Tag archives for tradition

The Swedish countryside: perfect in all seasons

Before I first came to Sweden I associated the country with blue and yellow Ikea, the world famous Eurovision sensation ABBA, meatballs (even as a vegetarian I know these are good homey Swedish food); I associated Sweden with Phoebe in the American sitcom “Friends” playing a Swedish masseuse but maybe more serious and something I aspire to win one day: the Nobel Prizes (yes I intend to win them all :) . However, during my first trip here I experienced a side of Sweden that for me is one of the best aspects of Sweden.

Sweden has a population of around 10 million people. The main cities are Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo. However, a large part of Sweden is the countryside, the rural aspects that are not only people but deer, moose, fox, hares, owls and all sorts of other fascinating creatures. To me the Swedish countryside could easily be a place I could call home!

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Christmas is in the Air

I find that the Christmas spirit really comes out after the first of Advent. In Sweden, this means that all the windows fill with lights and stars, the grocery stores fill with Julmust and gingerbread cookies, and the smell of glögg drifts through the air from Christmas markets.

Last Sunday was the first of Advent and, for Sweden, this marks the official countdown to Christmas. Most households burn four candles, one on every Sunday, to count down the days to Christmas. With every candle that is lit, more and more excitement grows for the coming of Christmas.

The first Advent candle lit. Photo By:Per Ola Wiberg ~ Powi (CC BY-2.0) Read more » >>

School Lunches in Sweden

One of the biggest contrasts that I noticed about Sweden was the difference in diet. I found that people are much more conscious and even knowledgeable about the food they eat everyday. It is important that every meal fulfills all nutritional requirements. While it is without a doubt Swedes enjoy their candy, I feel they are much more concerned about having a balanced diet with the occasional sweet treat.

The same can be said for school lunches. Any other school I have been to has had a cafeteria full of fried or microwaved food, something you would not find in Sweden. I had to always bring a lunch because the school cafeteria was full of junk.

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Keeping up with the Nordmarks

You’re in Sweden. Lost. Alone. Don’t know a word of the language.

Having a host family is a great way to experience Swedish culture. One thing you might learn is how to row a boat. Photo: Lennart Nordmark

What are you to do? Get back on the plane? Call your parents? Head to the nearest singles bar?

How about call your host family? You know, the people who volunteered to show you Swedish culture and provide support when you emailed the international office at Linnaeus University saying you were interested in participating in the “Friend Family” program.

It’s an idea, isn’t it? They’ll be glad you called them.

You’ll have a lot of fun. I know I have. Heck, I’ve had more strange adventures with them than Indiana Jones in any of George Lucas’ movies.

Let me tell you about my host family, the Nordmarks. They’re an average, middle-class Swedish family that lives in Växjö. They have three children, and like many Swedish families own a summer house which they share with my host father Lennart’s brothers. They’re both school teachers, and have lived in Växjö their whole lives.

My host family's "summer" house in winter. Located on the shores of Lake Helgasjön, the house has been in the family since 1907. Photo: Ben Mack

Sounds rather bland doesn’t it? Well read on, Einstein.

I’ve had a lot of fun with this “typical” family. I’ve spoken several times to students at both the schools my host parents teach at, showing Powerpoint presentations about the U.S. and answering the kind of questions most teenagers have when encountering a visitor from a foreign country, especially the U.S. Seriously, the knowledge these students have of hip-hop music and the Twilight series is extraordinary.

With them, I’ve also survived multiple encounters with soccer hooligans, failed to catch a fish in three attempts, helped repair a lawnmower, successfully navigated a fika with a 97-year-old woman who has been to 37 U.S. states and five continents, dropped by unannounced for waffles, and consumed more sausages than any previous human in history. Oh, and I’ve also jumped into a frozen lake in the middle of February, spent multiple hours attempting to pick up a drill out of said lake with a magnet and string, and watched prepubescent girls march around with candles in their hair in a show of pageantry and pain tolerance known as Lucia.

Forget trying to keep up with the Joneses. Try keeping up with this family.

On Lake Helgasjön near the Normark's summer house north of Växjö. Photo: Ben Mack

But really, having a host family is about more than random adventures and going on more side trips than the guys in The Hangover. It’s about cultural exchange, sharing your own culture while learning about Swedish culture in an environment other than just an on-campus pub or from your Swedish classmates who are as equally broke as you are.

While with the Nordmarks, I’ve learned about Swedish cuisine, how Swedish families interact, and of course what life is like in Sweden when you’re not just a student. And through that, I’ve been able to examine my own culture, and realized that – in the end – we’re all human and share the same values and beliefs.

And if it wasn’t for them, I’d never have realized pickled herring is absolutely delicious, despite the odor.

So, what are you waiting for? Pick up that phone and make that call. You made the effort to be paired up with a host family, so why not meet them? At the very worst you’ll be getting a free meal.

At the very best you’ll be meeting people you’ll hopefully stay in close contact with for the rest of your life.

Sure makes that 20 kronor phone call worth it.

My host family, the Nordmarks. Photo: Ben Mack

Befriending the Swedes

A common feeling from many international students is they find it difficult to ‘get in’ with a the Swedish crowd.  While in Sweden, it is typical that you want to meet the locals and experience the culture first hand. Even though most Swedes have excellent English skills, it can be hard to break that barrier and meet Swedish students.

Swedes have been plagued with a stereotype that they are cold and difficult to get to know. I have to say this stereotype is untrue. Swedes are both friendly and polite, but can also be introverted when getting to know them. Swedish culture cannot be compared to the cultures that are more extroverted and lively. While they may be more reserved than other cultures, it cannot be said that they are unfriendly or cold.

It can be difficult for international students to meet and befriend some Swedish students because they tend to be more shy with people they do not know. Some also tend to stick to their familiar crowd of friends.


Learn some Swedish! My Swedish teacher Lillemor, one of the best I'm sure!


However, when you get to know them it is easy to see that these stereotypes do not hold true. So here are some tried and tested strategies for meeting Swedish students:

Homemade Thanksgiving dinner feast with my first successful stuffed turkey!


  1. Join a sports team! There are many sports teams through student nations or student gyms. Swedes love to work out, so get out there. There are also many city teams if you want to meet people outside of the student circle.
  2. Talk to the Swedes in class! One of the best ways to meet people is in your classes, just say hi!
  3. Go to a gasque/sittning! All student nations have gasques and many student organizations have something similar. This Swedish tradition, including a three course meal with songs, games and drinks, offers the perfect place to meet new people!
  4. Try learning some Swedish! Swedes are very open to helping foreigners learn Swedish. Go for a fika and practice a new language. (Take any excuse to have a fika really!)
  5. Work at a nation! While the job might pay enough to support student living in Sweden, it is the perfect opportunity to meet Swedes.
  6. Share some of your traditions! Invite some Swedes in class to your Chinese New Year or Thanksgiving celebrations.


While it might seem difficult at the beginning, when you do you get to know Swedish students, introverted might not be the word used to describe them.