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Twelve things about Sweden that make me smile

With new Swedish citizens soon to be welcomed into the fold with National Day ceremonies across the country, Nordic editor Richard Orange runs through some of the things about their new country that warm his heart.

Twelve things about Sweden that make me smile
Two children wearing their winter overalls. Photo: Credits: Carolina Romare/

Pontoons or bryggor 

Any pond or lake in Sweden bigger than a football pitch will have its own pontoon and whenever I see one, its wooden platform leading my eye out invitingly towards the deeper water, it always brings an involuntary smile to my face. 

Swimming in fresh water is one of life’s simple pleasures, and Sweden’s bryggor do celebrate that, but they also demonstrate how Swedes work collectively. Bryggor are almost always well-maintained, but are rarely owned by anyone. Despite this, they’re always free to use. This is not how things work back in my home country of the UK, and it’s a fantastic thing. 

The pontoon at Richard Orange’s local lake. Photo: Mia Orange

Overloaded box bikes

I suspect some in Sweden would dismiss lådcyklar or box bikes, as a marker of the country’s smug, left-of-centre middle class. But even after owning my own battered and ancient example for nigh on a decade, seeing one can still make me break out into a smile. 

To amuse me, they need to be overloaded. It could be a gaggle of kids of different ages without a seatbelt in sight, a towering piece of furniture, a joyful-looking 20-something, or an enormous dog. 

To me, there’s something wonderfully free about box bikes. A life with fewer cars, slightly chaotic, a little bit hippy but still very sensible. 

A cargo bike, although not quite overloaded enough to qualify. Photo: Sofia Sabel/

A well-tooled utility belt 

Sweden is a country of engineers and practical people and nothing exemplifies this more than the utility belts, often incorporated into work trousers, worn by the legions of prosperous-looking electricians, carpenters, builders and other workmen or entreprenörer – down where I live in Skåne anyway.

They will have, at the very least, a screwdriver, a hammer, a Mora knife, an extendable ruler, and a carpenter’s pencil, all neatly organised and at the ready. 

For me, it’s evidence of the fact that even after years of growing inequality, Sweden’s blue collar workers still enjoy comparatively higher wages than their counterparts in many other countries in Europe, or in the US or Australia. It’s a sign of the dignity and professionalism of the country’s manual workers, and that can only be a good thing. 

Sun worshippers 

They start to appear at some point in March or April. People standing absolutely still on the pavement or sitting with their back against a wall, eyes closed, just enjoying the sensation of warm sun on their faces. 

Even for someone from cloudy, overcast Britain, this is quite strange behaviour, so it must seem wildly foreign to someone from a sunny country like Italy or Spain. 

While Sweden’s winters can be cold, grey and depressing, it can seem worth it, almost anyway, when everything and everyone springs back into life in the spring. For me, it’s the sunworshippers, rather than the first spring flowers, that mark the moment this quickening has begun. 

Valstugor or “election cabins”

The highlight of every election year for me is visiting the makeshift villages of valstugor, or election cabins, that spring up in town and city squares across the country.

Anyone can just wander up and just start chatting to the political activists about whatever political issue they want to talk about, local, regional or national, and very often the parties’ most senior local politicians will be there. 

I’ve witnessed the local head of the far-right Sweden Democrats passionately debating an overexcited crowd of youths with immigrant backgrounds, the head of the local Moderates brutally disown his party’s leader and prime ministerial candidate, and Social Democrats discuss how pessimistic they feel ahead of the coming vote. 

For me, it’s a sign of the openness of Swedish society and of how impressively healthy and alive the country’s democracy is at a local level. I always walk away from spending my lunch break touring the cabins beaming. 

Valstugor or ‘election cabins’ for the Sweden Democrats and Christian Democrats ahead of Sweden’s 2022 election. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT


There’s nothing like witnessing a gleaming 1965 Pontiac Bonneville convertible cruising along a Swedish country road to put a smile on your face. I’m not a car enthusiast, but I appreciate passion when I see it, and the sheer incongruity of seeing American cars from the 1950s and 1960s cars on the roads of Sweden always amuses me.

Sweden’s raggare subculture, which is based around an obsession with 1950s American culture and cars, is fascinating. It’s almost entirely based in the countryside, so you only really encounter it when you leave the big cities.

I like to try and get a look at who the person is who has devoted so much of their spare time to renovating and maintaining their beautiful vehicle. 

READ ALSO: Why are so many rural Swedes obsessed with the American South? 

Power Big Meet in Västerås, the world’s largest meet for vintage American cars. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

The mayor on a bike 

Since foreign minister Anna Lindh was stabbed to death 2003 while shopping in upmarket NK department store, Sweden’s leading national politicians have tended to travel with security. 

But the same is not the case at a regional and local level, and here in Malmö you’ll often see the mayor Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh going from place to place completely unsupervised on her bicycle. 

As with valstugor, for me it’s a sign of the openness of Swedish democracy. 

Toddlers in winter overalls 

Det finns inget dåligt väder – bara dåliga kläder. “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” If you’ve spent a winter in Sweden as a foreigner, you’ve almost certainly heard this Swedish saying over and over again.

It’s true, and particularly true of the gangs of toddlers you’ll see out in the snow in parks and preschool playgrounds across the country, wearing the winter overalls that look almost like little space suits. 

You may be spending the dark Swedish winter largely cooped up in well-heated apartments, but it’s heartening to see that they, at least, are not. And that always makes me smile. 

Coffee mornings (or afternoons for that matter) 

The local village café near where we are building our summer house has a little sign on the wall informing the clientele of its frukostklubben, or “breakfast club”, explaining who were the first locals to attend and which table they sit at. 

If you get there for its 8am opening, you’ll soon see the guy who runs the local plumbing firm, an electrician, and perhaps the odd farmer, take their place at the table and begin gabbling on about local matters, discussing politics, all in the distinctive mellow rural accent of southeastern Skåne. 

These sorts of gatherings happen across the country. You’ll see a bunch of old ladies in their 80s and 90s meeting over cakes and coffee in the more traditional types of konditori, and it gladdens the heart. 

Killjoy festive news stories 

Whenever it’s time for a Swedish celebration, such as Christmas, Easter, Valborg, New Year, I’m always on the look out for the killjoy festive news stories that are a grand, if little recognised, Swedish media tradition. 

READ ALSO: Why does the Swedish media love killjoy festive news? 

“Why Christmas is a dangerous time for your pets”, “The particle pollution caused by Valborg bonfires”, “How Sweden’s Christmas herring are dying out”. Whether they come up with a totally new angle or refresh an old classic, no festive period ever passes without a little injection of misery from Sweden’s newspapers and broadcasters. 

For me, it says something about the Swedish reluctance to ever really enjoy anything absolutely and without reserve, a hangover perhaps from the country’s Lutheran heritage. 

“Alarm on chemicals in Swedish crayfish.” A typically miserable headline for a Swedish festive story. Photo: Screenshot


This might perhaps be something limited to people who live in Skåne, but the wide fields of bright yellow rapeseed flowers you come across when driving around Sweden in the early summer always blow me away. You come over the crest of a hill and there it is. If you throw in a whitewashed medieval church, and a few wind turbines rotating majestically on the horizon, it can be a breathtaking sight.  

A field of rapeseed in Skåne, southern Sweden. Photo: Jerker Andersson/

The kulturtant, or “culture lady”

Once you develop an eye for them, Sweden’s kulturtantar, or “culture ladies”, are instantly recognisable and everywhere, with their baggy patterned clothes in rough cotton or home-knitted wool, brightly coloured arty looking glasses, and chunky jewellery. 

They are gently ridiculed in Sweden as another manifestation of the smug, liberal middle classes, but they are also celebrated as the core audience that keeps Sweden’s cultural world alive. It’s the kulturtantar who buy the theatre tickets, go to the literature readings, and visit the art galleries in Sweden’s cities and towns. 

In a country that I sometimes find a bit too practically minded, I’m glad they exist, and a lot of my friends, though still in their 40s, are well on the way to kulturtant status. 

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Seven signs that autumn in Sweden is well and truly here

Sweden’s summer, with its bright evenings and long days of lazing around doing nothing in particular, is over. How can you tell when autumn has officially begun?

Seven signs that autumn in Sweden is well and truly here

You start seeing lit candles everywhere

Sweden’s cold, dark winter is a marathon rather than a sprint, and one of the ways people in Sweden survive is by doing whatever they can to make it feel more cosy or mysigt

In the height of summer, you won’t find many people lighting candles (it’s too warm and so light outside that you can barely see the flame anyway), but the return of dark evenings and bad weather means that all your Swedish friends will have put out their designer candlesticks again (those ones they were given by their grandma when they graduated high school) next time you visit.

You have to use bike lights again

During the summer, it’s easy to forget sometimes that it actually gets dark, as you find yourself cycling around in semi-permanent daylight.

At some point around the end of September, this will change, and you’ll find yourself frantically checking every drawer and cupboard in your home to find the bike lights you stashed away somewhere around the end of April and haven’t used since.

If you drive, there’ll be a few weeks when you notice more cyclists than usual on the roads without proper lights, uttering some choice words under your breath when they appear out of nowhere right in front of you, dressed all in black, making them almost invisible in the dark.

The automatic out-of-office emails have finally stopped

Swedes take famously long summer holidays lasting anywhere from three to five weeks, with the height of the summer absences taking place in June and July.

This doesn’t stop some people – usually those without school-aged children – from travelling in the off season in August or September to skip the crowds or save a bit of money.

Anyone who has tried to work during the summer in Sweden knows how irritating it can be having to effectively put everything on hold while your colleagues are off on a sandy beach (or in a red wooden summer house) somewhere, with every email you send answered with an out-of-office reply.

If this wasn’t bad enough, the three week holidays are just long enough for your colleagues to forget whatever they were working on before they left for Thailand (or Gotland), meaning people have only just got back into the swing of things by the autumn.

Everyone starts talking about mushrooms for some reason

At some point in September, everyone you know will start talking about svamp and planning trips to the nearest forest, hoping to come back with a basket full of chanterelles. If you’re lucky, they might share some of their haul with you, but don’t expect an invite to their mushroom-hunting spot unless you know them very well.

As autumn progresses, expect the conversation to move on to bärplockning (berry-picking), with Swedish blueberries (technically bilberries), blackberries, lingonberries, rowanberries, cranberries and sea buckthorn all fruiting well into the autumn.

Daylight is suddenly limited to working hours

After months of relying on blackout blinds to get enough sleep, one day your alarm will go off (at the usual time) and the darkness outside will have you convinced it’s the middle of the night.

Unfortunately, it’s just autumn. Sunrise seems to get exponentially later during the month of September, while sunset gets earlier, until you realise that you wake up in the dark, go to work in the dark and head home in the dark. If you have children at school or preschool, you probably won’t see them in daylight again until April (okay, maybe on weekends).

Swedes go into hibernation

The unspoken pressure to go outside and enjoy the good weather during summer finally subsides in autumn, which can be a blessing rather than a curse. Finally it’s socially acceptable to wrap yourself up in a blanket on the sofa with a hot chocolate and catch up on all the series you didn’t manage to watch over summer, as you were too busy off frolicking somewhere remote in the Swedish nature.

You no longer constantly feel a pressure to actually do something, and you can just exist for the next few months. The flipside of this is that you’re probably going to see a lot less of your friends during autumn and winter, as everyone goes into hibernation before emerging bleary-eyed out of their blanketed, tastefully-lit (by candlelight, of course) caves in spring.

Uteserveringar start to vanish

Sweden’s restaurants and cafes take over half of the pavements in many cities from about April to October with outdoor seating areas or uteserveringar. These are popular not just for the restaurant owners, who are able to double the number of tables on offer for half of the year, but also for customers, who can enjoy an outdoor drink or meal while watching the world go by.

Despite the fact that most of these serving spots are furnished with heaters and blankets (it’s not always actually warm enough to eat outside in Sweden without them, even during summer), most of them end up disappearing once the colder weather really sets in. 

Granted, the city does feel a lot more empty when the outdoor serving areas have disappeared, but it is also quite nice to be able to walk down the street without having to dodge tables for a few months.