Why do women feel so much safer on the streets of Sweden?

Re-post of an article written by me for ‘The Mancunion’, Manchester University’s Student Union’s newspaper. It dates back to my first month of exchange in Uppsala and was first published on the 13th of February 2013.


Streets of Manchester at night

Reclaim the Night highlights how unsafe women in Manchester can feel walking home at night alone, a huge contrast to the experience of women I’ve met on my study abroad in Uppsala, Sweden. As a student ambassador, one of the most recurrent questions from anxious parents of applicants who want to study in Manchester is “how safe is the city?” or “do you feel safe here?”. The answer for me at least is “yes”, although Manchester isn’t the safest place in the world, you have to get used to it. But when I talked to a Swede studying in the city I got quite a different answer. Patrik  studies at the University of Manchester, and goes as far as saying that Manchester is one of the places in which he feels most unsafe. Even when Patrick  traveled alone around South America he felt safer, as he could spot the ‘bad people’ from a mile. In Manchester, it’s much harder to know when you can feel safe.

Do people feel the same way in beautiful, ‘gender equal’, respectful Sweden? Beyond the world renowned stereotypes, what is the reality in everyday life? Many English exchange students commented on the way they feel safer going back home late at night here than they do back in the UK. Becky, a British University of Manchester student studying in Sweden, says that in Stockholm she has gone home late at night several times and never felt threatened. In Manchester, she says that she would never dare. When I asked her why, she told me that: “The police here are really in control of the situation, as soon as drunk people start to make some noise they would be approached immediately and asked to quieten down”.

Meg, who studies in Norwich but is on her semester abroad in Sweden, talks about a difference in culture. She explains how, even in clubs, Swedish guys’ behaviour towards women is “more respectful”. In England “episodes of semi-harassment are accepted as perfectly normal, especially if drunk”. Generally gender neutrality is considerably stronger than in England as can be seen by several customs in everyday life.

For example, when paying the bill in a restaurant, in a café or buying a drink in a club it doesn’t matter what your gender is. Everyone pays for themselves. A man would not be expected to always pay for a woman, they would take it in turns. At first I could not see how Swedes could find this normal, but speaking to Hannah from the south of Sweden,I saw how she struggles to imagine it any other way. She disagreed with “the European way of doing things”, as beyond being unfair it also puts two people on a different level, and the small “indebting” could subconsciously put a certain “pressure” on the woman.

Beyond the cultural traditions, and the almost total equality in employment rates (76. 1% women and 82% men), there is a considerable social difference between England and Sweden for example in higher employment rates, less class disparity, more people who’re highly educated (education is free from nursery to PhD level) and a more controlled ‘drinking culture’ (state monopoly on all alcoholic beverages above 3.5%). These are not necessarily determining factors, but they undoubtedly play an important role in shaping Swedish society.

Iconic picture of Uppsala at night

But it’s not perfect. Government funded studies show that statistically 85% of Swedish women “worry about being potential victims of violence walking home at night” and 56% admit having experienced some form of sexual harassment.These figures refer to the youngest part of the population (between 18 and 24) that, always according to the study, are statistically at higher risk than older members of the population. As Patrik points out, people have different ideas of safety, and although he believes Sweden is extremely safe he knows some Swedes would disagree with him. This, he says, is partly due to higher standards and expectations. Out of all the exchange students I spoke to from various parts of the world, not one of them believes they have been to a safer country than Sweden.

A month in the country is not enough to understand how things truly are, but even in the first few days I noticed the way people trust each other. The more I live here in Uppsala, the more I realise how all the ordinary precautions that we follow in England to ‘stay safe’ are not at all normal. The constraints we put on our personal freedom can only be seen clearly when you  live without those constraints. In Sweden, it is really enjoyable living in a society without having to fear the strangers on the street; for everyone, but even more so for women.

 


Article originally published in ‘The Mancunion‘, The University of Manchester’s Student Union’s weekly newspaper, on the 13th of February 2013. Here is the link to the original post.

Sankta Lucia

Sankta Lucia in Sweden is one of the most iconic festivity which mixes the ancient marking of the longest night with the celebration of a christian saint who brought light and hope.

The Saint’s Bio

Lucia is a Christian saint from Syracuse, Sicily and lived between 283–304. The story goes that her father died when she was 5 and she looked after her sick mother who she convinced to go on pilgrimage to Catania where Saint Agatha, around 50 years earlier, was martyred. Saint Agatha spoke to Lucia in her dream telling her that this miracle was granted to her mother as gratitude for her devotion. To thank God and Saint Agatha for the miracle, Lucia chose to continue her veneration and help fellow Christians. She did so by going into the Catacombs where christians hid from persecution to bring them food. In order to maximise the amount of food she could carry she wore candles on her head which connects to the current representations of Lucia in the Nordic tradition. This devote behaviour together with her vow of virginity to thank God angered her wealthy and most of all, pagan husband. Needless to say she did not marry him out of choice instead she did it because of marriage that Lucia’s mother had arranged as before she was miracled she feared her illness was not going to allow her to live much longer and thought her daughter needed someone to protect her when she could not. Her husband however reported Lucia to the Roman authorities and as Christianity was illegal at the time, she was convicted and several attempts were made to execute her. They only succeeded in killing her when they finally allowed her to get given the Christian rights.

The Nordic Tradition

Today across the nordic countries she is celebrated as the young woman with a crown of candles on her head and the reason she has these candles was that she used them to light her way as she went into the Catacombs where christians hid to bring them food and in order to maximise the amount of food she could carry she wore candles on her head.

The Scandinavian Lucia, traditionally used to carry saffron buns (Luciabulle) and other seasonal biscuits recalling the story of the saint who would bring food to her fellow Christians who, unlike her, where poor and hiding in the Catacombs not to be persecuted by the romans. Today Lucia in Sweden is tendentially a very nordic looking girl with long blond hair which would carry a candles on her head and who most likely looks nothing like the original Sicilian martyr.

This festivity, as many others in Christian Scandinavia, is highly important because it dates back to pre-Christian times when there were important rituals marking the longest night of the year. When the Christian cult came to Sweden the Julian calendar was still in use and the 14th of December would be the shortest day so it was easy for the multinational christianity to integrate ancient nordic rituals within the faith by re-branding it as a festivity in honour of a Christian saint.

The song sung by the choir ‘Sankta Lucia’ is a Swedish rendition of the original song in Neapolitan then translated into Italian and although the lyrics differ quite a lot the message of light and hope remains.

It is fascinating to watch this ancient ritual that has been kept alive by Christianity and even in one of the parts of the world with the highest percentage of atheists Lucia brings back a certain sense of spirituality and religiousness that is not really well understood or conceptualised rather it is done, for traditions sake and lived collectively appreciating the beauty and the magical contrast of the cold and darkness outside to the warm glow of the candles and heartwarming singing of traditional songs.

Must have apps for an Uppsala Student

Uppsala student specific

Nationsguiden (or nationsguiden.se) is an app to get all the information about everything that is going on in the Uppsala student nation scene, from cafes to pubs to clubs and gasques. Sometimes the app doesn´ t work properly (at least on my phone) so alternatively you can always access all this information from an internet browser by following the link.

Mecenat App: Mecenat is the company that issues all Swedish university students with a student card and in Uppsala also with a nation card. The app allows you to find discounts for students that you are entitled to, but most importantly allows you to have a valid digital nation card that you can show the person at the door together with your normal ID. Unfortunately the app is only available in Swedish but for the purpose of setting it up and finding the student card it´ s fairly easy. To set it up you need the code which is in the letter, sent  with your card. If you have lost it, try contacting them either via the form on their website  or by chatting to them via social Facebook.

UL (Upplands lokaltrafik) is the app in which you can find all the information about public transport timetables and bus routes in Uppsala and the surrounding areas. You can also connect a debit or credit card to the account and buy tickets from the app (providing you have an internet connection).The price is 22 kronor for local bus journeys as opposed to 35 kronor if you pay by card on the bus.

 

Transport for all over Sweden 

SJ the app of Swedish National rail which gives you the timetables of all trains in Sweden often including buses to integrate your journey. Create yourself a profile on the SJ website and start earning points each time you travel. Also you can have your details saved and buy train tickets directly from there!  

Taxi Kurir is a taxi firm which has taxis in all major Swedish cities. You can download the app and get quotes for journeys and if you create a profile and connect it to a debit or credit card, you can also pay for your ride directly via the app which saves you money compared to paying in the car. Also available in English!

 

For practicing your Swedish language skills

Both these apps can be used on a internet browser from a PC or tablet .You create a profile with a username and password and can login from more than one device to the app and use it. The best part is that they are free of charge, easy to use and fairly fun.

Duolingo. Probably the most famous language learning app worldwide offers you a fun and easy way to learn new words in Swedish.   

Memrise: even better than Duolingo, in my point of view, Memrise allows you to learn useful sentences in Swedish which is more advanced than Duolingo and more useful on a day to day basis.   

Google translate: really useful as you can copy and paste long texts into it and it will translate in a matter of seconds from Swedish into English (or any other language really).

Saving money

A really good website which has also a free app available for download is Pricerunner. It is available for several countries but it is useful for comparing prices for a certain product in many shops both on the highstreet and online.

ResQ Club is an app that aims to reduce food spoilage at restaurants and cafés. When you download the app you are able to see which food establishments in your vicinity that have leftover food they are planning to throw away, that you can buy for half of the original price! A great way to save both the planet and your lean student piggy bank.

Stalking

Sweden is a stalker’s paradise as the laws that regulate the right to public information are much stronger than the privacy protection laws. If you know someone’s name and surname you can find out the address where they live, who they live with, their date of birth, their mainline and mobile number and even how much they earn! There are several websites and apps that allow you to gain this information for free. Among the most popular ones are hitta.se and eniro.se so if you have a telephone number you can find out who it belongs to and viceversa.

Original article published in ‘Ergo’, Uppsala’s student magazine, on 17th of February 2017.

Guide to Student Life in Uppsala

Uppsala is one of the best cities to be a student in Scandinavia and possibly in the entire world. With a really old university, founded in 1477, it has centuries of traditions and is centred around academia and student life. It is the fourth largest city in Sweden (after Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö) and has a population of around 150 000 (in 2015) of which more than 45 000 are students.

If you are reading this article, chances are you may be one of those 45 000 students, perhaps even one of the new ones, in which case the next part could be of use to you as I will try and give you tips that could come in handy:

Buy a bike! Might sound silly in the midst of winter. Right now, many rely on buses and just walking as the roads may be too icy or it may be simply too cold to ride a bicycle, but when spring comes everyone will have one and you do not want to be ‘one of those people’ who forces everyone to walk or who has to ride solo on a bus. There are many ways you can buy bikes second hand either via Facebook groups or dedicated shops.

Lock your bike, always! Not only lock it but make sure it is secured to something like a lamppost or a bicycle rack. Apart from people stealing bikes (which apparently is one of the most common crimes committed in Uppsala), many drunken students have the nasty habit of throwing bikes into the river so beware! A really big hotspot for this is in front of Norrlands nation.

Use your bike ‘the Swedish way’: make sure you have a working bell, a front and a back light (also led ones will do) and use the designated cycle lanes. If you do not follow these rules you could get fined 500 kronor each for every transgression on the spot! Also remember not to walk in cycle lanes, may sound stupid but you would be surprised about how many people tend to do this and get angry reactions from the cyclists.

Become a member of a Student Nation! There are 13 different ones and each one represents a different area in Sweden. You can join any nation you like (unless you are Swedish in which case if you do not have family ties to Södermaland or Nerikes regions, you cannot join Snerikes. But for all the other ones no problem). Joining one nation gives you access to all 13 of them, even when they sell alcohol (so during pub and club nights). Each one gives different perks specific to that nation. Most give free entry to their club for members (except Kalmar and Upplands who only give 50 percent off) while others also give you discount on food and hot drinks at their pubs and cafes. Most also give their members priority for buying gasque tickets with them. You can join as many nations as you like; I’m currently a member of 2 but debating if I should to join a third one too! The membership fee is paid once a semester. If you want to join you need to speak to the 1Q of that particular nation and bring ID and proof of studies (Swedish personal number or T-number should be enough).

Get involved in the Nations! If you just go to the nations for fika, the odd pub and weekly club I feel you may be missing out on a big part of  ‘Uppsala student life’. Working in the nations is super easy; you meet new people, get the chance to practice your Swedish, learn new skills, eat good food and so on. The best thing is that for most nation jobs no previous experience is required so you can try out making hamburgers in a busy pub kitchen, pouring beers and mixing drinks at a bar or even just checking ID and student cards (ideal if you want to read a book, study or watch a film). Most nations do not pay for the work you do (even if they do it’s peanuts as 35 kronor per hour is nothing compared to what a normal waiter gets which is a minimum of 90 kronor) as it is part of the spirit ‘students 4 students’ in which, by working for free, we allow people to have a really cheap meal. You do however still get rewarded for your work and the sort of reward varies from nation to nation. It could be anything from a card to skip the line and get free entry to the weekly club for one month, (like in Stockholms Nation) to a free staff dinner followed by an afterparty in Östgöta Nation (both of which you get if you work three shifts). Mainly one does it for the social life and to meet Swedish people who, for an international student, are not always the easiest people to socialise with in normal situations, at least in my experience.

Download these must have apps! There are some essential free apps that one can dowload to make life easier both in Uppsala and in the whole of Sweden.

Join one of the Student Unions. They fight for our rights and are there to support us if we have any sort of problems within our department or in our student life in general. They also offer a lot of services (from sexual health advice to a student wellbeing centre) and when you join Uppsala student union they give you a free tote bag and you get a ten percent discount off books and merchandise in Studentbokhandeln. To join just head over to their headquarters during office hours and while there help yourself to information leaflets on the city of Uppsala and student life in general, pick up some free goodies such as notebooks or condoms. Though Uppsala student union is the biggest and oldest student union in Uppsala, there are several other student unions you can join as well, depending on your field of study. You can find all of them listed here.

Flash your student card in shops and restaurants! Many of them offer student discounts, and even if they don’t – it never hurts to ask. You can find a list of all the discounts offered to you at mecenat.com (unfortunately the page doesn’t have any English translation, so you might have to ask your kind Swedish-speaking neighbour or Google translate to help you understand it).

Make the most of Student Deals on mobile phone rates! When I first arrived in Uppsala I got given the free sim card in the university welcome pack but after almost a year living here I realised that paying 49 Kr for 0.5 GB was extortionate even for ‘expensive Sweden’. After some research I found Vimla! which is a start-up based in Södermalm that instead of investing heavily on marketing campaigns rely on the mouth to mouth system. So if I refer someone I get 10 Kr off my monthly fee and so do those that I referred. The monthly fee is  90 Kr which gives you: 2 GB (3 GB if you are a student or over 55) | 60 min. for nationwide mobiles and landlines | 600 SMS | 20 GB extra data. Unused data, minutes and texts role onto the next month if you have not used them all! Plus the first 3 months you pay 40 Kr instead of 90 Kr and there is no binding time! To sign up and get 10 Kr off each month (paying 40 and eventually 90 Kr as opposed to 50 and 100 Kr) follow my referral link: https://vimla.se/?201705101301370838 Only problem is the website and the free app are only available in Swedish but if you use the translate function on Chrome you should be fine and if you are not just ask them for help via chat, they all speak English and are all very friendly and helpful.

Going home for a few days? Use the coach (yellow bus number 801) to go to Arlanda airport. It might take longer than the train (40 minutes as opposed to 20) but tickets are also half the price of trains. You can also buy tickets for the bus on the UL app mentioned previously if you want to save a few extra kronor. It operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Go to Uppsalingo! If you want to practice your Swedish and are willing to teach your mother tongue language in exchange this is the place for you! There are regular meetings held in a nation pub where people are divided according to their mother-tongue language and sit at tables.The first hour is dedicated to Swedes teaching Swedish and in the second hour you swap and you teach the Swedes your mother tongue language (so, for example, if you are Italian you will sit on the Italian table and teach Italian). This semester it is held in Gotland Nation’s pub every Wednesday from 18:00 to 21:00 and you need to bring ID and your student card as they sell alcohol.

Be in Uppsala over the Valborg period! Valborg is the best student party in Sweden and its heart is here in Uppsala. Students from all over Sweden and beyond congregate in Uppsala having massive parties in public parks and squares and flooding the student nations which will all be open and jam-packed with events and people. The period is between the 27th of April and the 1st of May. A more specific guide on this important festivity will be published here (in English) closer to the time.

Original article published in ‘Ergo’, Uppsala’s student magazine, on the 7th of March 2017.  Latest revision done today.

Sweden, all the little things

When living In Sweden one notices an infinity of small things that people do here on a daily basis which are odd for most people around the world, but are perfectly normal in this country. One could write entire books on the topic, but I will do my best to squeeze in as much as I can into this article.

Pedals on fridges

You would not even notice they are there unless someone points it out to you, but once “enlightened”, you can never go back to the old way of opening a fridge. Apparently it is done to ensure the appliance lasts longer as pressing the pedal releases air so that the door’s rubber isolating layer does not get ruined.

Supermarkets

Most Swedes carefully place their shopping on the conveyor belt so that the cashier can scan the items, taking extra care in aligning everything so that the barcode faces the scanner. There are two schools of thought on why they do this: some say it is to make the transaction faster and be able to reduce to minimum the contact they are forced to have with the person serving them; whilst others instead believe that they do this to help the cashier as they are such nice people. I follow the latter school of thought, as Swedish people tend to be kinder rather than introverted and this just underlines how extremely kind they are.

Splashing Out

On the 25th of every month all Swedish students in full-time education get ‘CSN’ that is money from the government around 3000 SEK in the form of a grant and up to 7000 SEK in the form of a student loan. On that day, Swedish students from Malmö to Umeå go absolutely crazy and start spending like there is no tomorrow, so you will find massive lines outside clubs and hordes of booze-craving Swedes raiding System Bolaget (the only place to buy liquor in Sweden).

‘Inappropriate’ Songs

One of the major causes of mortality amongst young people in Sweden is suicide. Many people call on the government to invest more resources in creating a special department within the public health system to address this issue. One would understandably think that this would be a taboo topic in Sweden, instead it is not. On the contrary, there are even some chart topping pop songs with lyrics that talk about dying young. To mention two: ‘Shoreline’ by Broder Daniel and ‘Some Die Young’ by Laleh. These songs are regularly played on Swedish radio and in clubs; what better song could you choose to show off your moves?

Food

Swedish cuisine tends to be rather healthy, but there are some peculiar dishes which one can only find here. One example is meat with jam such as the traditional meatballs served with lingonberry jam. A more recent invention is the ultimate fast-food and all-time favourite pizza in Sweden: the ‘Kebab Pizza’. As odd as it may sound, it is a simple Margherita base (tomato sauce and mozzarella) with a full on kebab on top of it. From personal experience it sounds like a recipe made in hell but it is rather tasty, definitely a top-notch hangover cure. What I cannot culturally accept is pasta with ketchup. They say that Swedish ketchup is better than the one you find elsewhere, but as an Italian I refuse to even consider trying it.

Bastu!

Sauna culture in Sweden is a big part of the folklore, not as big as it is in neighbouring Finland but still something everyone does regularly. People have private saunas for their block of flats, at the gym or there are public ones. Most of them are sex segregated but there are some that are mixed. As a true Swede wearing a swimming costume or underwear is a big No, so one must enjoy the sauna completely naked. One would believe that the stereotypically awkward Swedes would be even more reserved when in their birthday-suit but oddly they are not. On the contrary, many engage in conversations with strangers, even if they are completely sober.

English Accents

It is rare to find a Swede with a truly Swedish accent when speaking English, which in my opinion is a real shame. At least that tends to be the case amongst the younger generations. Most of them pick-up the accent used in their favourite TV series or if they have had the experience of living abroad either on exchange or just working and travelling , they most likely will have the accent of the English-speaking country they have visited. It is amazingly funny when a Swede tries hard to put on a posh British accent, which is considered really cool of course.

No small talk.

Small talk with strangers or even acquaintances such as neighbours is not the done thing in Sweden. Waiting in line in any given situation or going to a café must be done in total silence, unless you are with someone you know. Your Mp3 player and big, antisocial headphones become your best friends.

Personal space, please!

When in Sweden respect standard personal space and double or triple it. When sober, Swedes like to keep distance.

SwEnglish – Swedish ways of communicating whilst speaking English

Some, mostly the older generations, tend to gasp when having a normal conversation. At first one is taken aback by this way of communicating and believe it may be related to something said that particularly shocked or scared the Swede. Most likely that is not the case, it is just a way of showing interest and understanding when someone is talking. To express mild surprise Swedes say ‘jaha’ (a combination of Yes and ‘Aha!’) and this often makes its way into the way they speak English too. To an to a British person ‘aha!’ might sound mildly sarcastic but in Sweden it is not meant that way. It shows interest. In the north of Sweden people say ‘yes’ by breathing-in sharply and briefly; the first few times you experience this it is quite amazing.

Dealing with Stress

If a Swedish person had to choose between dealing with Satan in person or a stressful situation the choice is easy, Satan all the way. Stress is seen as a quintessentially negative thing in Swedish society so when someone says ‘I feel stressed’ it is a big deal here in Sweden. The first contact I experienced with Swedish society was in a London airport boarding my SAS, Stockholm bound flight. It was one of those rare occasions in which it was snowing rather heavily in England and as it is so rare, nobody knows how to deal with it and everything is absolute mayhem. The Situation got so bad that they were planning on shutting the airport and grounding all flights at which point a SAS stewardess made an announcement on the intercom and I quote: ‘Ladies and Gentlemen good morning and welcome on board this SAS flight to Stockholm! We don’t want to stress you, but please take your seats as soon as possible as they are threatening to close the airport and we really want to get back to Sweden’.  She said this with a slight note of panic in her voice; one cannot blame the poor soul for wanting to get back to Sweden as the thought of being stranded in London for an unspecified amount of time with a full-on snow storm is anyone’s idea of a nightmare. The key point is that even with apocalyptic weather (for English standards) the stewardess felt the need to make sure that nobody had to stress whilst hurrying up.

Snus

The drug many people are legally high on in Sweden. It is basically tobacco in a sachet that people put under their lip which releases a nicotine fix up to 10 time stronger than the average cigarette. It also gets to your brain much faster as the sachet releases its ‘magic power’ through the gum straight into the blood stream. It is apparently very bad for your health and it is illegal to sell in every other EU country, but when Sweden joined they asked to be exempt from the ban as part of the conditions for joining the Union. Some people are heavily addicted and get through more than a pack of 20 a day. The fact that Snus is legal, readily available and fairly cheap (average price for a box is around 30 SEK) is something worth looking into. Both Snus and Cigarettes are fairly cheap considering the average wage, whilst alcohol is super taxed and other drugs including ‘recreational ones’ such as Marijuana are banned with punishment for those found in possession very high. Why is this? Well, my theory is that cigarettes and snus are not heavily taxed as a nicotine-fix makes people less stressed and most of all increases their efficiency levels. On the other hand, if somebody gets drunk, the next day they will be hungover and that would have a severe impact on their efficiency, which in Swedish society would be totally unacceptable.

Forget being a gentleman.

If you go on a date and wish to pay for your Swedish partner, even if it is just a cup of coffee and a cinnamon bun, you will be in for a surprise. Women here feel very independent and the idea that a man must pay for them makes them feel ‘inferior’ or ‘in debt’, so they would rather go halves as opposed to getting a free ride. If you offer to help a lady with carrying stuff or executing a physical chore they might get offended; you might hear answers such as: ‘do you think that only because I’m a woman I cannot cope?’. Some might say this jokingly with a smile on their face, others might take serious offence and give you a lecture on feminist propaganda (the latter tend to be a minority referred to by some Swedes as Femi-Nazis).

Donald Duck at Christmas

On the 24th of December at 3pm every year the exact same episode of Donald Duck, dubbed in Swedish, is played on national television and everybody watches it. It is truly an institution and people have compared it to the Queen’s Christmas message which in Britain is broadcast every year at 3pm on the 25th on national television.

 

A tool for everything

Every Swede has an ample set of tools in their house and each has its specific function. Some are unique to Sweden or rarely can be found anywhere else (except possibly IKEA). A Cheese-slicer, how else is one supposed to cut cheese, surely not with a knife? A Spray for dish washing, A shoe-horn and the list continues…

 

Putting Effort but Not Showing it

Taking ages to comb hair to make it look perfect, not only for women but also men, is a normal thing in Sweden. The key is making it seem as if they have made no effort and that it was a natural look. Stockholm guys did not pick-up on this social cue and use tons of hair gel to go for the combed back hair style (some controversially refer to it as ‘brat look’).

 

 

Standard Swedes

Standardisation all the way, people of Sweden tend to conform quite a lot. Here are a few examples: where does everyone buy furniture from? IKEA. Where do people get their music? Spotify. Clothes? H&M. Underwear? Björn Borg. Cars? Volvo. Phone/Laptop? Apple. Bags? Fjällräven. Shoes? Adidas, All Star or Timberland (for winter). Alcohol? System Bolaget / Booze cruise – Viking Line (from Stockholm to either Helsinki, Riga or Tallin).

Tak for idag!

Translated literally ‘thanks for today’ is something I first heard when helping out at the Fika at the end of a shift and it is really nice to hear that from your bosses as it makes you feel appreciated. You then notice that people say it in many other situations too, such as after an outing, when leaving a pub (in which obviously everyone paid for their own drinks) or after a night clubbing.

 

Article originally published in ‘Nya Gamla Phosphorus’ Östgöta nation’s periodical magazine in December 2016.

From Church to Research

The University of Uppsala is the oldest in the Scandinavian peninsula as it was founded in 1477, even before Columbus discovered America. Few people know the reason why Uppsala was chosen as the ideal location for the first academic centre in this northern part of the old continent. As many things back in the day, it was strongly connected to the presence of the Church and as it was pre-reformation, the church in Sweden was Roman Catholic.

When Christianity first arrived in Sweden back in the 800s it’s first centre was on the island of Birka, approximately 58 kilometres south of Uppsala, on lake Mälaren. It was a strategically important place as a lot of trade at the time passed through there. However, Sweden’s first Archbishopric (the place where the Archbishop, the most ‘important’ Catholic priest of the region, has his headquarters) was instituted in Gamla Uppsala in 1164. Why Gamla Uppsala out of all places? The reason is simple – just as the Catholics have done throughout history when trying to expand the fellowship of their religion, they tried to ‘localise’ it and adapt to the previous cult of the region. In this period  this was connected to the Vikings Norse religion which had its most sacred centre in Gamla Uppsala. This is also where the great men (stormän) of the time (“kings” per se didn’t exist at this time, they were other great men) resided – so both spheres of power, religious and rule of the land were located there.

If you have a chance Gamla, Uppsala is surely worth a visit. Located 5 kilometres north of Uppsala city centre, it is the Mecca of many Swedish school children who learn about the Vikings in the well presented museum and surrounding area. Outside the museum, one can see the mounds, artificial hills, in which previous great men were buried and also the spot where sacrifices to the gods were made; in fact, historians are still debating whether they also conducted human sacrifices on this site.

The choice of Uppsala as the site for the centre of the Catholic religion was obvious and the transition between the Viking culture and Christianity can be observed if one looks at the Viking runes situated in the garden in front of Universithuset (University house) which is located between the Gustavianum museum and Snerikes nation.

The importance of the connection between Church and university can also be observed by looking at the oldest university building in Uppsala, which is currently the site of ‘Gustavianum – Uppsala University Museum’, located in front of the cathedral’s main entrance. When the university was founded, it consisted of four faculties:

  •      Philosophy – taught in academic circles since ancient Greek times, it was the study of the world, a science before Galileo invented the ‘Scientific Method’ which then distinguished philosophy as we know it today from scientific studies.
  •      Law – to educate future lawyers, judges, bureaucrats and rulers of the land.
  •      Theology – to teach aspiring priests the knowledge and skill set they needed to become an active part of the Church.
  •      Medicine – which started being studied at the beginning of civilization but in late medieval times was studied more methodically in many universities.

These are the four categories mentioned in ‘O Gamla Klang’ an old student song that has it’s original version in  German (O Alte Burschenherrlicheit) a Swedish version of it was written by August Lindh, the founder of Uppsala’s ‘secret’ student society ‘Juvenalorden’, in the early 1900s. This song is normally sang at the end of all gasques/ formal dinners and students from the different categories  stand up and sing their part according to what they study and for the last few verses of the song everyone is standing on their chairs and toasting. Once the song is over people must not sit down again as if they do, it is said that they will not graduate. Everyone follows this rule with the exception of Västergöta Nation members who for some reason have a tradition of sitting down again and singing one more song.

When you tell your friends that you study in Uppsala University, mention some of the above facts. You are after all, part of a small group of students who study in an environment full of quirky traditions and student madness that strongly influences the rest of the city surrounding the university.

4 Years of Lost in a Cup 

On the 8th of February 2013, barely 1 month into my Erasmus exchange study program, I published my first article in ‘Lost in a Cup’. The title was ‘Sweden at Heathrow‘ and talked about my first contact with Sweden on the tarmac of the busiest airport in the UK.

Since then I wrote other 84 articles and published 40 odd pages through the years although most of my work was written in the first half of 2013 during my exchange.
If you want to read more about the choice of title for this website/blog and its chosen content check out the About page

.
Plans for the future are to keep analysing Swedish society and student life as I’m now once again in Uppsala to study although things have changed a lot since 2013. This time I believe I have more direct contact with Swedish people as opposed to last time in which I hanged out mainly with internationals. Also I am now an ‘ämbetsman’ (officer/elected worker) of 2 student nations here which are at polar opposites in the ideals they have and way they function.

As always keep comments flying in either publicly or in a private message (via Contact section)>

Last but not least give us a Like to the Facebook page which if you enjoy this so that you will get the latest publications on your newsfeed: www.facebook.com/lostinacup

Stay lost and drink espresso!

Alex