are a lot of immigrants in Sweden and a lot of them feel that they aren't fully integrated; it's actually a very hard thing to do, so it was important for me to show that we're here, we do integrate, and we can be part of Swedish traditions and do typically Swedish things like bake kanelbullar!” he says.

“It also helped me to understand this better myself, to realize I'm not an outsider. “I consider myself well integrated but it's because I made the effort early on. It's very easy to get sucked into the expat culture here, but you have to learn the language to integrate. But it's also important not to integrate so much so that you lose yourself and forget your own culture. I think Swedes love people who are different.”

Though he feels Swedish now, before the move Peter had never been to Sweden. He says: “Sweden is truly worlds apart from South Africa, and it was the first time I'd ever moved away from home so there was an immediate culture shock, but my personality is very suited to Swedish culture. I hate talking to people on buses and trains!”


At work as a cancer researcher. Photo: SVT

He accepted the job in Gothenburg after a short Skype interview, having applied for dozens of post doctorate programmes around the world. Once deciding to take the plunge, he spent a long time researching the country, reading articles, blogs, and speaking to Swedes to “figure out what he was getting into”, and recommends that other would-be expats do the same.

After arriving, he says it's important to realize integration won't happen overnight. “You meet a few people, learn a few words, then slowly you start using Swedish expressions and baking Swedish food at home – it comes naturally,” he says. “You become more Swedish by the day, and now I'm not planning on leaving! It's a perfect country for me and it's a great country for a lot of very different people.”

“If you're open to things, you never know where they'll take you. I never imagined I'd end up on a Swedish baking show! But as soon as you realize it won't be the end of the world if you say a wrong word or a cake goes wrong, you open yourself up to amazing opportunities if you just give it a go.”

For members

DISCOVER SWEDEN

What to do in Sweden’s summer without Covid restrictions

After more than two years of pandemic-related restrictions and closures, Sweden is headed towards its first summer free of Covid restrictions since 2019. Here's some of what's going on.

What to do in Sweden's summer without Covid restrictions

Since April 1st, relaxed entry rules have allowed visitors from non-EU countries to enter Sweden without showing a vaccination pass or test certificate. As the last of the travel restrictions to be eased, summer tourism is finally set to return to the ways of pre-pandemic life.

As Swedes gear up for a summer without COVID, major tourist attractions, events, and festivals across the country are getting ready for what promises to be a fun few months.

STOCKHOLM

Pippi at Circus

After a two-year delay, ABBA and Astrid Lindgren fans finally have the chance to see Pippi at Cirkus, a new acrobatic musical performance at Cirkus Arena and Restaurant at Royal Djurgården in Stockholm.

The musical features lyrics by Björn Ulvaeus and music by Benny Anderson—the two “Bs” of ABBA fame—who have also previously written musicals like Chess, Mamma Mia and Kristina from Duvemåla. While the dialogue and lyrics of the show are in Swedish, the story is mainly told through circus acts.

The musical was initially set to premiere in Stockholm in June 2020, in celebration of Pippi Långstrump’s 75th anniversary, but was delayed due to the pandemic.

The world premiere of the musical is now set for July 1, 2022. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.

Pippi at Cirkus was intended to launch in 2020 but has been delayed for two years. Photo. Cirkus Cirkör

Music festivals in Stockholm

This summer, Sweden’s longest music festival, Grönan Live, returns to Stockholm’s Gröna Lund.

The festival starts in early May and runs through the end of August with concerts at least once every week. Performers include Jorja Smith, Dua Lipa, Tove Styrke and John Legend, among others. 

Festival passes cost SEK 395 and offer free admission to all concerts and dance evenings throughout the summer. They can be purchased directly from Gröna Lund.

Other big-name festivals lined up for the summer in Stockholm include Rosendal Garden Party, a four-day festival in June featuring artists like Jungle, Arlo Parks, Tyler the Creator, and The Strokes, and LollaPalooza Stockholm, a three-day event planned for July with bands such as Imagine Dragons, Post Malone, Lorde and Pearl Jam.

Allsång på Skansen will also return this year at the Solliden stage at Skansen open-air museum on the island of Djurgården in Stockholm. Allsång på Skansen is a classic summer concert where well-known Nordic musicians host a sing-a-long of classic Swedish songs. Allsång på Skansen will take place over eight Tuesdays, usually starting at the end of June. If you don’t manage to get tickets, don’t fret – it will also be broadcast live on SVT.

GOTHENBURG

Liseberg

On April 23, Liseberg opened at full capacity after more than two years of restrictions. 

The park also recently opened a completely new area—Luna Park—complete with two new family-friendly rides, Turbo and Tempus. 

The new area was built in celebration of Liseberg’s 100th anniversary, coming up in 2023. At that point, an additional roller coaster will also be featured in the new area. 

Luna Park is opening at the Liseberg amusement park in Gothenburg. Photo: Luna Park

Set sail for summer

Marstrand, on Sweden’s west coast, is known as Sweden’s sailing capital. It begins welcoming summer tourists for the 2022 season this month, offering gorgeous landscapes, quaint shops and cafes and exciting sailing events. 

The 2022 summer sailing season kicks off on the weekend of May 13, with the Marstrand SuperStar Cup, followed the next weekend by the Marstrand Big Boat Race. 

The island can be reached in about 50 minutes by public transport from Gothenburg. 

Alternatively, throughout the summer months, Stromma Boat Tours offers a day-long cruise to the island directly from Lilla Bommen.

On July 3, Gotland Runt, the world’s largest annual ocean race begins in Stockholm. The course, which starts inside the archipelago, continues around Gotland and finishes in Sandhamn is about 350 nautical miles and takes most competitors about 3 days to complete. The offshore race is one of the highlights of Swedish summer. 

Music

Live music events are also making a comeback in Gothenburg this summer.

On May 28, the city’s most charming district will be filled with live music from the American south at the Haga Bluegrass Street Festival, and Way out West returns in August with big name artists like Tame Impala, Burna Boy and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

From September 1-4 Gothenburg will also celebrate the comeback of its annual Culture Festival.

MALMÖ

Music

The summer begins with the triumphant return of Malmö Rock after a three-year hiatus. The full-day concert features punk, hardcore, metal and rock bands, headlined by Norrland’s own, Raised Fist.

Malmö Sommarscen returns this year between the 18th June -31st July, with music, concerts, theatre performances and allsång taking place at 47 different locations across the city for six weeks over the summer. The full programme will be released on June 2nd.

Malmöfestivalen also returns this summer from August 12th-19th. Locals and visitors alike flock to the city centre to enjoy live music, art exhibitions, rides, and, of course delicious street food. 

Street Food

Malmöfestivalen isn’t the only chance for Malmö-ites to get their hands on some delicious street food – the International Food Festival will also be in town between May 25th-29th, bringing authentic food and culinary culture from 15 different countries to the city.

Don’t live near Malmö? Don’t worry! The International Food Festival is travelling Sweden from May until September – maybe your town is on their tour?

Street Food Festivalen will also be coming to Malmö on July 1st-2nd, Stockholm on 26-27th August and Gothenburg on September 1st-4th.

By Lisa Catterall, Kirstie Hall, and Becky Waterton

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