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LIVING IN SWEDEN

Are these the 50 most ‘Swedish’ things in existence? (part two)

Quick-cook macaroni and ketchup, always knowing the week number, Queuing tickets, and soaking in every tiny ray of sun in spring: These are some of the objects, foods, and behaviours our readers (and other foreigners) consider the most Swedish in existence (part two in a series of two).

Are these the 50 most ‘Swedish’ things in existence? (part two)
Meatballs got mentioned again and again in our very informal reader survey of Swedish things. But perhaps more Swedish is to have "best in test ratings" of various meatball brands. Photo: Stina Stjernkvist/TT

You don’t have to be living in Sweden long before you start puzzling at some of the things that pass for normal, so, half in jest we asked The Local’s readers for what they think are the most “Swedish” things in existence.

We got so many responses that we’ve divided our article into two parts. This is the second part in a two-part series. You can read the first part, on Swedish “objects” and “clothes” here

THE MOST SWEDISH FOODS

It’s fair to say that many of the foods people came up with did not give the most flattering picture of Swedish cuisine. 

The most common suggestion for an uber-Swedish dish was quick-cook macaroni with tomato ketchup. This perhaps reflects the horror some other nationalities feel upon witnessing it. (As it happens, Swedes are world-class ketchup consumers, each of them wolfing down 2.7kg of the tangy red gloop a year, behind only Finland and Canada, and way ahead of the US.) 

Other unflattering food suggestions included “bearnaise with everything” (largely true), Kebab pizza (yum, and also, if you’re Italian, an aberration), and Flygande Jakob (vile). 

Pasta with heaps of ketchup. Photo: Antti Nissinen/Flickr

On a more general level, several people simply cited “salt“. For them, the most Swedish thing was to load already salty foods with even more salt. Could this be the result of a country that before the advent of refrigeration lived off salted fish, meat and vegetables for much of the year?     

On the borderline of the questionable foodstuffs category came various types of food in tubes, such as skinkost and räkost (processed cheese with bits of ham or prawn blended into it), and Kalles caviar (objectively delicious).  

I’d personally also put korv, Swedish sausage, in the questionable category. While arguably the national snack food, I find the classic Swedish varmkorv hot dog sausage of considerably poorer quality than their German equivalent. Thank God for falafel rolls. 

I’d make an exception for a tunnbrodsrulle, the flatbread common in northern Sweden which is often used to make a sort of hot dog wrap, with potato, a sausage, crispy fried onions, ketchup and mustard. It justly got a mention.

Salty liquorice (sweets flavoured with ammonium chloride) which came up a lot, is certainly beloved of Swedes, but disliked by many, perhaps most, others.

Also on the borderline was potatisgratäng i en påse, or “potatoes au gratin in a bag”, the supermarket packets of sliced potatoes in a creamy sauce which can be simply poured into a tray and shoved in the oven. 

But Swedish food can also be fresh and delicious, and its cake and pastry-making is often up there with some of the best baking countries. 

The suggestions reflected this, with some readers putting forward truly delicious (and extremely Swedish) treats. 

The ingredients for Janssons Frestelse Photo: Janerik Henriksson / TT

Obviously, many people mentioned the Swedish staples such as meatballs with lingonberry, Janssons Frestelse, and pickled herring (which is served whenever there’s a celebration, so Easter, Midsummer, Christmas). 

Other delicious Swedish foods mentioned included smörgåstårta, a type of savoury sandwich cake, in which layers of white bread are stuffed with prawn, tuna, liver pâté and ham, sometimes all in the same cake. I think it’s fantastic, but it’s not for everyone. 

Dill, the go-to herb the love of which Swedes share with Russia and much of eastern Europe, obviously got tipped.  

As did boiled potatoes, which are often flavoured with it. If they do not seem like something particularly Swedish to you, then you have yet to be initiated into the Swedish secrets of how to cook them properly (prodding them with a provsticka, to get the perfect softness, and then steaming them dry in the pan). You have also probably never tasted the first chestnut-flavoured potatoes of the summer. 

A kladdkaka. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

On the sweet side, the obvious Swedish favourites like kanelbulle cinnamon rolls, got mentioned. 

But there was also nyponsoppa, the rose-hip soup Swedes see as a cure-all for any sneeze or sniffle, ostkaka med saftsås, the Swedish baked cheesecake, and rabarberpaj med vaniljsås, the Swedish rhubarb crumble that is a common summer treat. 

Semla buns, the fluffy buns stuffed with almond paste that are traditionally eaten on Shrove Tuesday but now seem to be eaten throughout the spring, also got a mention. 

I’m not certain if kladdkaka from ICA, the sticky, semi-chewy chocolate cake you buy frozen from all Swedish supermarkets, should be classed as delicious or questionable, but it’s certainly very Swedish. It’s the lagom, “not great, but good enough” option for every late-remembered birthday or office leaving do celebration. It was mentioned by at least one respondent, as was daimtårta, a similarly trashy-but-nice cake made with crushed-up Daim bars. 

MOST SWEDISH HABITS OR PHENOMENA 

One respondent mentioned “sunning yourself in February by closing your eyes and leaning against a wall or in the middle of a park“. There is something very Swedish in the way people will cross the road to walk for a few seconds through a tiny patch of sun.  

On a similar theme, several respondents suggested “eating outside“, noting that their Swedish colleagues would take pack lunches out into the nearest park to eat even in spring when the weather is quite chilly. The same goes for the restaurant terraces, which have sprung up over the last decade, which are often busy from April to October. 

Another respondent wrote “being outside every day, no matter what“, which as a person from rainy Britain, I’d disagree with.

In my experience, Swedes tend not to go for a walk or send their kids out to play if it’s raining, whereas Brits very much would (otherwise we’d get no fresh air at all). 

Respondents had a different response to Swedish unsociability, with one noting approvingly “the very Swedish ability not to notice others”, saying that as a disabled woman, it was empowering that no one offered to help her, while another bemoaned the lack of chit-chat with strangers. 

Other Swedish habits that came up were an obsession with the ability to light the most perfect fire when camping, which I would argue is part of a larger cultural phenomenon.

An unusually large proportion of Swedish conversation seems to revolve around detailed instructions on how to perform certain tasks properly, such as insulating a roof, freeing a car trapped in snow, or growing asparagus. 

Another reader mentioned “never carrying cash“, which reflects Sweden’s lead in the shift towards a cashless society. 

Being able to walk on those icy, unsalted sidewalks without slipping and falling“, came up, and this is certainly something Swedes (particularly those living north of about Kalmar) can do effortlessly, and which many foreigners never learn. 

There were other examples cited of Swedes’ easy way with extreme cold, with one pointing out how Swedes use nature as a refrigerator or freezer, sticking food or beer outside their kitchen window or on the porch. On the same theme, one mentioned cycling on five-metre-thick snow. 

Is snus, Swedish sucking tobacco, a food or a habit? It’s certainly so universal that you will witness even the smart-suited chief executives of Swedish companies jamming their finger into their lip to secure one of the tobacco bags. 

Make sure to brush up on your snapsvisor or Swedish drinking songs if you want to fit in at Midsummer. Photo: Janus Langhorn/imagebank.sweden.se

Swedish alcohol habits also came in, with several readers putting forward the snaps and singing as extremely Swedish, perhaps this is down to what another reader described as the Swedish dual personality, “drunk and not-drunk”. 

One observant reader noted that in Sweden there is often no music in restaurants, shopping centres, or cafés. To the extent this is true (and it’s not always), this seems to be a result of the importance in Sweden of not imposing oneself on others. 

One person pointed out that pretty much everything closes in July. Swedes value their holidays and the sense of solidarity means that few begrudge a summer break even to bureaucrats, nurses, and shop and café staff. At least in the last two weeks of the month, you’ll struggle to get much government admin done, and you might find your favourite neighbourhood café shuts its doors. 

Several people brought up the Swedish habit of watching Kalle Anka at Christmas, which I think is only the most prominent example of the Swedish love of doing apparently lame things in very large numbers or to a strict routine

Somehow linked to this is the Swedish love of special days for special foods, such as Taco Friday, Lördagsgodis (Saturday sweets), or days like Kanelbullens dag, all of which got mentioned

MOST SWEDISH THINGS TO SAY 

One person argued that the most Swedish thing to say was “ah”, with the sound then repeated “100 times when listening to a person talking to you”.
 
The same person suggested Näämen!”, an expression of surprise, as the most Swedish phrase/word imaginable.  Then there’s “jahaaa” to signify a realisation. 
 
Another mentioned the Swedish breathing-in noise for yes Swedes make (north of about Uppsala) to signify agreement. See The Local’s viral video here
 
For me, the word tyvärr, meaning “unfortunately”, is the most Swedish of words, used as it is to tell someone they can’t do something, while avoiding a direct conflict by pointing to some external rule or circumstance.  
 
It’s almost certain in a list like this, that we missed out some of even more Swedish things. Is there anything else that should be here? Please tell us in the comments below. 

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WEATHER

How to stay cool as Sweden experiences near record summer heat

Summer is here and the temperatures on Thursday have reached peaks of 35 C in parts of Sweden. Though you might find such temperatures pleasant when lying in an all-inclusive resort on the Red Sea, it's a bit less luxurious if you are working, or at home doing chores. But don’t sweat, we've put together a guide to help you keep cool, even without the pool.

How to stay cool as Sweden experiences near record summer heat

Drink a lot of water!

No news here, water is good for you especially when it’s hot.

Make sure to bring a refillable bottle with you if you’re going out and about. The good thing is that tap water is good for drinking in Sweden and that all restaurants, cafes and pubs serve it for free, on tap. This might be a given for many, but other parts of Europe, especially the south, only sell mineral water ‘in case the tap water gives you the runs’. 

Drinking beer or an ice-cold cider sounds like a good plan but if it’s really hot, it might be best to avoid it. Or at least go for the Swedish varannan vatten (“every other one a water”) technique, which means matching a glass of water to every alcoholic drink you consume.

If you have decided to drink a glass of wine or a beer with your dinner, remember to plan in advance and put your drinks in the fridge a few hours before. Branches of Systembolaget, the state-owned alcohol shop, don’t have fridges so you will need to add ice or keep it in the fridge if you want to enjoy a cool summer drink.

The Window dilemma

Keeping the windows open generally is a good idea, especially in Sweden where air conditioning is not too common. However, if there’s no wind and the temperatures are 30C+, it might be smarter to keep the windows shut during the hottest hours of the day. 

In an office environment another advantage of choosing windows over air conditioning, beyond the environmental impact, of course, is that by changing the air you decrease the chances of catching covid-19 and other viruses. Considering the increasing infection rates across the country, especially in Stockholm, this might actually be quite advisable.

Being forced to stay indoors with a fever when the weather is beautiful, is a punishment nobody deserves.

If you live on the sixth floor of a Swedish apartment block without air conditioning you might want to consider just embracing it.

Open the window, strip off, wrap a towel around you and keep a bottle of water handy – you have your very own eco-friendly sauna. This is not an ideal situation to be in if you have to work or do house chores. On really hot days it might be good to postpone the house chores and if you need to work, a café or a coworking space could be your redemption.

Fight heat with heat 

I hear you, “why would you go to a sauna when it’s so hot in summer?”. But saunas are popular in Sweden all year round. The combination of sauna plus swimming in a fresh lake or in the ocean is what you need. Sweating in a sauna is a great way to get rid of toxins, de-stress and get away from screens and buzzing phones.

It is also great to build up your tolerance of high temperatures. In a world of global warming, the likelihood of more heatwaves in future is high. 

Swim away the sizzle

Many Swedish cities are near lakes or the sea, the big exception being Uppsala. So it’s easy to find a spot to take a dip after work or spend the whole day out. 

Siesta por favor

Take a lesson from people in Southern Europe, and take a nap in the hottest hours of the day. In countries like Italy and Spain shops in the countryside, and some traditional ones in city centres too, still shut for lunch during the hottest hours of the day.

Think about it, isn’t it better to just save energy during the peak of the heat? If you have flexibility in your work hours, or even better if you are leading a team, could starting a bit earlier in the morning and then taking a two-hour lunch break be a good fix?

In Italy, shops are open between 9:00 and 13:00 and then from 15:30 to 20:30. Maybe working late is not the best in summer but starting earlier is easy, especially now that the sun rises at 4 AM.

Fruitful advice

Eat fruit, especially summer fruits that, as well as tasting great, also have a lot of juice and sugars to keep your energy levels up and give you the boost you need to keep on going. If you have a blender, frozen fruit smoothies are perfect!

Dress light

Sweden tends to be quite informal when it comes to the dress code at the workplace. Wearing a t-shirt or a polo shirt is considered totally normal in most offices. When it comes to showing off some leg, the general opinion is that skirts are more acceptable than shorts, but it is not too uncommon to see men wearing shorts to work too.

A safe bet would be to check with your colleagues to see what the consensus is, and if it is not common yet, ask your colleagues if there are any dress code guidelines! 

Ultimately, in very high temperatures, such as when crossing the Sahara desert, people put more clothes on to keep the sun and heat away. So if you pick the right materials and wear baggy clothes even long trousers and sleeves can feel quite pleasant. 

Take it easy

The English expression “don’t sweat about it” is often used in the context of telling someone “not to stress”.

This is sound advice, especially in summer. On a hot day allow more time for moving from A to B, walk or cycle a bit more slowly than you would and if you’re running late to meet a friend, just call them and apologise.

Disclaimer: the person writing this is not Swedish and the stereotype of Swedes loving punctuality is often true. However, if you agree in advance to meet at around a certain time and then give a more detailed update when you are on your way, this could be a way to have a less sweat-full experience. 

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