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


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 ….



Potting the pansies







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.

So very British

Only the other day, someone accused me of being ‘so very British’. Well, they didn’t so much ‘accuse’ me as say it in a very accusatory tone: I think it was as I was apologising profusely when they bumped into me.

That’s my problem, I am so very British: I’m apologetic, spontaneous, ironic, sarcastic and most days suffer from terrible verbal diarrhoea. The Swedes are, on the other hand, not; and I cannot imagine ANYONE accusing them of being chatty.

Despite all my best efforts, I don’t really fit in; I’m just another expat misfit.  I’m a misplaced Selfie with an identity crisis.

And then I got depressed and down. And then I found this, and Everything was Right with the World.


Being helpless to resist saying “sorry, thanks” every time you pass through a doorway.

It was life affirming!  I recognised myself on every single, highly entertaining page of this highly entertaining book.

Yes, I’m simply British.  And there’s absolutely nothing I can do about that.

Note to Selfie: Remember to buy another copy from Amazon.  Can also be followed on Twitter. https://twitter.com/SoVeryBritish

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.

You looking at me?

awesomeSo I’ve never been keen on being seen.  Well, not stared at anyway.  I’m sort of used to it now.  Not that I’m stareworthy. Nor do I have ”foreigner” plastered across my forehead.  Or two heads for that matter.

No, it’s just the way of Swedes to stare.  And to stare in a totally obvious, non-surreptitious way.  It’s more a glarey, starey jaw-dropping gawp.  The sort of way kids do, before they’re taught not to.  As if you’re being scrutinised from top to toe, inside and out.

But who cares, right?