Though we’re happy to stock our houses with the Swedes’ cheap bookcases and kitchenware, their country isn’t a very popular holiday destination for us Australians. Admittedly Scandinavia is literally on the other side of the world, and yes they spend half their year in darkness. But still, there’s a lot more to this bizarre and fantastical land of Allen key-wielding meatball eaters than initially meets the eye.
1. For starters, delicious berries grow everywhere
When people tell you not to eat suspicious fruits in the forest, it’s generally very good advice. But in Sweden, you should do just the opposite. Whether it has something to do with the soil or the fact that Sweden is generally just a place of fairytales and whimsy – blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and more opulently sprout from bushes all over the country.
This isn’t even just confined to rural areas. While Sweden does have lush and beautiful forests, wild berries can be found growing just a metre or two off the side of many streets and motorways. The bounty is so big in fact that berry markets are a regular occurrence in every town and city. They think of raspberries the same way we see apples. It’s that good.
2. Everyone rides a bike
There’s a good reason why Sweden is one off the most eco-friendly nations on the planet. Aside from their completely incredible recycling program – a whopping 99 per cent of their garbage is now recycled – Swedes just love to ride their bikes. It’s a common sight to see people as old as 70 zipping around city streets on rickety old bicycles, and there are generally more bikes to be seen than cars. The government has accommodated this by building world-class cycling infrastructure along all major roads and despite the fact they don’t wear helmets, there are hardly any accidents. Go team!
3. The people are just straight up beautiful
A gold-class healthcare system ensures that Sweden’s population is very well looked after – and it shows. Sure, there are the stereotypical Swedes with piercing blue eyes and platinum blond hair, but the total babe gene doesn’t just stop there. Everyone’s fit lifestyle keeps them in amazing shape with little to no effort and their good looks last well into their old age. When visiting my partner’s Swedish family this year I met a number of 60 years olds that looked 35 at the oldest. I kid you not.
4. Baked goods are a top priority
The above is especially suspicious because the nation loves to feast so much. Aside from huge communal breakfasts comprised of cereals, cheese, meat, crispbread and rye, Swedes have a standing coffee date most days where they regularly indulge in delicious pastries.
The concept of “fika” is to sit down, make time for one another and have some black coffee with a tasty treat. Most common to this pastime is kanelbullar. Affectionately referred to as bullar, this old-world Scandinavian recipe is essentially a cinnamon bun with a kick. Packed with sugar, cinnamon, and the crucial ingredient of cardamom these toasty little balls of heaven are worth the international airfare in their own right.
5. Everyone speaks at least two languages
The language barrier is one of the most difficult things to overcome when you’re travelling. Whether you’re booking a flight or trying to organise your credit card with a grumpy hostel worker, there are some situations where amateur sign language just doesn’t cut it.
The great thing about the Swedes is that they all speak English. In fact, as it’s compulsory for all students to learn the language in combination with Swedish, they’re actually been rated the best non-native speakers in the world. Sure, they might have a kooky accent, but you’re getting on that flight or into that hostel with no trouble at all.
6. The music is a whole lot better than ABBA
Yes, ABBA are great if you’re having a ’70s-themed disco party. Sure, Ace of Base are perfect for your kind of ironic, kind of serious ’90s throwback sesh. But Sweden has a lot more to offer than novelty and nostalgia.
Due to considerable government support and general industry kickassery, it’s safe to say the Swedes sneakily take up a large portion of your favourite Spotify playlists. Think: The Knife, Avicii, Lykke Li, The Hives, Little Dragon, First Aid Kit, Miike Snow, Tallest Man on Earth, Iconapop and Robyn. Have a cruisy night in a local Swedish bandroom and you’ll probably end up stumbling across the next Peter, Bjorn and John.
7. Swedes have a weird (and excellent) sense of humour
The Swedes are generally a shy people. They like order, silence and personal space, but when they come out of their shell it’s truly glorious. Case in point: every year in the town of Gavle a giant straw goat is erected in the main square to symbolise the Christmas spirit, and every year it is ceremoniously burnt down by vandals.
This strange and amazing unofficial tradition has been going on for an impressively long time. 27 of the last 48 years have ended poorly for the innocent Gavlebocken. Each year, locals look forward to its demise and even take bets on its survival. I guarantee this is one of the few nations where seasonal arson is considered fun and whimsical.
8. The government really, really looks out for its people
Sweden isn’t just a great place for maniacal goat burners – it’s a culture where everyone gets looked after. Though a steep 30 percent of people’s income gets handed over to the tax man, they do some amazing things with it. And it doesn’t stop at recycling and healthcare – Swedes get direct benefits like 15 months of paid vacation.
OK, this isn’t an ordinary vacation. This whopping break comes to all Swedes in the form of paid parental leave for both mums and dads. As a result of this policy, Swedish men – or “latte papas” as they’re affectionately known – have had fairly shared parenting responsibilities for decades now.
9. It’s might just be the most progressive country in the world
This ground-breaking gender equality doesn’t stop with parenthood. Along with the other Scandinavian countries, Sweden is a world leader in the Global Gender Gap Index. It’s still got a long way to go in the realms of business, but for the past few years, nearly half of Swedish parliamentarians have been women.
More than this, Sweden was the first country in the world to allow state-sanctioned gender changes for transexuals as well as being one of the first to recognise same sex partnerships.
OK, we know they sell these at Ikea and that essentially makes our headline a lie, but seriously. Sweden is one of the only places in the world where you can grab an incredible, cheap hotdog on every second street corner. Whether it’s stacked with shallots, cheese and onion or garnished with traditional ketchup and mustard, varmkorv, is delicious all year ’round. Brandish it proudly on the cobblestoned streets of Stockholm or shamefully scoff a cheapie at your local Ikea – varmkorv (or “hot sausage”) is a winner in any language.
(Lead image: Marcella Bona/Flickr)