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Sweden, seen through the eyes of an Irishman

Sweden, seen through the eyes of an Irishman

  • This year I witnessed my very first Midsommar here in Sweden. I already had the pleasure of experiencing this uniquely Swedish holiday in the company of Swede's whilst living in both Spain & the US but finally I was here in the homeland. It did not disappoint!

Everything from the food (even the Sill was delicious!), the games, the retelling of old family stories & of course the schnapps all went down a treat. It was as Swedish as you get but in many ways it felt like home.For me, as an Irishman who comes from a place filled with strange cultural traditions & fiercely proud nationalism, the Swedish Midsommar always appeared to be a curious throwback to tradition, a display of national pride & a celebration of culture that Swede’s in modern times rarely ever embrace. It was a beautiful thing to behold & I was delighted to see that drinking more than necessary is not just an Irish thing to do on festive occasions.

It did get me thinking about my experiences here in my adopted home & some of the curious differences I have encountered. I have been blessed with finding true love, family & a home here in Sweden but that journey has not been without it’s fair share of raised eyebrows, laughter & utter disbelief:

Summer vs Winter:
Unknownst to most of the world, Sweden actually has two completly different nations with seemingly two completely different populations. There is Summer Sweden where people are social, optimistic, engaging & filled with life. The days are long & filled with possibilities. It is a spectacular land – even on the rainy days! But then there is Winter Sweden, this is an inhospitable nightmare for an extrovert Irishman – midnight starts at lunchtime, people no longer make eye contact, there appears to be an enforced curfew after 6pm & the joyful hope seen during summer has long been laid to rest.

This is one I still truly struggle with. I grew up in 1980’s Ireland watching US TV, Hollywood movies & hoping to live the American Dream, which I did. In America it always needs to be bigger & better. As Michael Douglas famously said in 1987’s hit movie Wall Street: ’Greed, for want of a better word, is good!’ This message was apparently never received in Sweden. The national psyche regarding just the right amount still baffles me & sometimes makes business a little slower but it has it’s charm in that Swede’s truly embrace it in such a positive way.

Four, five or even six weeks off during summer? Everyone off work in one vacation block? This seems crazy to me. The world has always been envious of Sweden’s generous vacation time & after living in Summer Sweden it all suddenly made sense. Summer is to Sweden what the Pope is to Catholics, what Mecca is to Muslims, there is nothing more sacred & they shall enjoy their summer – even if it might rain!

The Swedish approach to shared domestic responsibilities is quite different to the traditions I grew up with in Ireland. Considering my love for my fiancée, there is an Irish expression that springs to mind: ’If you have nothing good to say, say nothing!’



Text: Kevin Maher, debater

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