I am a Swede by proxy, having moved to the country, married a Swede and had Swedish(ish) children. For me, Sweden has its pros and cons. The main disadvantage is the winter – the very long, dark, cold winter. Having grown up in Kenya, this has been a huge challenge. In fact, instead of getting easier, surviving winter gets more difficult every year. So why do I stay? Sweden has much to offer. It is a great country to bring up children, there is law and order and things work. All great, but not enough to convince me. The thing that makes me stay year after year is the summer, the anticipation of which gets me though winter. Yes, it is short, but it is magical. Here’s why.
They say that it is the long days that allow Swedish strawberries to develop their intense flavour. Where I come from, strawberries never become completely red, never become soft and juicy and never become filled with that intense flavour that explodes in your mouth when you bite into one. For me, eating a Swedish strawberry is a religious experience. They are worth the wait and the price. During the season, we eat as many as possible. They are wonderful on their own, in a bowl with cream and a sprinkle of sugar or in homemade ice-cream or jam. Doing anything else with a strawberry is, in my opinion, a crime.
When the lilacs flower, the smell is intoxicating. My mother is from Denmark and the lilacs bloom on her birthday. She has lived in Africa for 50 years, but still remembers their scent. Each year, I press a flower and send it to her. Although the smell is gone when the letter arrives, it takes her back to a special place in her memory. I cannot walk past a bush without sticking my nose into a bloom, trying to hold on to the scent, because I know that it will soon be gone and I will have to wait a year until next time.
Bastu & bad (Sauna & swimming)
Spending time at a Swedish summer house is wonderful! The one owned by my husband’s parents is on the shores of a lake in the north of the country and our days there are spent swimming, fishing and exploring the area, which is one of outstanding natural beauty. However, the best part of the day is the evening. After dinner, when the air becomes cooler, we get into the sauna. When we are too hot to stand it any longer, we run down to the lake and plunge in from the pier. Nothing beats lying on your back, floating in a lake as the mist rises and you hear nothing but the sound of your heart slowing as you cool off! Afterwards, it is wonderful to relax, taking in the view, with a cold beer.
Loppis (Flea markets)
For many Swedes, summer is not summer without loppis visits. Flea-markets are everywhere as is demonstrated by the signs you cannot miss when you are driving down any country road. The thrill of finding something special for a small cost is great. Often, success is elusive, but like gambling, it’s hard to stop. However, not everyone in my family shares my passion. Whenever a loppis sign comes into view, my husband automatically locks all the car doors and my children tell him to speed up!
So, now you know why I stay in Sweden, in spite of the long, dark, cold winters.