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SWEDISH CULTURE

Swedish TV: Watch these series to understand Swedish society

So, you've got a good grasp of Swedish but still feel like there are some cultural references you don't quite 'get'. You're not sure what faluröd means and don't understand why Swedes love eating tacos on Fridays. Here's a list of TV programmes to get you up to speed.

Swedish TV: Watch these series to understand Swedish society
Erik Haag and Lotta Lundgren film "Historieätarna" back in 2016. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Swedes take their homes and gardens very seriously. In a society where showy displays of wealth can be frowned upon, having a nice house and a perfect garden is how Swedes can show off, which is why there are so many lifestyle programmes in Sweden covering these topics.

For garden inspiration, check out Trädgårdstider (Garden Times) on SVT. Although the name suggests that Trädgårdstider is just about gardens, it’s more than that.

Covering food, drink, design, and everything from how to build a sweat tent to a treehouse, this is also entertaining TV for apartment-dwellers. The new series’ usually premiere right at the end of winter, when the first spring flowers are just popping out of the ground, so it’s a great programme to get you in the mood for Swedish summer.

John Taylor from Trädgårdstider on his allotment in Malmö
Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

On top of that, it’s a great introduction to some of SVT’s most well-loved TV presenters, Tareq Taylor, Pernilla Månsson Colt, John Taylor (no relation to Tareq), and Malin Persson.

John, a gardening expert originally from the UK, is the expert on odling, providing tips on how best to grow plants, fruits and vegetables. Tareq is a chef who shows you how to use and preserve your homegrown produce by pickling, making jams, or even building a jordkällare for storing produce over the winter.

Månsson Colt and Persson focus on the visual aspects, designing and building different areas of the garden, with Månsson Colt showing viewers what to do with all their homegrown flowers. Although each presenter has a clear role, the best part of the show is watching them all as a team, working on the garden together (Swedes love consensus, after all), and enjoying the fruits of their labour (literally!) at the end of the season.

Fans of building programmes such as Grand Designs will enjoy Husdrömmar (House Dreams), which follows the same premise of home-buyers buying a run-down property and renovating it into their dream home. Presenters Gert Wingårdh and Anne Lundberg visit homes up and down the country, providing viewers with an great insight into Swedish architecture and how Swedes design their homes.

Erika Åberg and Rickard Thunér. Photo: Maria Rosenlöf/SVT

If you’re more into Swedish homes throughout history, try Det sittar i väggarna (It’s in the Walls), where building restoration expert Erika Åberg and historian Rickard Thunér visit beautiful Swedish farmhouses, townhouses and estates.

Åberg helps the families living in the houses with restauration projects – such as how to renovate a Swedish kakelugn or tiled fireplace, how to replace glass panes in lead windows, or how walls were panelled in the 1800s, while Thunér looks into the history of the people who lived there and tries to find a living relative.

Great if you want to learn words like linoljefärg (linseed oil paint) or pärlspont (tounged and grooved wall panelling).

In a similar vein to Det sittar i väggarna, in Historieätarna (History Eaters) SVT profiles Lotta Lundgren and Erik Haag (who have now moved over to commercial broadcaster TV4) eat, dress and live for a week in different decades of Swedish history.

Lotta Lundgren and Erik Haag in the 1960s episode of “Historieätarna”. Photo: Jessica Gow/Scanpix.

Originally shown on SVT from 2012, it follows the two – who have such on-screen chemistry that they actually became a couple off-screen after the show – through every aspect of life in these eras, be it drinking svagdricka, a low-alcohol fermented malt drink which Swedes drank before there was widespread access to reliable drinking water, or living off canned foods in the 1980s.

Historieätarna is not just entertaining TV, it’s also a crash-course in Swedish history, from what Swedes ate and drank, how they dressed, what they did in their free time, and even when – and why – classic Swedish dishes like korv stroganoff and tacofredag became so popular. Unlike many programmes in this style, it doesn’t just follow trends among the rich in these eras, rather shows what life was like for normal Swedes, too.

If you only watch one series on this list, make it Historieätarna.

Member comments

  1. I love to watch Trädgårdstider. I don’t hear well in the first place, so deciphering what little Swedish I might otherwise understand is impossible, Nonetheless, the visual, social and esthetic values (including the personal qualities of the individuals) are compelling. The production, overall, is of the highest quality, in my view.

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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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