Tag Archives: culture


My friends wearing their self-braided flower bands. Photo by me.

My first summer in Sweden meant automatically also my first celebrations of Midsummer. A Swedish friend of mine had invited a small group of friends to join her to her family’s cabin in the beautiful country side of Värmland. It was the perfect place to get to know this Swedish tradition, since midsummer is mainly an event from the country side. Packed with mosquito sprays, swimwear and lots of food and beverages we drove half a day to arrive at our destination. A beautiful red country house, located next to a lake between some fields and forests – how Swedish!

On the day of Midsummer (always a Friday evening between the 19th and 25th of June), we braided flowers bands and went to the centre of a nearby village to take part in the celebrations. It was very busy considering the size of the village and the atmosphere was vibrant and cosy. After the midsummer pole was put in place, the festivities began. A small group of musicians started to play and so the dancing could start. Midsummer is famous for it’s dances, and I think the most recognisable one is where you have to jump like a frog. Not kidding! Of course we international students wanted to try all of it and joined the families – mainly small children – in the circle. It was so much fun!

The midsummer pole being put in place. Photo Hernán Capador.

The Midsummer dinner seems to be as much of a tradition as the pole, flowers and dancing and was at least as wonderful. Between singing traditional songs and drinking schnaps we ate delicious Swedish potatoes and my friend had prepared a variety of fish and (vegetarian) meat balls. After dancing the night away it was time for the last tradition. In complete silence one must go out in the night and pick seven different flowers, carefully put them under your pillow and sleep on them. The person you dream about is the person you will marry!

Have you experienced a Swedish Midsummer yet? Or want to know more? Feel free to tell me in a reply below.



Glad Påsk!

Growing up in the Netherlands, I imagined Easter to be pretty much the same all over Europe. Though Swedish Easter definitely has many aspects in common with the Dutch celebration, I was surprised by some very old traditions that I had never heard of before. When my room mates explained to me that children dress up like witches and come to the doors for candy, I was convinced they were confusing the topic with Halloween. But I was wrong! My Swedish room mate told me proudly that the Swedish Easter traditions existed long time before the American version of Halloween gained popularity in Sweden.

“Folklore alleges that witches would fly on broomsticks to a legendary meadow named Blåkulla, where they would dance with the devil.”

The tradition we are talking about is called Påskkärring (“Easter witch”), and is assumed to originate from around 1600. Folklore alleges that witches would fly on broomsticks to a legendary meadow named Blåkulla, where they would dance with the devil. A bit more exciting than Easter bunnies and eggs, don’t you agree? Based on this old story, children dress up as sweet looking witches and will make cards with drawings or rhymes which they will hand out at the doors hoping to receive Easter candy.

Amanda beautifully dressed in traditional ‘Easter-witch-clothing’
with scarf and face paint. Photo by Jeanette Axelsson.

Because of course they also eat lots of chocolate and paint chicken eggs in Sweden during Easter. The funny thing is that the chocolate eggs are different from the ones I knew: In the Netherlands we have mainly small solid chocolate eggs, individually wrapped in coloured tin foil. However, the Swedish Easter candy is presented in a beautifully decorated, very large plastic egg, which contains a lot of different chocolates and other candy inside. And while our countries share the idea of eating asparagus around Easter time, Swedes celebrates Easter with lots of fish as well.

Did you notice any other particular Swedish events this Easter? Feel free to tell all about it in the comment section below. Enjoy your Easter holidays!


How Sweden made me a feminist.

Feminism. What was your first association to this word? To me for a long time when thinking about feminism those images of angry women popped up in my head. Those women with big bushes of hair under their armpits who’d put out bras on the streets to protest. I had seen pictures of them, in my history books. What would you need feminism these days for, I wondered? Correct or not, growing up in The Netherlands I was never under the impression of unequal opportunities for men or women. We could all go to school, choose career paths we found interesting and would be allowed to vote one day, right?

“”You fucking WOMEN, you are so slow!”, he would rage at me and – by the way – at his wife.”

In the years that followed I started noting some ‘small things‘ that seemed a little odd, but I never paid too much attention to. No, the real eye opener came, when I went on a working holiday in New Zealand. When I got accepted for an amazing horse job I was absolutely delighted. Though soon enough I realized that the guy I worked for treated women without any respect. I had been shouted at before, but never because of my gender. “You fucking WOMEN, you are so slow!”, he would rage at me and – by the way – at his wife. I did not stay long. Nor did I in the next two horse stables, where a similar situation simply seemed to reoccur. However something had awakened in me, and it never went back to sleep.

“Is it normal that men I respect and know well, do not want their girlfriends to be seen in a public sauna?”

Back in the Netherlands I started looking at things in a different perspective. Was it really that more equal, I wondered? Thoughts I had not given much attention to before, kept popping into my head. About teachers who would never take me serious in class, so I’d ask my male classmates to ask the question for me. Or why had it automatically been assumed I would become a cashier and not a shelf stacker, when I applied for my first job at the local supermarket? How about all these sexist jokes my friends from uni seemed to consider very funny, were they really that innocent? Is it normal that men I respect and know well, do not want their girlfriends to be seen in a public sauna?

Toilet signs at SLU are gender neutral

I didn’t stay for a long time at home, as my master studies in Sweden followed shortly after my gap year. I am not saying Sweden is perfect in terms of gender equality, but it comes pretty damn close. Construction workers apologizing for the inconvenience, instead off making sexist jokes while a woman passes by. Fathers having the same, very long, paternity leave as mothers when their babies are born. Boys working as cashiers, while girls are stocking shelves. I’ll never forget the first guy that introduced himself to me as a feminist – I almost spilled my drink back then, but I got used to it now. Did you know that they even introduced a new word to their language, to express themselves without indicating someone’s gender?

“An equality that – they are aware of very well – has not been reached yet.”

Most importantly, people find it simply normal to talk about how to overcome the gender pay gap, the lack of women leaders or the stereotype that sensitive men are seen as weak. Here, feminists are not put in a corner as attention-seeking man haters, feminists are those people (let’s put no gender discrimination of the subject here 😉 ) that speak up for gender equality. An equality that – they are aware of very well – has not been reached yet. An inequality that I learned not to overlook any longer and am now willing to fight for.  Tack så mycket, Sweden, for changing me into a feminist.

Rest me to say: Happy International Women’s Day 😀


Around Uppsala: Hågadalen

On the Western side of Uppsala, close to the Flogsta neighbourhood lays a beautiful nature reserve. This area is called Hågadalen and consists of forests, swamps and a more open valley area around the Håga river. It’s a popular place for a hike, bike, run or horse-ride alike. Personally I am very impressed by such a beautiful and peaceful place being this close to town. During the welcoming weeks, one of the most popular activities is our ‘Let’s go to the forest!’ adventure, at which we show this wonderful piece of Uppsala county to the new students.

Winter scenery at the Hågaån (= Håga river) on a sunny Sunday last week.

Not only is Håga stunning for it’s nature, it’s also impressive for it’s cultural value. For example there is the viking grave of the mythical King Björn, which takes shape in the form of a burial mound. From here you have quite a great view over the area as well. Though this is the most famous burial mound of the area, several more graves can be found more upstream. The fertile valley area around the river is known to have been used for pastoral purposes for thousands of years. The Uppsala municipality has published a really nice leaflet about the place, which you can find on their webpage.



The student nations

I promised already a while ago that I would tell a little more about Uppsala’s student nations. The nations play an important role when it comes to student life in Uppsala. Or as they describe themselves: “The nations are the social nerve of the student-community with accommodations, scholarships, clubs, culture, pubs, associations, sports and a lot more – by students for students!“. Even though all aspects mentioned are true, I would say that the nations are most famous for their energetic night life. The roots of the nations date back all the way to the sixteenth century. There are currently thirteen student nations in Uppsala.

Gästrike-Hälsinge, Göteborgs, Norrlands, Värmlands, Uplands and Västgota
Source: Uppsalastudent.com

The nations are named after the Swedish provinces from which they traditionally used to recruit their members. For example if you were a student from far North of Sweden moving here to study in Uppsala, it would create a possibility to hang out with people from your area of origin. As Sweden is such an outstretched country and regular visits to your parents may not be possible, I can imagine it to be nice to speak to people who share your dialect or maybe local habits.  Especially in earlier times when the internet – or even phoning – were not existent yet. Nowadays almost all the nations allow everyone to join, no matter where you are from. Though in practice I think still many Swedes prefer to sign up for the nation that relates to their area of origin.

Kalmar, Stockholms, Södermanlands-Nerikes, Smålands, Västmanlands-Dala, Gotlands
Source: Uppsalastudent.com

Some of these nations are rather small, while others count many members. As a member of one of the nations you get access to all other nations as well. However, almost all nations will charge different entrance prices for club nights depending on whether you are ‘their’ member or member at another nation. Membership isn’t cheap, about €30 per semester, but you’ll get a lot out of it! The nation pubs are cosy and freely accessible once you are a member, and offer alcohol at a cheaper price thanks to some tax discount system. The activities organised are usually pretty fun and offer a wide range of possibilities. For example I have been painting at Kalmars nation, active with sports at GH-nation and spend now quite some time social dancing at both Smålands and Värmlands nations. But if you are really keen to become part of a nation, it is strongly recommended to start working at them. I haven’t done it myself yet, but heard a lot of positive experiences about it.

If you have any more questions – shoot!

Kanelbullens dag

While all over the world the 4th of October is dedicated to animals, the Swedes have an extra celebration. The fourth of October is the day of the kanelbullar, which is the famous Swedish version of a cinnamon bun. Probably it is more correct to name it the ancestor of the cinnamon bun. ‘A national day dedicated to candy?’ I hear you think. Well – surprise, surprise – and this is not even the only national day for a pastry! Another typical Swedish treat called semla or sometimes fastlagsbulle has it’s own day somewhere in spring. In other countries this day is also called ‘shrove tuesday’  or ‘mardi gras’ as it’s the last day before the fasting period starts for some religions.

After you’ve rolled the dough flat you spread the good stuff all over

Both semlar and kanelbullar are typical pastries one could have for fika. Nothing one could love more about Sweden than it’s typical tradition called fika. Translating it into ‘coffee break’  would do this cultural habit no justice. It is a break from work, a moment to be social with colleagues or friends and should preferably be accompanied by some… pastries! Traditionally kanelbullar, but nowadays you will be having a hard time to choose from all the delicacies when going to a fikaplace. And trust me, they are very good in baking over here.

Then you carefully make it into a tight roll, from which you slice off the bullar-to-be

Swedes really love their candy. I think it was the first thing my parents were totally surprised about when they moved me to Sweden. My mum could not believe seeing all these candy stores, while my father felt very tempted by all the godis that is excessively displayed in every supermarket. However the average Swede does not at all look as if they visit these candystores that often. That is actually the whole point. As a Swedish child you grow up learning that there is one day for candy; lördagsgodis. Which translates into candy saturday. No idea how these candystores survive during the rest of the week!

Bake them briefly…

To celebrate that it is(or ehm, actually was already yesterday) the official day of kanelbullar, I will place here the link to my favourite recipe of this Swedish goodness. If you have a hard time figuring out the Swedish language, google translate is your best friend. One very important tip I got from several Swedes: Double the amount of the cinnamon filling, so they become super smudgy. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to bake yesterday, but made the photos a few months ago.

…and enjoy! (this is me being very happy with my first attempt)