What we tried, what surprised us, what we still don’t understand and what we suggest you to pay attention to during your stay.
1. The Concept of Fika
Fika became by far and foremost our favourite Swedish tradition and is the first thing we, and probably every other visitor, learned about after our arrival. To go for fika, take a fika break or just “Fika?? Please!!” means taking a conscious break from work at any time of the day. It is a social gathering, often related to drinking coffee or tea and eating one of the many amazing Swedish pastries.
Fun fact: after Finland, Sweden is the second most coffee-consuming nation worldwide, with on average 3.2 cups of coffee every day.
2. Exploring Swedish Supermarkets
Swedish supermarkets sell surprisingly different products to, for example, supermarkets in the UK. It’s definitely worth trying them out as the chances are high that you won’t find them easily elsewhere.
… Kalles Kaviar: This is an original Swedish brand, but we always referred to it as ‘fish toothpaste’. Swedes seem to be crazy about it and sometimes even travel abroad with it. It tastes good with Polarbröd and a hard-boiled egg, for example like this.
… Knäckebröd: A type of crunchy bread that lasts a long time and is a lifesaver if you need a snack. The best brand is Leksands Knäckebröd.
… Ärdsoppa: Soup sold in form of a sausage. It tastes good, you can amp it up with vegetables, and it’s not expensive.
… Räkor i lake and sill: More fish products that most Swedes love. Sill is pickled herring, often eaten together with potatoes, and a traditional thing to eat for midsummer.
… Citronpeppar: Our favourite spice. It works with everything. Some of us bought a couple to take back home or as gifts for friends.
… Kardamom and cinnamon: One of these spices seems to be a key ingredient in most pastries but can also be added to your coffee!
… Filmjölk: It’s like a mixture of milk and yoghurt and tastes a bit sour. Be careful what you pick in the supermarket when you are looking to buy milk. 😉
… Oatly products: Did you know that Oatly is a Swedish company? They have amazing vegan products and sell more different products in Sweden than elsewhere. We’re fans.
… Cloudberry jam: Cloudberries only grow in the very north of Sweden, look beautiful, and their jam tastes super good.
… Glögg: Swedish mulled wine that is nice to drink on a cold winter evening.
… Trocadero: Our favourite Swedish soda. The taste is difficult to describe, but it’s good, and it contains caffeine. Go and give it a try! 🙂
3. Systembolaget and snus
Sweden has stringent alcohol policies because the country had a troubled past with it. Nevertheless, Swedes seem to enjoy drinking a lot at every given opportunity. To buy high percentage alcohol, you will need to go to Systembolaget, a state-owned company with a monopoly on selling alcohol in Sweden. Be aware of restricted opening times, and don’t forget your ID!
Then there is snus. Once you’ve seen it, you cannot unsee it, and you will notice many people are “snusing” instead of smoking. It is a cigarette replacement only available in Sweden and Norway; put in the gums behind your upper lip. If you fancy trying it and are a non-smoker, try the lightest version (been there, done that).
4. Melodifestivalen and the Eurovision Song Contest
To understand Swedish culture and society, you need to know about this (or so we were told). The Melodifestivalen or Mello is the yearly competition to select the Swedish ESC contestant. Life stops and everyone is in front of their TVs, when it’s on. Our course coordinators were very excited and even send us emails about it! They suggested to watch this video to get a taste of it, and it captures the essence of the ESC vibe quite well. There’s nothing else to do than to embrace it and have fun! 😉
By the way, the Swedish band ABBA became world famous after they won the ESC in 1974 with their song ‘Waterloo’. You can watch the iconic moment here.
5. Ice Bathing and rolling in the snow
Ice bathing is great for your immune system, and you will feel awake and alive afterwards, when the adrenaline kicks in. The perfect tune to get into the Vikings mood is by Roger Pontare, a multiple ESC contestant. The hot shower afterwards will feel rewarding.
Alternatively, you can travel up north: Imagine you’re in Kiruna, you’ve just seen the aurora borealis and now you’re going to the sauna and then rolling in the snow. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?
6. Biking in the snow
It is possible if you are biking carefully! Please, don’t go down steep hills, and don’t be afraid to fall. It’s normal. 😉 Bike lanes everywhere, and car drivers usually paying attention to you make it easier.
7. You can find out everything about a swedish person online
You have a crush on a Swedish person or you want to find out how much your professor earns? No problem! Just google their name and you will have access to their address, their average income, if they are married, have pets or not and much more. This kind of transparency is hard to believe for all of us. If you cannot believe it, the websites generally used for this are hitta.se, ratsit.se, and eniro.se.
8. colourful houses
Beautiful small towns and villages are dotted around the country. Most of their houses have the iconic ‘Swedish house’ look: painted in red with white window and door frames. The name of this colour is ‘Falun red’, named after the old copper mining town Falun, and it is the national colour of Sweden.
9. People value the sun when it’s out
Especially if you are from a country where it’s always warm and sunny, Swedish winter can be challenging. Once there is a ray of sunlight, leave the house immediately and soak it up! However, when spring is around the corner and the days are getting longer and brighter, Swedish people are outdoors all the time. They really value the sun more than elsewhere because of their harsh winter.
10. the welfare state
We had a course about it at uni and perceived Swedes as generally very proud of their welfare state. Especially the well-kept infrastructure, municipal workers maintaining the city’s green areas, and more fathers out, taking care of their kids, then elsewhere aka equal parenting were three very visible things. We also heard about well-paid PhDs at Uppsala University. 😉