It's time for this week's So Your Character is ... Post! This is a weekly segment where I interview lovely volunteers from around the world to give you a firsthand account of being a citizen of their respective country or having a disability. I'm hoping to encourage international diversity, break stereotypes, and give writers a crash course on how to write a character from these different places on our planet. If you haven't checked out last week's So Your Character is from Norway ... be sure to hop on over there and give it a read!
I'm very excited about this post because I just recently discovered that I'm only a few generations back Swedish on one side.
Disclaimer: The content below may be culturally shocking to some. Each of these posts are as uncensored as possible to preserve the authenticity of the cultures of each of the interviewees.
(None of the Images are Mine)
My name is Katrin and I’m 23 years old. I was born and raised in Sweden by a Finnish mother and American father. I also have two brothers. I currently work as a social media influencer and consultant, which I have been doing full time for the past two years. My hobbies include spending time with my French bulldog and my boyfriend Sonny. I also play the very Swedish sport ‘floorball’. Other than that I spend most my time working.
My name is Matilda Sjöholm and I am 100% Swedish. I live in Skåne which is the southernmost province of Sweden. There I live in a house in a smaller village with my parents, my sister and our dogs and cats. I am in my third and last year of upper secondary school where I am studying media. I have never really been in the north of Sweden so keep that in mind. This is written by a southerner and therefore it will focus on the southern half of Sweden.
What do you feel is unique to your country? Landmarks? Celebrations?
Katrin: Some of the most popular celebrations in Sweden are Valborg on March 31st and Midsummer (fell on June 23rd this year) where adults (and teenagers) party and get extremely drunk and children, families, and old people visit a huge local bonfire or a large midsummer pole symbolizing fertility. “Fun” and awkward games are also involved.
We do not have a lot of landmarks that are iconic for our country but forests and nature is one of the things we have loads of. There is also a part of Stockholm called Gamlastan (Old Town) that is pretty iconic as well.
Other than that, blond hair, blue eyes, IKEA, and ABBA are probably the first things people think of when they think of Sweden.
Matilda: People hear Sweden and they immediately think about Stockholm, our capital city. Stockholm is located on the east coast halfway through Sweden. People thinking about Stockholm isn't weird at all. This is where our royal family lives and our politicians work there. The landmarks that could be interesting there is the Royal Palace (home of our king and queen) and “Gamla Stan” (The Old Town).
We have plenty of interesting places in southern Sweden as well. A place I love very much is “Österlen”. This is the southeast coast of Skåne, and it is a wonderful place. There are nice beaches, high hills, cozy villages with old houses and cobblestone streets. A place there that I especially like is Simrishamn, a cozy seaside town with plenty of Hollyhock flowers.
I spend a lot of time in the university city, Lund. This place is known worldwide for Lunds Universitet and Lund Cathedral. The pope himself actually visited Lund Cathedral last year and it was a huge event.
When speaking about Skåne I can’t forget to mention Öresundsbron, this is the bridge connecting Malmö and Copenhagen. This bridge ends on Pepparholmen and there the road goes into a tunnel under the seafloor all the way to Danish ground.
In Sweden, we have some celebrations that differ from the rest of the world. Firstly we have Midsummer. This is the day in the middle of the summer when we dance around a flower-clad midsummer pole and eat herring and potatoes. Our second different celebration is Lucia. This is celebrated on December 13. To be honest I don’t really understand the whole thing about this day. We celebrate Saint Lucia, a saint that lived in Italy and poked her eyes out to be with her loved one or something like that. She is known to have worn candles on her head to light her way.
Tell me about your country's environment. What are some of your favorite places?
Whenever I get asked what the best city to visit is I always reply that if you have been to one city you have been to them all. I think most places in Sweden look more or less the same. No high buildings, nice nature and of course always prettiest in the summertime.
With that said my favorite places are the town I live in, Motala, and the town I used to live in, Malmö. Why? They are both beautiful in the summertime (hehe) and Malmö is just big enough to be considered a big city but it is not as busy and crowded as Gothenburg or Stockholm.
Matlida: As Sweden is a very long country the environment differs a lot. Here in the south, we have a lot of oak forests and fields and in the north of Sweden, we have a lot of mountains. The temperature is however quite even throughout the country. We get summers with temperatures between 18-30 degrees Celsius (64-86 degrees Fahrenheit) and during winter we have about +3 to -8 degrees Celsius (37-17 degrees Fahrenheit) in the south. In northern Sweden, it’s often way colder than that.
When I was younger we used to get huge amounts of snow, it was fantastic! Now we don’t get as much snow anymore. This winter we got our first real snow in the beginning of February and that was only about 10 cm, now it’s almost gone again. I suspect that global warming is behind this…
As a Swede myself I don’t find our environment too exciting but I have few places that I find very beautiful. One of those are the fields outside of the village where I live. They are amazing during the summer when the rapeseed is blooming. The fields turn yellow and the smell is amazing. Another place I love is Lund. It is a beautiful city with this old cozy feel in the central parts.
Tell me about your country's food. What are some of your favorite dishes?
Katrin: Most food we eat is “watered down” versions of food from all over the world. Our pizzas are sad compared to Italian or American pizzas, our tacos are sad compared to real Mexican tacos, and our Asian buffets are… can you guess? Pretty sad too. And I love it! I grew up eating this food and I do enjoy it.
The more “Swedish cuisine” is meat and potatoes, maybe some sausage or fish. We eat very basic meals that come straight from the farmer haha. We call it “husmanskost”.
One of my favorite meals is falukorv with pasta. Falukorv is a sausage that you cut up and fry. It doesn’t taste much but if you add a lot of ketchup you’re good to go.
Matilda: When talking Swedish food you can’t avoid our “Friday tacos." It is a part of our culture in some weird way. So on the Fridays, a lot of families eat tacos. But they are quite different from the American tacos. We usually have this soft tortilla bread that we put mince, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, corn, and then we top it with either taco sauce or crème fraiche (sour cream). This is one of my favorite dishes. I also like IKEA meatballs and salmon.
In Sweden we do love our traditional home cooked food, we call this Svensk Husmanskost. This includes our famous meatballs, meatloaf, Falukorv etc.
Tell me about any different speech patterns in your country. Slang? Idioms? Words for things such as “biscuits” instead of “cookies”?
Katrin: There are a lot of different dialects in Sweden. You don’t have to travel far to find someone who speaks a completely different version of Swedish. The biggest differences will be found in the mid-region around Stockholm level compared to up north and down south.
One of the most iconic examples of weird Swedish is that a sharp intake of breath means “yes." This is mainly used in northern Sweden but has been adopted by some Southerners as well.
There is also a constant battle regarding how to properly pronounce cookie, caviar, and liquorice (kex, kaviar, lakrits).
Matilda: Well, Sweden isn't an English speaking country so I really can’t compare to the US. But I'll try to tell you a bit about our languages. Swedish is our official language. We also have a few minority languages such as Sami and Finnish.
We have many dialects. I, for example, speak “Skånska” as I am från Skåne. Someone from Stockholm usually speaks “Stockholmska” and someone from for example “Dalarna” (a county in the middle of Sweden” speaks “Dalmål. When I want to say wheelbarrow I usually say “rollebör”, a person that’s not from Skåne would use the real Swedish word for it, “skottkärra”.
Swedish grammar is very irregular, we have rules but they aren't used as much as the rules in English.
Describe briefly a regular day in your country.
Katrin: Since my day doesn’t exactly look like the normal Swede’s day due to the fact that I work as a social media person, I don’t really know what a regular day looks like. But for example my parents a day looks something like this:
Wake up, travel to work (they travel about 3 hours round trip), work from 8 to 5, go home, make dinner, fall asleep in front of the television watching some boring program and then repeat 5 days per week. It sounds pretty depressing but they both enjoy their jobs and find time to do stuff on the weekends.
Matilda: A normal day for me begins with the alarm waking me at 6.30. Then I make a simple breakfast, usually cereal and milk with a glass of chocolate milk. After that, I get dressed (usually in a hurry…) and then I get ready to go to school. I have to walk for about 7 mins to the nearest bus stop and then I get on the bus and go to school. On the bus, I usually check like Buzzfeed, Facebook etc. We usually have two lessons before lunch. Our lunch is free (thanks, taxpayers!). We usually get quite nice lunches as well, normal, home-cooked kind of food, yummy! After lunch, we have about two more lessons and then it’s time to go home again.
When I get home I usually relax until the rest of the family come home. At then we usually eat dinner and after that, there is always someone in the family who have some kind of activity. My sister and my dad go bicycling. I am an equestrian and my mum and I enjoy long walks with our two dogs. Then the day is over.
How does your country compare to others, especially the States since my audience is primarily American? Environmentally? Politically? Culturally?
Katrin: We have a lot of forests that take up a lot of our land surface. We are pretty big on recycling so when we purchase bottles and cans we pay a fee that we later get back when we recycle said bottles and cans.
Politically we have elections every four years and we have quite a lot of parties to choose from, but they are divided into a left and right “group” that cooperate. Sweden has also come pretty far in regards to equality but we are still far from perfect. One great example however is paternity leave where the father has a certain amount of months to stay home with his child and the mother of course has some as well. There is nothing strange about a father taking care of a child while the mother works. It is highly encouraged.
Matilda: Sweden is a constitutional monarchy. This means that we have a prime minister and a royal family. The royal family is only our face outwards. They don’t decide anything. It is our parliament that decides. I’m not very good at politics so I won’t dive deeper into that. We care a lot about our environment. We use clean energy and we recycle almost everything!
Briefly describe three of your country’s historical events that you feel are important.
Katrin: As a history enthusiast it is very difficult to narrow this down to three, but I would say that 1250 – the king dies and his right hand Birger Magnusson (Birger Jarl) rules in place of his son who was elected king but too young. Birger Jarl allies with the Germans who have great city building know-how and with their help our capital Stockholm is born in 1252. He also starts creating laws and from this the first class society is born. Honestly I could go on forever, but Birger Jarl played a huge part in the very early creation of what we today know as Sweden.
Also long story short: Gustav Vasa leads the Swedish reformation and the Swedish protestant Church is born. And after Karl XII’s death in 1718 a new constitution was created and the new political system was the foundation of the democracy we have today.
Matilda: The founding of the town Birka. This is considered the oldest town in Sweden and it was a great and important trading center during the Viking-era. This I think was very important for the success of the Vikings. The Swedish Vikings were more traders than warriors.
The founding of the Nobel Prize. I don’t know why I find this important but I mean the Nobel Prize is a big thing.
The last event is the “White Buses." This was an operation by the Swedish Red Cross and the Danish government in the spring of 1945 to rescue concentration camp prisoners in areas controlled by the Nazis. The prisoners were taken to Sweden as Sweden was a neutral country. Many of these people decided to stay here and I’ve actually listened to the story of one of the survivors in real life. I was so taken by that woman’s story!
What are some stereotypes about your country that irk you? What media portrays your country badly be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
Katrin: Well I would say that the “we’re all tall and blond with blue eyes” stereotype is annoying but I am tall, blond and have blue eyes so I feel like I can’t say that haha. Also the stereotypes created from sports events and college movies that all women wear Sweden flag bikinis and love to party are not very accurate.
Another sensitive subject that really infuriates me is the Swedish rape statistics that the rest of the world consumes without the least bit of underlying facts. Briefly explained: the sigma surrounding rape in Sweden is not as high (not perfect, but not as high) as in other countries which means that more people feel safe to report their abuse. Our laws define rape is a way broader way than in other countries, and if one person has been abused multiple times during a period of time, every single occasion is recorded as a separate event, which boosts numbers a lot.
Matilda: First, not all Swedes are long, blonde and beautiful. We are not bikini models with perfect bodies. I, for example, have brown hair and I am fairly short.
Secondly, for some weird reason, we are often portrayed as people with none or very revealing clothing. Seriously, that wouldn't be possible 80% of the year. It is too cold for that and most Swedes like their clothes, okay.
At last, we do not hate each other. We like talking and we like to make new friends. Most Swedes are not as intimidating as TV and film make us look like.
What media portrays your country well be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
Katrin: I would say that most media and movies portray Sweden in a pretty positive way. It’s only less intelligent people who judge our country based on strange (and often untrue) facts. I have almost never come across a person who reacts badly when I say I am from Sweden, so the overall feeling towards the country is great in my experience.
Matilda: This one is very hard to answer. I would say Göta Kanal 1. It is a humor film about the great “Göta kanal”. Two boats race on the canale and a lot of crazy things happen. But I think this film shows the beautiful nature in the middle of Sweden and the characters are very close to “the typical swede” according to me.
Who are your top three favorite characters native to your country in books, movies, or shows?
Katrin: One of my favorites is from my childhood, and that is the American doll Kirsten Larsson. I read the book about her life many times and had my dad read it for me before I was able to myself.
Another favorite is Lisbeth Salander from the Stieg Larsson books/movies. And for all of you out there who have only seen the American version of the movie: she is not portrayed in the correct way! The books give you a much better idea of who she is as a person.
And last but not least I have to mention the characters in Vikings. I know Vikings were from all over Scandinavia, but for the sake of this question I will claim them as Swedish.
• Stig Helmer from the film series Sällskapsresan. The films are hilarious and you can’t do anything than like the confused Karl Helmer and his norwegian friend Ole Bramserud.
• Pippi Långstrump from Astrid Lindgren’s books. Her adventures with her monkey and horse were a big part of my childhood!
• Kurt Wallander. The police from Henning Mankell’s books based in Ystad, Österlen.
Thank you, Katrin and Matilda, for this very informative post! I hope everyone enjoyed reading it. This series will be back in January 2018!
Are you interested in participating in this project? Check out the tips archive to see which countries have been filled and if you're from a different country, shoot me an email at howellvictoriagrace(a)gmail(dot)com. I'm especially looking for Spain, Denmark, Kenya, Brazil, Iraq, and Egypt.
Do you have any characters from Swedish? Did this inspire you to write a Swedish character or set a book in Sweden? Are from this or been to this country and you have further input? Feel free to share! Do you have any questions for Katrin and Matilda? Be sure to thank them!
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