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OPINION & ANALYSIS

Baby, it’s mörv outside: Sweden’s 13th month is here

The cold snap is over and now the month of mörv is back: darker, wetter, windier, and with even more work that you haven’t done, says David Crouch.

Baby, it’s mörv outside: Sweden’s 13th month is here
Typical mörv weather photographed ahead of a football match in Sweden: Mikael Fritzon / TT

It is a fact little known outside Scandinavia that the year consists not of twelve months, but thirteen. The thirteenth month is sandwiched between November and December, and is known as mörv. (No capital letter for the months in Sweden.)

Mörv expresses the feeling that November is bleak, dark, and seems to go on and on forever. Suddenly there is no daylight. That hour we lost at the end of October seems to have plunged us all into permanent night. What sunlight there is is weak, grey and miserable. You go to work in the dark, you go for lunch in the twilight, and you come home in the pitch black. Your Scandi outdoor life is over – unless you’re a masochist, or perhaps a duck. Every surface is permanently damp and will remain so for the next six months.

This year’s first mörv moment for me came a couple of weeks ago when we took our daughter to a popular playground. Because my wife and child took so long to get ready we underestimated how early it gets dark these days, we arrived with daylight fading fast. The other kids had gone home already, so everything was silent but for the splashing of Poppy’s boots in the mud. The wooden playthings were covered in a treacherous layer of slime. Ugh. Mörv.

Mörv is a word originally coined by Jan Berglin, cartoonist for Svenska Dagbladet. Mörv arrives when the nice part of autumn is over but proper winter is still somewhere in the distant future. Living in a country that has four well-defined seasons is a pleasure, but during mörv the joys of the old season are gone while those of the new have not yet begun.

No more can you harvest berries and mushrooms in forests burnished red and gold – it’s all turned to muck underfoot and the trees are bare. But nor can you go sledging or skiing, enjoy the crunch of snow and the crisp, sparkling air. “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes,” goes the Swedish adage. Warning – this does not apply in mörv. You could dress from head to toe in sealskin but you still wouldn’t want to go outside.

Denmark has something similar, but there the month of November just repeats itself like groundhog day. A Danish poet summed it up very well. You haven’t read much Danish poetry? I have so you don’t have to. In a verse entitled “The year has 16 months”, Henrik Nordbrandt wrote:

“Året har 16 måneder: November
december, januar, februar, marts, april
maj, juni, juli, august, september
oktober, november, november, november, november.”

You get the picture. But in Swedish one word will do. Mörv.

This is the month of ghastly and unspecified viruses that flourish until the frost arrives to kill them off. It is the month of working like a dog to get everything done before Christmas. And to help you with this, in November there are no “röda dagar”, bank holidays or long weekends. In fact, Sweden moved the only national holiday – Alla helgons dag, or All Hallows Day – to a Saturday, just so you can work a full week either side.

Mörv is also the month when you can’t put off dull but necessary things any longer. That dental appointment you postponed because the weather was too nice. That itchy mole on your back that really should be seen by a doctor. That bit of DIY you never got around to. You are so busy with mörv that friends go unseen and your social life disintegrates.

This year, the weather tricked us by bringing southern Sweden a taste of winter a few weeks earlier than usual. For a fleeting moment the temperature dropped and we experienced that wonderful icy stillness that comes with a fresh snowfall after dark.

But even that sub-zero blast caught us unawares in the depth of our mörv-induced paralysis. Had you put winter wheels on the car? Of course not, it never freezes in November. Had you replenished your supply of grit and salt for the entrance to your home? Nej. Could you cope? Ingen chans. Knowing this, the kindly Stockholm authorities suggested we all stay at home and sit it out.

They knew it wouldn’t last. The deceitful cold snap is over and now mörv is back, darker, wetter, windier, and with even more work that you haven’t done. Between now and Lucia, mörv. Between now and saffron and candles and fairylights and glögg, only mörv. (With maybe a little Advent baking if you like that kind of thing.)

Cheer up, it won’t last forever. And it could be worse: it could be February. Now that is a truly horrible month.

David Crouch is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It. He is a freelance journalist and a lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.

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IMMIGRATION

Politics in Sweden: The migration paradigm shift we need isn’t the one we’re getting

Malfunctioning bureaucracy at the Migration Agency is the single biggest hurdle to Sweden's ability to attract international talent – and yet it receives shockingly little attention in the political debate, writes The Local's editor Emma Löfgren.

Politics in Sweden: The migration paradigm shift we need isn't the one we're getting

Earlier this month, the Migration Agency in a press release cheered that it had been able to shorten the processing time for receiving Swedish citizenship last year.

It felt rather like the passively polite automated voice in a phone queue. “You are number 10,549 in the queue. Thank you for waiting. Your call is important to us.”

Because although cutting the median waiting time from 330 to 256 days is a step forward, it’s not good enough.

Elsewhere on its website, the agency regularly updates the current expected waiting times for cases to be processed (based not so much on the actual expected waiting time, because such an estimate does not exist, but instead on the maximum time that 75 percent of “recent applicants” had to wait for a decision).

At the time of writing, they show that if you’re applying for citizenship, you may have to wait 40 months, an increase of one month since September 2022.

If you’re a doctoral student applying for your first permit, five months. Renewing your permit, six months. Applying for permanent residency? Congratulations, 14 months.

If you’re a work permit holder renewing your permit, brace yourself for a wait of anything between half a year to almost two years, depending on which industry you work in and whether or not your employer is certified with the Migration Agency.

Run your own business? Get comfortable, you’ll be in the queue for 28 months.

Thank you for waiting. Your call is important to us.

Meanwhile, several industries are crying out for workers.

The booming tech scene – the crowning glory of modern Sweden – will have a shortage of 25,000 game developers in ten years if the industry’s current growth rate continues, according to a recent report by the Swedish Games Industry and the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth.

Yet getting your foot on the ladder has become near-impossible after a law change last year, which shortened work permits for trial periods from two years to six months. This means the applicant might still be waiting for a renewed permit when their existing one runs out, and risks losing the right to work, they argue.

Squeezed out before their career in Sweden has even begun.

“The processing times are so long and the permit times so short that the [Migration Agency] can’t keep up. (…) If the current situation is not resolved, Sweden’s entire image is threatened and it will be harder for companies to recruit staff to the country,” they continue, calling for simplified rules and automated processes.

In a new opinion piece for the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper, the chair of SULF – the trade union for people working in academia – writes about highly qualified researchers who simply packed their bags and quit Sweden after being stuck in a never-ending loop of permit bureaucracy.

One was rejected after Migration Agency delays meant that once it finally gave them a decision, they no longer had enough time left on their contract to qualify for a permit.

“Sweden’s talent intake is being throttled,” writes SULF chair Sanna Wolk.

There are a few caveats to consider, not least that talent is a strange concept by which to measure people’s worth – awkward at best, dehumanising at worst.

The current right-wing government, and the left-wing government before it, are so busy trying to perform a balancing act of cracking down on some migrants while attracting other migrants, that long processing times gets shockingly little political attention.

There will always be routes for international talent to come to Sweden, they insist. But out of 2,255 applications for a shiny new talent visa since it was launched in June last year, only 20 percent have so far received a decision. Of those, only 10 percent were successful. Polishing the hood doesn’t fix a broken engine. 

And amid all the talk about paradigm shifts, they fail to understand that we exist in the same paradigm. That long waits, language tests, tightened citizenship rules – or even just taking it for granted that people will always want to come to Sweden, no matter how high the barriers – affect most migrants, and affect all who care.

Time and time again, the Parliamentary Ombudsman – the top watchdog in the country – has criticised the Migration Agency’s long processing times, put down both to the agency’s own flawed administration and a lack of resources from the government.

Cutting queues and red tape may not be as politically sexy as cracking down on refugees, not as headline-grabbing a word as paradigm shift. But it’s the single biggest hurdle right now to Sweden’s ability to attract the international talent it claims to need.

In other news

One of Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson’s top aides resigned from his post after it emerged that he had been fined by police for illegally fishing for eels and had twice lied to the authorities about what happened.

In a joint press conference last week, Moderate Migration Minister Maria Malmer Stenergard and Sweden Democrat parliamentary group leader Henrik Vinge announced the campaign, which they hope will discourage refugees from coming to Sweden.

Muharrem Demirok is expected to be voted in as the new leader of the Centre Party at a party conference on Thursday. The newly elected member of parliament and former deputy mayor of Linköping will take over from leader Annie Lööf. Here’s The Local’s guide to why his role matters.

What’s next?

Kristersson has invited the leaders of Sweden’s eight main parties to a meeting at 5pm on Tuesday to discuss national security, in the wake of protests against Sweden in several Muslim countries.

Politics in Sweden is a weekly column by Editor Emma Löfgren looking at the big talking points and issues in Swedish politics. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive an email alert when the column is published. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.

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