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.

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.

Flag up Sweden! (FuS)

So, it’s time again for my weekly challenge. Once a week, I’m going to #Flag up Sweden (Fus). I’m trying to find something that I like about Sweden, or at least find something positive to say about someone, something, or well really anything remotely associated with this tree-ridden country.

And this week, it’s the year 1926. Or rather something that happened on that momentous day in history; a day that heralded 3 events of varying importance in the making of Sweden.

FIRSTLY, Ingvar Kamprad the founder of the flat-packed, plywood emporium (otherwise known as IKEA) was born.

SECONDLY, Volvo PLC was formed.

THIRDLY and most significantly, a baker in the wooded highlands of this region was inspired.

This unsung Swedish hero, Ingvar Strid, created Budapest. Something that, despite its name, has absolutely nothing to do with countries or invasions. Although it could well be that Ingvar’s ancestors were involved in some dispute or other as ‘Strid’ is the Swedish word for battle or combat.

No, this has all to do with a pastry. Quite where Ingvar Strid got his inspiration from I do not know. But, out of the gloom of the late 1920’s, there emerged a king among cakes.

And what I do know is, if you love hazelnut chocolate meringue wrapped around oodles of cream and mandarins you’ve now got at least ONE very good reason for visiting Sweden.




As if to recognise its huge historical value, Budapest was last year given its own day.  And May 1st is now, amongst other things, National Budapest Day.

Sometimes a little selfie delusion goes a long way

So the question is, what do a dvd player, a large Swedish/English dictionary and I have in common?

Well the answer is more complex than you might think. On the one hand, it’s 61 kg. And then on the other, it isn’t.

You know when you casually hop onto your favourite, old pink IKEA bathroom scales once a week just to check your weight? Not that you’re bothered, of course. You’re just curious. And how you’re always slightly relieved to see that you’ve not gained much. And then, you look once again, just to make sure?

And how when you see friends back in the UK they comment on how ”Well” you look.

And then that fateful day the IKEA delivery truck arrives with your Billy bookcase and smart, new black shelf for the dvd player. And just for safety’s sake, you check that the dvd player isn’t too heavy for the shelf – which can take up to 20kg.

But it is. It weighs 61 kg.

And so does the large Swedish/English dictionary.

And so do I.

And then the penny drops………….

Flatpackers' paradise.

Note to Selfie:  Sometimes ignorance is bliss

When size does matter

Miss Chiquita

Being surrounded on a daily basis by Swedish blondes with legs up to their armpits can be soul destroying, especially if you’re a mousey haired Brit of no significant height.  My spirits were however temporarily lifted when I saw a recent job ad.  It was for a Miss Chiquita to promote Chiquita bananas (no surprises there) – those funny little bananas that always look at least 2″ too short.  This Banana Diva was expected, amongst other things, to be:-

  • happy
  • outgoing
  • a lover of the spotlight
  • good with people

Well, all fine there then.  Who cares if you’re challenged in the height stakes.  Quite the opposite in fact. I saw this as an opportunity to be grabbed with both hands.  Finally, I’d come into my own.  Who better to endorse dwarf bananas than little ol me??  It’s a match made in fruity heaven!

Miss Chiquita’s outfit of the day was to be a fruit hat and a matching dress in royal blue; my favourite colour.   But, it was there that suddenly I faltered.  We’d reached a stumbling block.  Applicants, according to the ad blurb,  had to be TALL to cope with Miss Chiquita’s long, flowing dress.

I’ve been called many things in my life, but tall is not one of them.

The funny thing is, I re-read the ad just now to torment myself.

And there it was again in black and white – you had to be tall and over 160 cm.   I’m not 100% metric and so idly wondered in my miserable state just how TALL you really had to be.   Having Googled 3 times just to make sure – it’s 5 ft 3″.   I mean, when was petite TALL?  Is short LONG?

Am I going bananas?

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Spring in their step

Converse crew

Converse crew

So I was in town earlier and I just couldn’t help noticing everyone’s feet.  It’s not that I’ve got a foot fetish or anything.  Or that I usually go around staring at the ground.  It’s just that it was hard not to miss.

The Converse are back in town!

Those canvas shoes, once the province of the young and trendy, that EVERY Swede now seems to wear.   Knowing Sweden’s love of  bizarre ‘Special Days’,  I did momentarily wonder if today was  National Converse Day.  But no.  It appears that there was just some silent consensus of Converse owners that today was the day.  Of course, it could also have had something to do with the unexpectedly warm Spring weather.

Whatever the reason, the Converse crew were out in force for the season.

For the past few years, I’ve been fascinated by the Swede’s love affair with Converse.  And I know that if I wanted to fit in, I should get a pair too.  So perhaps it’s about time I made that move, and stepped out in style….

Post code envy?

Dancing Cranes

Dancing Cranes

So I´ve been busy rifling through my sock drawer in preparation for my next diary date.  It’s been looming fast and I still can’t decide what would be best: sports, bed or over the knee.  What would they prefer?

In just under 2 weeks, I’m expecting one or two rather special guests, and I want to get everything just right.

It appears that I seem to live in an area of post code envy.  No, really.  Well at least as far as my visiters – the Cranes – are concerned.  (I did say right at the beginning of this blog that I led a very hum drum life).  Never mind that it’s MILES away from town, or that I spend most of my time communing with the trees and going stir crazy.  This is a Des Res.  It’s all location, location, location to these fickle birds as they  restrict their Home Visits to only a very few areas in the South East of this region – visiting here, not there and definitely nowhere else.  You see my guests are arriving for the annual Crane Day on 25th March.

Which is all fine, I’ve hosted parties before..  But, how do you welcome a visiting crane?   Following a tip from a friend, I’m currently on the look out for drawings of Cranes to put in all the bedroom windows.  Not quite sure what that’s all about.  Maybe it’s the nearest a crane gets to a selfie?  Or just a little something to make them feel at home.   They’ll also be expecting a window left ajar, just to let them know that I’m around.  And then there’s the problem of the socks.  They’ll apparently be expecting to find a sock at the end of my bed.  Or alternatively on a bush in the garden, which from the point of ease of access I can understand as they’re not the smallest and nimblest of birds.

But it’s the sock etiquette that’s got me in a bit of a flap.  If I’ve been good, the cranes are supposed to leave some sweets in my socks.  And, choosing the right pair showing just the right amount of restraint and modesty is a nightmare.  The last thing I want to do is to appear greedy, and somehow roomy boot socks seem a bit optimistic…..   Just HOW good have I really been for the past year??   The approaching Crane Day is turning into a bit of a moral dilemma.

Still, it’s kind of nice to feel like one of the chosen few.  I, for one, will be tucked up in bed on 24th,  in hopeful anticipation that the Cranes will pop by.  According to tradition, they’ve been doing so since the 1500’s and I can see no reason why they should stop now, do you.

And no, it’s not a flight of fancy.

NOTE TO SELFIE:   For those feeling excluded from this pretty select event, check out The Crane Dance at Lake Hornboga in South west Sweden, early April.  No invite needed.