Sweden

Butterfly summer

Well if all the experts are to be believed, this summer in Sweden is going to be a scorcher!

Yep, according to the butterflies it is going to be hot, hot, hot.   Folk-lore reckons that the very first butterfly you see in the year can predict the weather.

Not literally, obviously; but apparently if the butterfly you spot first is light-coloured, then the summer will be good:  if you set eyes on a dark-coloured butterfly, then the prospect is gloomy and a bad summer is on the cards.

So, if Swedish butterfly intuition is to be believed, things are looking good; as the first two butterflies I saw yesterday, busy checking out my newly planted pansies, were creamy white. http://wp.me/p4kEQ0-9F

Like most predictions, the butterflies and I have a 50/50 chance of accuracy.   Though I am a bit inclined to hedge my bets, as there is another piece of Swedish folk-lore regarding the Rowan (or Mountain Ash) which is not exactly foolproof.  Tradition has it that, if the Rowan tree is full of red berries in the autumn,  the ensuing winter will be hard.  Last October, the Rowan here were heaving with berries; so much so that bird-lovers were busy picking and freezing them as winter bird food (great idea if you can be bothered).

By that reckoning, we should have had an awful winter: it was, however, one of the mildest on record.

Still, ever the optimist, I’m busy digging out my sun cream, mosquito repellent and sunglasses in the hope that we get a butterfly summer.

 

 

 

 

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Blue and green should not be seen?

An extract from The Dormouse and the Doctor, A.A. Milne:-

The Dormouse turned over to shut out the sight
Of the endless chrysanthemums (yellow and white).
“How lovely,” he thought, “to be back in a bed
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red).”
 

 

 

 

Sometimes I feel just like the dormouse in A.A.Milne’s poem: trapped in a world of a colour not of my own choosing.  My problem is I don’t like trees, which is tricky living in this densely forested region of southern Sweden. I’m surrounded by great, grey, green conifers. I feel claustrophobic, landlocked and trapped.

And I long for the open vistas of the coast; the space and the balmy, blue, black sea.

So, when I’m feeling down, I just stop; shut my eyes tight and, like the dormouse; imagine myself Somewhere Else Instead. And I am so HAPPY.

 

 

 

Cupboard love

 

Tacos a top 10 weekend meal in Sweden!

Tacos a top 10 weekend meal in Sweden!

You never really know what goes on behind closed doors, especially if that door leads to the kitchen.

And sometimes I can’t help wondering just what the average Swede really eats for supper. As a Brit living in Sweden I’ve  mostly – but not always – enjoyed trying out Swedish food.  I love food, and can think of nothing nicer than idling hours away leafing through a cookery book.   But, despite that, and trying to be inventive, I always seem to end up cooking the same 10 dishes on some strange sort of rota system.

So you can imagine my surprise as I was busy preparing our Saturday night Tacos, when I discovered that I was far from alone in my choice of meal; it seems, in fact, that well over 840,000 other people in Sweden would also be tucking into Tacos over the weekend!

This is according to a recent survey that was featured in our local paper on Saturday.  So, if you’ve ever wondered, here are Sweden’s Top 10 Weekend Meals for 2014:-

  1. Beef with chips, 12.1%
  2. Chicken, 11.1%
  3. Tacos, 8,8%
  4. Pork fillet with side dishes, 8,1%
  5. Pizza, 6.8%
  6. Fish with side dishes, 6,4%
  7. Salmon, 4,4%
  8. Casserole, 4,1%
  9. Steak/entrecote with side dishes, 2,7%
  10. Hamburgers, 2.4%

As I tend to cook at least 6 of these meals on a regular basis, I begin to wonder if I am more Swedish from a culinary perspective than I realized?

Note to Selfie: Time to dust off my Delia Smith and Nigella Lawson cookery books!

 

 

 

 

Of Birch twigs and feathers

Birch twigs, feathers and eggs

Birch twigs, feathers and eggs

So, it’s Birch bashing time in Sweden!  Bundles of innocent-looking birch twigs, known in Swedish as Påskris, are now on sale in markets ready for the Easter ritual.

Not unsurprisingly, most if not all people nowadays refrain from what was once the tradition of  bashing one another on the legs with Birch twigs; an activity geared to cause pain and act as a reminder of Christ’s suffering on the cross. In fact,  the symbolic, religious significance seems over the centuries to have been completely lost in a bizarre haze of fluffy feathers.

Instead of flagellation, the Swedes now prefer to whack their birch twigs into a jug; which then takes pride of place amongst the Easter decorations.  The Birch, picked just as they have come into bud, are then decorated with garish, brightly coloured feathers.  Packs of these feathers are sold everywhere, and in every possible colour of the rainbow.   Initially only available in hues of egg (cream, white, orange and yellow), the feathers now tend to reflect the latest interior decorating trends; the fashionable among us this year opting, apparently, for a simple palette rather than a riot of colours.

Many Swedes, in fact, don’t stop there and feel the need to adorn their twigs with mini hollow, painted eggs, ribbons, tiny chicks, cockerels and other Easter-related paraphernalia.  Really it’s become a sort of Swedish version of a Christmas tree, but for Easter.

For those of us who live in the country, we have the added options of either:-

a) installing our feathered twigs outside so that the world and his wife can see them

or

b) decorating our bushes with feathers instead.

Somehow, I feel spoilt for choice.

 

Birch twigs, Påskris

Birch twigs, Påskris

Note to Selfie:  Birch trees here I come – it’s PYI (pick-your-own) time in the forest!

 

 

 

Potting the pansies

Pansy fever

Pansy fever

Ready, steady – plant!  The annual race is now on to see who in the village will be the first to pot their pansies and put them out on the porch.

Every year, it’s the same:  As soon as mid-March arrives, so do the pansies: loads of them.  The shops, garages, DIY stores and markets all have racks of these uninspiring little plants jostling for our attention.

Pansies had never, until I moved to Sweden, entered my world; I knew they existed, but that’s as far it went.  Pansies over here, though,  seem to have taken on a bit of a minor celebrity status and you’d be hard pushed to find a garden without them.  You’ll find them growing in window boxes, pots, planters, old wheelbarrows and  hanging baskets.  And really any other ingenious container that the ingenious Swede can think of. This year the knack is, apparently, to colour co-ordinate pansy and pot; and colour co-ordinate pot and porch.

From a purely practical perspective, I can see their appeal;  small, tough plants, pansies are hardy enough to survive the few minus degrees and any light touch of frost that an early Swedish spring might throw at them.  So if you do buy some, they’re almost guaranteed to survive.

But what I really don’t share is this zealous pansy-purchasing, and the need to demonstrate every year that Spring has most definitely arrived on my porch – way before any of my neighbours’.

The pansy derives its name from the French word pensée which means thought (in Sweden pansies are called penseér).  And it is said that the plant represents ‘free thought’ as its flowers are reminiscent of small faces bobbing in agreement.  If that’s the case,  I guess that I’d better join the scramble to pot up, put out my pansies and pave the path to spring – after all I am also a free-thinker!?

 

Note to Selfie: Time to dig out my gardening gloves ….

 

Pansies

Potting the pansies

 

 

 

 

 

 

Right of way

So, I was out on a walk in the woods this morning when I found myself unexpectedly confronted with a bit of a thorny dilemma:: should I, or shouldn’t I?

I’d taken my usual route:  downhill towards the lake, then I’d turned off by the edge of the water before lunging back uphill, though this time through the forest.  The intention being to continue to where the forest track reached the road, where I could then veer off and loop back home.

And that’s just where I came unstuck.  In order to get to the road, I had to go through a small property.  It was once upon a time a farm, but is now only rarely used by the owners as a summer retreat.  Every morning, I follow the dirt track as it skirts the side of the house and every morning I peer through the windows; as the light often catches on the ancient tiled wooden stoves.

This morning was different.  As I left the shelter of the forest and approached the house, I could clearly see a plume of smoke coming out of the chimney.  It was cold and the smoke was being sucked up by the  frosty air.  The sight of this smoke, however, completely unnerved me, and I was thrown into some sort of instantaneous fluster-mode.

Should I just stroll on as per normal?  And if I did, what were the chances of the owners just happening to open their door at the exact, precise moment I was passing by?  Admittedly this was pretty unlikely at 7 in the morning, but you never know with the outdoorsy Swedes.

Or shouldn’t I?  Wouldn’t  it just be safer  wimping out, turning around and taking the long route home?

What added confusion to my indecision is that, thanks to a traditional right, almost nowhere in Sweden is off-limits.  The Right of Public Access, or Allemansrätt, allows you to roam freely throughout the Swedish countryside, even on private land – just such as this.  So, basically you’re pretty much free to walk, cycle, horse-ride, ski or jog almost everywhere so long as you don’t disturb the landowner or cause damage.

Obviously, I wasn’t intent on destruction.  I was just keen to get home and have some breakfast.  But, would I be disturbing them?  I couldn’t help feel that, as the track ran so close to the house (I could have reached out and tapped on the windows), I was treading a fine moral line.

After a few moments of reflection; weighing up the situation and putting everything into perspective, I made my move.  I did just what any typically apologetic British girl would do.

I turned tail, ran back down the dirt track hoping and praying no one had seen me, and  disappeared into the forest;  and took the LONG way home.

That was the right way, wasn’t it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No bad weather

Fact: There’s no bad weather in Sweden.

Obviously, this isn’t quite 100% true. In fact, for a greater part of the year the weather is nothing other than bad. That is if, like me, you don’t like snow: that horrible white mush that covers the ground for at least 4 months on the trot.

But the ever-pragmatic Swedes would like to con us all into believing it. That’s why, of course, you’re continually ear-bashed with the old Swedish adage, “There’s no bad weather, only bad clothing”. If it’s not the postman, it’s the bloke at the local shop or the smug radio DJ or your trusty hairdresser – they ALL say it.

And this is more than just a saying, or a proverb that your granny might come out with; the Swedes live by it. Unlike us Brits, who run inside at the first sign of a raindrop, life over here largely goes on irrespective of meteorological matters.

Why should a torrential deluge stop the school 6km cycle ride? Of course the picnic isn’t cancelled just because there’s a gale force wind blowing. Who minds eating hotdogs round the barbecue in minus degrees? And why shouldn’t the kids play football in the driving hail?

Some of you might think this is matter-of-fact and practical.

But, not wishing to tell tales, I know when I was out in my new water-resistant rain gear last night battling with a squall, that it was – without a shadow of a doubt – BAD WEATHER.

Note to Selfie: Det finns inget dåligt väder bara dåliga kläder. There is no bad weather only bad clothing.

Strike whilst the iron is hot!

Swedish waffles

Swedish waffles

Bring out the waffle irons and whack out the whisks! It’s National Waffle Day in Sweden.

Yes, the ever-inventive Swedes have yet another infernal ‘celebratory’ day. And today March 25th it’s the turn of the humble waffle. If you close your eyes and listen very carefully, you’ll hear the sizzle of hot butter across the nation as we all get our waffle irons primed and ready for action.

Waffles over here (OH) are typically heart-shaped. Though their great, great ancestors way back in time were much more rectangular. It really wasn’t until the Middle Ages that waffles started to look like, well, waffles. They were also cooked using irons – some of which were decorated with coats of arms which I guess was a nifty way of having a family selfie.

Personally, I think waffles are best eaten when someone else makes them. So, if you ever happen to be driving aimlessly around the Swedish countryside in the summer with nothing better to do, keep your eyes peeled for a ”Våffelstuga” –  a cafe that serves waffles; more often than not, they are family run and just open for the summer season, waiting for people like me just too lazy to make their own.

If you miss today’s waffle deadline, don’t panic! There are always another 364 days in the year.

Go, went, left

Finding your way

Finding your way

Well, whoever said that life in Sweden was dull?

Today March 21st is national Grammar Day. So for anyone needing help with their semantics and parts of speech, this day is for you.  The aim behind today’s event is to raise the status of grammar throughout the country and convince us all that grammar really is FUN.

With a view to this, a series of lectures and seminars are being held in Sweden’s four major university towns: Lund, Stockholm, Uppsala and Luleå. The talks, all related to grammar, have thought-provoking titles including, “Learn Danish in 20 minutes” and “The ‘grammar’ of thought”. The mind boggles.

Supporting the day, there will also be the inevitable ‘grammar cake’ (surprise, surprise!), special activities in schools and – if you can’t make it along to any of these events – there’s an online grammar quiz. This is actually quite fun and I’ve just scored a miserable 55%: the average is 72%. Well, my excuse is I’m not Swedish and I’m more of a night owl than a morning lark.

Top marks to Sweden!  Or is it?  Is it really necessary to have a themed Grammar Day?

It feels so gimmicky. Why can’t schools just get on with improving the teaching of grammar without the need to create a celebratory day? Do we need to study grammar to learn a language? Well no we don’t.  Is grammar a good thing? Well, yes; we all need a bit of structure in our lives.

But please, can’t we just get away from all these self-conscious jamborees? I feel ‘themed day fatigue’ setting in.

Note to Selfie: Could do better.

Today’s top survival tip

So I was just thinking of how I’ve coped and adapted to life over here (OH), and decided that each week I will share a personal pearl of wisdom. I can’t pretend I am about to offer the key to eternal happiness, but let me anyway pass on today’s handy tip for Expat Survival.

– Get a hair cut!

Well, this might not have been quite what you were expecting. Getting a hair cut isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when you set up camp in a new country like Sweden. But it is a great way of starting to build a network: YOUR network.

Crazy as this sounds, a hairdressers is a great place to start.

1. Hairdressers are chatty and they’ll happily give you the low down on everything, from local job vacancies to where to buy the best pizza.

2. Hairdressers are the soul of discretion. So great if you want to blub your eyes out.

3. Hairdressers are great interpreters. So no worries if your Swedish isn’t up to scratch. Just wave your arms around wildly and you’ll still be understood.

4. Suddenly, you have a network of one.

And, of course, you’ll come out of the salon feeling like a million dollars – though with slightly less kronor than when you went in.

Obviously, if you’re more interested in outdoor activities you’d better contact the great survival expert, Bear Grylls.

Note to Selfie: Mmmm, time to book an appointment.