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CULTURE

Book Club: Never Stop Walking by Christina Rickardsson

Each month, The Local Sweden’s Book Club reads a different book with a Swedish link. In August, we read Never Stop Walking by Christina Rickardsson, a memoir by a Brazilian-born woman adopted and raised in Sweden. Here's an overview of the book, and reviews from Book Club members.

Book Club: Never Stop Walking by Christina Rickardsson
Author Christina Rickardsson. Photo: Bezav Mahmod / SvD / TT

Rickardsson was born as Christiana Mara Coelho in extreme poverty, and moved to northern Sweden, separated from her family, at the age of eight. Never Stop Walking is her memoir, telling the story of her childhood as well as her travels to Brazil as an adult in search of answers and lost memories.

In her own words: “This is the story of my childhood in Brazil, about the culture shock I experienced when I arrived in the forests of northern Sweden and about the loss of the people I loved most. It’s about what I remember of my childhood in the Brazilian wilderness, on the streets of São Paulo, in the orphanage. And it’s about my early days in Sweden, when I found myself dropped into a place and life that couldn’t have been in sharper contrast to what I had known.”

The structure of alternating chapters between her childhood and return trip could reflect her early statement that she has two different selves: Christina and Cristiana. The memoir is perhaps not just a reunion for Christina and her family, but also a way of uniting these two selves. The themes of identity and home were present throughout Rickardsson's memoirs, as they have been in other books we've looked at recently.

Her stories of living in a cave, in severe poverty, and the shocking abuse faced by street children are hard to read at times. But at our Book Club meetup in Stockholm, we discussed how surprisingly free of bitterness these stories are, and how clear her message that we must all make the most of whatever opportunity is afforded us.

And there were moments of lightness, joy, and even relatable humour, for example on her return to Brazil as an adult when she is amazed at the size of avocados. 

One moment in the book that struck me was when Christina's family members are speaking over each other and give lengthy responses to yes/no questions. She realizes that she does the same thing, and has this apparently Brazilian trait despite having lived in Sweden for so long and lost the language completely.

“Absolutely loved it. Easy read,” commented Elle Bushfield. “I would enjoy a sequel that went into specifics about her life in Sweden.”

“I loved this book. It was so raw and unapologetic,” said Samantha Hammell. “She owned everything that happened to her without feeling sorry for herself. It was the most honest account I have ever read. It resonates because having to reinvent myself three times in three different countries, the feeling of displacement sometimes is overwhelming. But she did it.

“I admire Christina, she has guts and the courage to go back to her roots. Her ethos is that our past doesn’t define us, we have a choice of what person we become. The book reflects that. There are some not-quite-tied loose ends but maybe her next book will explain them. I had tears in my eyes at times and it was tough to read but a compelling one for sure.”

Reader Helen Davies said she would recommend the memoir to anyone who has experienced a move to Sweden from elsewhere. “Although her childhood in Brazil was hard to read about, she didn't want the reader to feel sorry for her. In fact, she writes that there was more joy and laughter in Brazil than her adopted country, but still one does feel anger at the poverty and bad treatment of the street children which continues today,” said Helen.

What to read next: If you enjoyed Never Stop Walking, I recommend reading All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung. This is a memoir by a Korean-born woman who was adopted by a white American family, where she discusses her personal experience of interracial adoption and talks about growing up and eventually returning to her roots.

Join The Local Sweden's Book Club on Facebook and sign up to our newsletter to receive updates and highlights from the group, and to have your say in what we read next. In September, Book Club members have voted to read Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekbäck, a historical thriller.

And feel free to get in touch by email (Members of The Local can log in to comment below) if you have book suggestions, opinions on this month's book, or any other ideas for the Book Club.

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CULTURE

‘Don’t wear bright colours’: Eight tips on how to dress like a Swede

Swedes have an international reputation for dressing well, with Scandi style a popular trend outside Sweden. The Local asked Swedes and foreigners living in Sweden to try and figure out the best tips and tricks for how to dress like a Swede.

'Don't wear bright colours': Eight tips on how to dress like a Swede

Black is best

When asking several Swedes their top-tips on how to dress like a Swede, many agreed – wear black.

Young professional Tove advises to keep it “all black, minimalist”. Uppsala newspaper columnist Moa agrees: “Wear a lot of black clothes and DON’T wear sneakers or ‘comfortable’ shoes, like running shoes, with dresses.”

Black is a neutral colour and, in general, if you get the neutral colours right you have got a long way in following the Swedish style. 

Neutral colours and a lot of knitwear is a good starting point. Photo: FilippaK/imagebank.sweden.se

Stay neutral 

Sweden might be saying goodbye to hundreds of years of neutrality by joining Nato, but Swedish fashion maintains its strong neutral stance when it comes to colour combinations.

Generally speaking, in autumn and winter Swedes tend to wear darker colours, as Sharon put it: “lots of beige, grey, black and ivory knits or wool. Jeans black or any shade of blue. Black tights with white sneakers for skirts and dresses”.

“Swedes in general will wear black and navy together which I’ve not seen before,” she added.

However, as the weather gets warmer, things change, as half-British half-Swedish Erik explained: “in summer/late spring Swedes change shape and personality,” adding a bit more colour to their wardrobe.

“Lots of colours yet still somewhat monochrome,” he said.

Most Swedes don’t wear a tie at work. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Follow the news trend, drop the tie

Nils, a reporter and presenter for public broadcaster SVT in western Sweden, does not always wear a tie in front of the camera – and he said his colleagues on national news don’t wear ties either.

“It’s not a must,” he said.

A blue shirt, no tie, top button open, beige chinos and a grey dinner jacket is the look he chose when presenting the evening news a few weeks ago.

Nils Arnell presenting the news on SVT Nyheter Väst. Photo: Nils Arnell/SVT

On a day to day basis Nils, who stressed that he’s “not a fashion expert”, gave the following advice: “As long as you manage to dress in a neat style, you can get away with quite a lot.”

“A white t-shirt and an overshirt work well in most situations and look stylish.”

Stay classy, even in class

Engineering student Erik (not the same Erik quoted previously) recently returned to Sweden from a one-year exchange at Birmingham University, where he noticed a big difference in student style between the two countries.

“The first thing that comes to mind is that on university campus there are so many people wearing work-out clothes, at least where I was”, he said.

“In Sweden, it’s more common to wear jeans than tracksuit bottoms, compared to the UK”. 

It’s also common to see a difference in styles even between departments at Swedish universities. The law and economics departments, for example, tend to wear more formal attire with a higher number of students wearing shirts and polos than, say, social sciences or engineering students.

Many students seem to wear a toned-down version of what they might be expected to wear in their future workplace.

When in doubt, think Jantelagen!

Equality and conformity are important concepts when it comes to many aspects of day-to-day life in Sweden, including the clothes you wear.

This doesn’t mean you have to do exactly the same as everyone else, but more that being too flashy or over-the-top can be frowned upon.

This can be traced back to Jantelagen, “the law of Jante”, a set of 10 rules taken from a satirical novel written by Danish author Aksel Sandemose in the 1930s, which spells out the unwritten cultural codes that have long defined Scandinavia.

Jantelagen discourages individual success and sets average as the goal. It manifests itself in Swedish culture not only with a ‘we are all equal’ ethos but even more so a ‘don’t think you are better than anyone, ever’ mindset.

And this is seen in Swedes’ attitude to clothing, too. Flashy, expensive clothing with obvious logos or brands designed to show off your wealth breaks the first rule of Jantelagen: “You’re not to think you are anything special”.

‘Stealth wealth’

This doesn’t mean that Swedes don’t wear expensive clothes, though. They’re just not in-your-face expensive.

Felix, a podcaster from Stockholm describes it as “stealth wealth”, saying that Swedes would have no problem buying and wearing “a black jacket without any tags for 10,000kr”. 

Despite living in Sweden his whole life, he said that it’s not always easy to get the style right.

“I’m struggling myself,” he admitted.

He suggested taking a look at fashion blogger and journalist Martin Hansson for inspiration on how to dress. 

“Do NOT use bright colours,” Felix added.

Birkenstocks with socks. Photo: Carl-Olof Zimmerman/TT

Footwear

Most of those we asked said that Swedes are a fan of white trainers, most commonly Stan Smiths or Vagabonds.

With the shoes being popular all year round for men and women, this can cause issues at house parties – as Swedes take off their shoes when they come inside.

This inevitably results in confused guests at the end of the night trying to figure out just which pair of white trainers belongs to them – and trying to find one missing shoe the next day because someone accidentally walked away with one of yours is more common than you might think. 

Vans trainers are also popular amongst more alternative crowds (black of course). At work, dress shoes are popular in the winter and loafers or ballerinas in the summer.

In the summer months, you’re likely to see Birkenstock sandals on men and women. Most Swedes wear Birkenstocks without socks – unless they’re off to do their laundry in their building’s tvättstuga.

Birkenstocks are also popular as indoor shoes all-year-round, both at home and at work. It is common to have a “no outdoor shoes” policy in gyms, schools and some offices. This is to avoid bringing a lot of dirt indoors, especially in the winter months when there is snow, rain, grit and salt on the streets.

H&M’s then-CEO Rolf Eriksen wears colourful socks at a press conference in 2006. Photo: Björn Larsson Ask/SvD/SCANPIX/TT

Don’t forget the socks!

As you often take your shoes off indoors in Sweden, your socks are visible.

This has led to an unexpected trend for colourful socks with interesting patterns, which are a great way to break the monotone of neutral colours and conformity by expressing your personality – in a lagom way, of course.

A pair of colourful socks or a playful pattern will get you noticed and likely be a conversation starter at a dinner party.

What’s your best advice for dressing like a Swede? Let us know!

This article is based on the responses we received from Swedes and foreigners in Sweden on what they think you should wear if you want to follow Swedish fashion trends.

If you have any tips of your own which you think we’ve left out, let us know! You can comment on this article, send us an email at [email protected], or get in touch with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram: @thelocalsweden

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