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Why it’s best in Sweden to take your holidays when everyone else does

Why it's best in Sweden to take your holidays when everyone else does
A family in a ski-lift during sportlov in 2009. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/SCANPIX
People in Sweden enjoy generous holidays, but to make the most of them you should try to make sure you take yours at the same time as everyone else, Richard Orange has found.
Last week was sportlov, the short winter break when schoolchildren across Sweden take to the slopes.
 
As a freelancer, I'd decided I needed to stay working to bring in some cash. It wasn't long before I regretted it.
 
Everyone I rang was away, while Facebook and Instagram filled with happy faces on ski lifts. Even my own wife and children, who were up in Uppsala to visit her parents, managed to spend a day at the Kungsberget ski resort. 
 
Children enjoy a skate in Stockhom's Kungsträdgård during sportlov 2013. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT
 
It's a mistake I've made time and time again in the nearly nine years I've been living in Sweden. I take jobs covering for others during the peak summer months, and then find myself struggling to find anyone to hang out with when I'm off myself in late August and September. 
 
In some ways, I feel, Sweden still functions like a single giant factory, shutting down en masse at set times. The core summer weeks are even still known as the industrisemester, or industry holiday. 
 
And woe betide anyone who hopes to do any work involving collaborating with others during the summer peak. For a freelancer, this is difficult, as it means your income tends to collapse over the summer even if you, yourself, carry on working. 
 
If you stay in the city, you may be surprised to find some of your favourite cafés simply shut up shop for several weeks, leaving laptop warriors bereft of their favourite workspaces. 
 
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If you have children, it's a good idea to take sportlov and its autumn equivalent, höstlov, off, thereby saving your children the sense of abandonment they will otherwise feel being among the unloved ones left in the care of their school's skeleton after-school activities team.
 
A family boiling sausages while out hiking. Photo: Henrik Holmberg/TT
 
But it's the summer holiday which it is most important to synchronise with the rest of society. You should be off for at least three weeks, and preferably for an entire month from mid-July to mid-August. 
 
For politicians, the Almedalen festival on Gotland, in early July, marks the end of play, with political life then only really kicking back into gear again in the week running up to the opening of parliament at the start of September. 
 
Most other Swedes start a week or two later and end several weeks earlier. A 2017 survey by the polling firm Sifo found that a full half of Swedes took their holidays between July 17th and August 6th.  
 
A couple returning from their holidays back in 1939. Photo: Gunnar Lundh/Wikimedia Commons
 
When the law requiring firms to offer summer holidays was first brought in back in 1938, employees had the right to two weeks off. Now most employees in Sweden can take four consecutive weeks off in the summer and many take five. 
 
They can afford to, given the country's generous 25 days of annual statutory leave a year, which unlike in the UK, doesn't count public holidays or 'red days'.  
You should ideally stay in Sweden for at least two of the weeks you take off, ideally near a lake, an island, or the coast, so you can experience the country at its best. 
 
While sportlov should be action-packed, the summer break should be gentle, unstructured, and low-key, with each day involving little more energetic activities than a trip to the beach, a swim in a lake or between some islands, an outing to a country loppis, summer café or a country museum. 
 
A summer loppis in Österåker, Södermansland. Photo: Mats Schagerström/TT
 
Children should be supervised as little as possible, and left to go a bit wild, staying up way past their normal bedtimes and given access to more ice cream than is good for them. 
 
If your family owns a summer house, the time tends to be broken up with a gentle stream of visitors, who stay for a day or two of barbecues and fireside chats before moving on. 
 
If you don't, then you should spend at least a week on a road trip visiting those who do, popping in on family and friends wherever they happen to be.  
 
In the popular holiday area of Österlen in southeastern Skåne enough of our Malmö friends and acquaintances now have houses that there's a sort of alternative summer social scene building up.
 
The same would doubtless be true for Stockholmers of the Stockholm archipelago, Norrtälje, or Dalarna, or to Gothenburgers of Lysekil or Orust. 
 
But wherever my friends are, after last week's lonely sportlov, I am now resolved that this summer I too will try and experience the Swedish industrisemester, even though as a freelancer it will come frustratingly unpaid. 

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