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CULTURE

‘Why is it funny to point out something that everyone already knows about Swedish culture?’

What's the worst social offence you could commit in Sweden? How do Swedish people react when they run into each other on the street? These are some of the cultural quirks TikTok marketer Liam Kalevi delves into in a series of viral videos.

Liam Kalevi
Liam Kalevi. Photo: Society Icon

The 23-year-old started making TikTok videos while in lockdown in a cockroach-ridden apartment in Barcelona in March 2020. 

He’s made over one hundred TikTok videos in the last year and a half, showing off his talent for impersonations of European accents. Those videos have notched up a total of 9.1 million likes on the platform, and he has even been featured on Sweden’s official Instagram page. 

His most popular videos are skits imitating various languages deciding on words or on different cultures clashing, although his favourite is one about people who read horoscopes. 

@liamkalevi

Awkward #comedyskit #sweden #scandinavia #language

♬ original sound – Liam Kalevi

Kalevi grew up in one of the most multicultural households you can imagine, with a Finnish father and a Kenyan mother who spoke six languages between them. He spent four years in the UK before moving back to Sweden when he was five.  

“My mum comes from a very warm culture and she’s very outgoing and an extrovert. And my dad… isn’t.” 

He started out imitating his parents’ accents which grew into doing impressions of random people he’s encountered around the world. 

“I just did what came naturally to me and made up random sketches.”

@liamkalevi

SUOMI 🇫🇮 #tiktoksuomi #tiktokfinland #finland #lol #comedyskit

♬ original sound – Liam Kalevi

The videos are low-budget affairs, with Kalevi performing all the parts, sometimes using towels on his head instead of wigs to differentiate between characters.

Now back in Stockholm, the popularity of his videos has surprised him, and has even landed him a job at microinfluencer company Society Icon as their head of TikTok marketing.

“In the past week, three people came up to me on the street and said ‘I like your videos’.”

He thinks that the funniest thing about Swedish culture is the fear of conflict and the uncomfortable situations this can lead to, like when you eat terrible food at a restaurant but can’t bear to tell the staff.

“A lot of the comedy I make stems from the awkward situations because everybody is kind of concerned about what the group will think.”

@liamkalevi

True or nah? 🇸🇪 @hailemariam.b #sweden #comedyskit

♬ original sound – Liam Kalevi

He says his comedy “is kind of for everyone”. His videos don’t laugh at a culture, they laugh with it. You’re always in on the joke too. 

“When you make comedy about a nationality then everyone in the nationality can relate to it, whether you’re young or old.

“If you can relate to something, you feel like you’re a part of something. This is like our thing now. It’s something to do with community.”

A big part of Kalevi’s humour is finding a weirdly specific characteristic that lots of people take for granted. Despite being born in Sweden, English is his first language, and having a little bit of distance helps him notice the silly quirks of a culture that might not be obvious to the average Swede.

Still, he says he doesn’t know why people think his videos are so funny.

“Why is it funny to point out something that everyone already knows?”  

@liamkalevi

Please treat the butter with respect. #butter #comedyskit #sweden #sverige

♬ original sound – Liam Kalevi

But every culture has something funny about it, he says. He doesn’t think that Swedish culture is any funnier than others.

“Kenyan culture is funny in a completely different way. People are extroverted, pushy. They want their kids to be doctors. It’s the other extreme.”

@liamkalevi

Sorry for the horrible Danish accent 😭 #tiktokdenmark #comedy

♬ original sound – Liam Kalevi

He likes that Swedish people are not pretentious, but adds, controversially: “I think Swedish pizza is better than Italian pizza. It’s more down to Earth, more genuine.”

He stands by his love for Swedish pizza, even when it has banana and kebab and meatballs and fries on top.

“I’ll go on record to say that Swedish pizza is better than Italian pizza. Kebab pizza is top tier pizza in my opinion.”

He has not yet been to Italy.

Follow Liam on TikTok here and Instagram here

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FAMILY

Five Swedish children’s songs international parents will inevitably have to learn

You can't hide, and you can't even run. Sooner or later, even international parents will learn these Swedish children's songs. You may as well start now.

Five Swedish children's songs international parents will inevitably have to learn

Babblarnas vaggvisa

“Kom lilla du, kudden väntar nu. Inte läsa mer, Babba, dags att lägga sig.”

Come little one, the pillow awaits. No more reading, Babba, it’s time to go to bed – this repetitive modern lullaby is deceptively simple and soothing, loved and hated in equal measure by parents in Sweden. 

Loved, because it puts the most energetic of babies to sleep. Hated, because afterwards, you’ll be lying there in the dark in your own bed, the lyrics playing softly but insistently on repeat in your head. When you finally remember the order of the characters and their pre-bedtime activities (hint: it’s Babba [reading], Bibbi [listening], Bobbo [playing], Dadda [climbing], Diddi [drawing], Doddo [getting up to mischief]), congratulations, you’ve made it as a parent in Sweden.

The characters were originally created in the 1980s to facilitate children’s language development, but they got a rebirth in the 2000s with a television series for SVT and several new songs. Your children will be able to name them all and they will expect you to do the same. Who knew parenthood was this joyous.

Ekorrn satt i granen

Alice Tegnér is a name you need to know, because she’s the woman who’s to thank or blame for most of the Swedish children’s musical canon. Born in 1864, she was a music teacher from the town of Karlshamn in southern Sweden and composer of some of the country’s most well-known children’s songs. 

This one is about a squirrel who, just as he was sitting down in a spruce to peel some pine cones, gets startled by the sound of children, falls from his branch and hurts his fluffy tail. That’s it, that’s the plot.

Mors lilla Olle

Another one of Tegnér’s greatest hits, this one tells the story of Olle, who runs into a bear when out picking bilberries. To cut a long story short: he feeds the bilberries to the bear, his mother screams and the bear runs off, Olle gets upset that mummy scared his ostensibly only friend.

It’s based on a true story. In 1850, newspapers wrote about how Jon Ersson, then one year and seven months, met a couple of bear cubs at Sörsjön, Dalarna, and fell asleep next to them in the lingon shrubs. Ersson in his 30s emigrated to Minnesota where he was hit by lightning and died. Luck only lasts so long.

Prästens lilla kråka

Prästens lilla kråka, the priest’s little crow (optionally mormors/farmors lilla kråka – grandma’s little crow, or whoever wants to claim the crow), wanted to go for a ride but no one was around to give her a lift. So she took matters into her own hands, but, presumably lacking a driving licence, she slid THIS way and then she slid THAT way and then she slid DOWN into the ditch. Sung while rocking the child to one side, to the other side and then playfully dropping them to the floor.

It often also makes an appearance as a dance around the Maypole on Midsummer’s Eve. 

Lille katt

Astrid Lindgren is not only one of the world’s most famous children’s authors, she is also behind many of the most well-known Swedish songs for children, featuring her beloved characters.

This one starts off “Lille katt, lille katt, lille söte katta. Vet du att, vet du att, det är mörkt om natta” (little cat, little cat, little sweet cat. Do you know, do you know, it’s dark at night – it rhymes in Swedish), followed by similar verses about other animals and family members. It is sung by Ida, the little sister of prankster Emil in the books and films about Emil of Lönneberga. Jazz musician Georg Riedel composed the music, as well as the music for several other Lindgren movies.

Other famous tunes by Lindgren include Här kommer Pippi Långstrump, Idas sommarvisa, Luffarvisan, Jag är en fattig bonddräng, Mors lilla lathund and Världens bästa Karlsson.

These five songs do not even begin to form an exhaustive list of Sweden’s wide, wide, wide repertoire of children’s songs. Which ones can you not get out of your head? Let us know in the comments below!

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