Headed to Sweden this summer? Great, you picked the right time of the year as you will be able to experience many Swedish traditions and festivities. After the dark winter months that never seem to end, summertime is taken seriously in Sweden and the locals will be taking advantage of the long, light days. Here are some suggestions of what NOT to do in Sweden to help you avoid some awkward moments this season.
1. do not Expect a big celebration for Sweden’s national day
Those accustomed to the local national day celebrations of other countries (such as the 17th of May in Norway or the 14th of July in France) might be disappointed to learn that the National Day of Sweden, the 6th of June, is not a day for parades or fireworks. The 6th of June marks the end of the Danish-ruled Kalmar Union, but was not made an official public holiday until 2005. However, most Swedes really don’t do anything to celebrate this. That’s not to say the Swedes don’t enjoy a good celebration – drinking and dancing are reserved for later in the month.
2. do not Drink snaps without a toast and a song
On festive occasions in Sweden, it is expected that a toast and a song (snapsvisor) will accompany your aquavit. This makes for some joyful and noisy dinners, where the actual eating part keeps getting put on hold for yet another round. It is okay if you don’t know all the songs, although a good one to learn is “Helan går” as it is almost guaranteed to be one of the songs chosen.
3. do not Question Swedish Midsommar traditions
Just as your disappointment over the lack of national day celebrations has subsided, you will be introduced to the “Holy Grail” of Swedish holidays – Midsommar. This is the celebration of the summer solstice and it is held on the third Friday in June each year. On this day you will inevitably: dance/hop around the Midsummer Pole singing “Små Gröderna” (literally: the small frogs), drink aquavit, eat more varieties of herring you could ever imagine, drink some more aquavit, and wear flowers in your hair. For the ladies, it is also a tradition to pick seven different kinds of flowers and put them under your pillow when you sleep – you will dream of the man you are going to marry. It is truly one of the best days of the year in Sweden and criticizing or questioning the traditions, however silly they may seem to you, won’t earn you any friends.
It will also serve as a great opportunity to practice your snapsvisor (see #2).
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4. do not Be embarrassed to ask for instructions on how to eat crayfish
Generally held throughout August, the kräftskiva (crayfish party) is a celebration where normal table manners are forgotten and slurping and slobbering are encouraged–and you get to do it while wearing a funny hat. Crayfish require a big effort for a small amount of meat, so don’t be too shy to ask for instructions on how to approach this task if this is your first kräftskiva. As with many dinner parties in Sweden, your meal will be interrupted for singing and drinking, so this is another opportunity to practice “Helan går”. There is no specific day for crayfish parties in Sweden so it’s possible you could be invited to more than one.
5. do not Make a face when offered surströmming
The Aussies have Vegemite, the Scottish have haggis, and the Americans have deep-fried…anything. Many cultures have a unique local delicacy that might seem unappetising to foreigners at first. For the Swedes, this is surströmming. Surströmming is Baltic herring that has been left to ferment in barrels for months before being packaged into tins where it continues to ferment. It is usually served on thin bread and topped with yellow onions, and it is often eaten outside because otherwise the scent would linger for days. It is a dish that probably only native Swedes can enjoy, but if you can keep your composure when first exposed to surströmming you will undoubtedly earn the respect of your Swedish hosts. Don’t worry about bringing some home for your friends to sample – its considered a hazardous material by some airlines.
6. do not Bring Polish strawberries to a Swedish friend’s BBQ.
Or Norwegian, or English, or Spanish…and you get the idea. If you are in Sweden and the sun is shining you will inevitably be invited to a grillfest (BBQ). Strawberries are a typical food item to bring to a grillfest as they are everywhere in the summer months – it’s impossible not to notice all the strawberry stands that pop up around cities and towns. There is a general consensus regarding the superiority of strawberries grown in Sweden, so show up with an imported box and you will be getting some strange looks.
Once the days get longer, the last of the aquavit is gone, and your voice is hoarse from too many rounds of snapsvisor, you’ll understand why summer is such a special time in Sweden. Take the following months as time to rest up for your inevitable return next year!