This page is the link to all the posts published regarding my ‘Swedish experience’ during my 6 month stay in Uppsala University as part of my Erasmus exchange (between January and June 2013) and also includes some more recemt observations when I moved back to Uppsala in August 2016.
The following links to the various posts are done chronologically (from the most recent to the oldest):
Ladies and gentlemen after 3 years of absence I’m back in Sweden to live for at least 2 years as I’m doing a Master course in Cultural Anthropology at Uppsala University.
After all observing people and drawing cultural comparisons is what I’ve done as a hobby in this blog for years so might as well try and get a qualification in it! I returned to Sweden on the 19th of August but didn’t get round to write as life has been quite hectic. Now that the days are getting shorter, colder and greyer I can turn my attention on writing the things that I observed and over analysed.
Sweden is a country full of surprises and the sauna culture is no exception.
First of all what you need to know is that Swedish saunas have a strict no swimming costume rule and all you can bring is a towel and something to drink. The first time I went to a sauna was in 2013 when I lived in Sweden during an exchange. It was actually on a ferry crossing from Stockholm to Helsinki and that possibly made it worse as the Finns are known for being hard-core sauna lovers who like it extra hot and will pretend not to speak English if you try to ask them to tone it down.
Although my other exchange friends I was with were slightly confused at the idea that I wanted to pay to spend time in a small room full of naked men, my answer was that in Scandinavia it is a big part of their life so I had to try out this cultural experience. I managed to convince a friend and went. The experience was overall good, although I found it too hot and had to run out to have a cold shower every 5 minutes.
Three years later I finally returned to Sweden to visit a good friend in the southern most region called Skåne. He’s American but Swedish at heart so he came up with the idea of going for a sauna. At first I was a bit wary, but then I decided to go for it. It was a bit unexpected as we were at a house party playing drinking games and at one point the host shouts out ‘half an hour to sauna time’. So half an hour later the party moved to a small room in the basement with a wooden interior and a special heater on which you would pour hot water to make it steam. Once you surpass the Victorian style thinking process about nudity and British prudishness , you feel quite relaxed.
On my last day in Sweden, my friend took me to another sauna this time a public one by the sea and that evening entrance was mixed, for both men and women. This was by far the best sauna experience, partly due to the big windows overlooking Malmö and the sea and also for the fact that you could throw yourself into the cold sea water when feeling too hot as opposed to just showering. Funny thing is that nobody seemed to care that people were swimming naked in broad daylight off a pier.
This was the ‘real experience’ as you had a bunch of Swedes that did not know each other in the same room, relaxing. And if there is one thing Swedish people are famous for is being shy and awkward around strangers in normal day to day situations, but oddly enough this did not happen there. On the contrary they were chatting away in Swedish, so I did not understand a word, but my friends managed to hold a conversation as they are both fluent in the language. Apparently they talked about everything from cultural comparisons to society and so on, all this whilst completely naked. I was left startled. As you can see the British/Victorian sense of prudishness is something hard to overcome, but I’m working on it!
The last few weeks of my exchange in Uppsala have been full of ‘goodbye BBQs’, emotional songs and people leaving ‘the city of students’ to go to different parts of the globe. It felt like being in a massive departure lounge where everyone was melancholically remembering their best moments of the exchange whilst waiting for their flight to be called. When time came for the big goodbye many gave each other one last hug and said ‘keep in touch see you soon’ or at worse: ‘it was nice meeting you, have a good life’.
My words of wisdom in this case stress the fact that time, distance, cultures and borders have no importance now and that technologically we can have high quality communication that allows us to keep the people we care about up to date with everything, for free.
People are shocked and start glaring at me when I tell them that ‘almost everyone I met will remain my friend for life’. Why is everyone so shocked? Unless something unforeseeable happens we will always be ‘friends on Facebook’, obviously! On a serious note, not everyone whom we are friends on Facebook are even friends that you would chat to in a few weeks time. No way of knowing now who will remain friends with and who not, only timeline will tell!
I’ll share a mixture of great goodbye songs most of which were popular at ‘goodbye parties’ and others which I think would suit well and should be added onto the playlist.
Andrea Boccelli ft Sarah Brightman – Time to say Goodbye
Bear – Goodbye Song
Coldplay – Fix You
Eagle Eye Cherry – Save Tonight
John Denver – Leaving on a Jet Plane
Oasis – Wonderwall
Spice Girls – Goodbye
To be honest, in the greater scheme of life although it has been an amazing experiance it has only been 5 months and you could say that it is as if we just me each other. And in that case…
Uppsala is world famous for its particularly awesome student life and what makes it so are ‘Student Nations’.
The nations are student organisations that date back more then 400 years and originally when their function was for older student to support freshmen from their region to settle into life in the ‘university city’. They did this by providing help with accommodation, support and places to socialise (pubs and cafes). ln the past there were more then there are today and each organisation corresponded to a different region in Sweden.
Now 13 student nations still remain, some have merged together and although geographical regions are not that important anymore, you still choose to be member of one of them and someway you identify yourself with the organisation.
What does a nation have?
It depends on its size but generally they each have:
A Student Pub where you can find cheap drinks that are taxed less than in normal laces (you can find beers for £3/€3.50, which in comparison to standard £5 is a bargain).
Student Club night once a week. Yes, that’s right, just for students so cheaper prices and unlike Saturday nights at ‘Tiger Tiger’ in Manchester, you will not encounter horny lasses celebrating their A-levels 40 years too late…
Restaurant once a week. A la carte menu with really nice food where you can easily have a 3 course meal for £12 (and food in Sweden is generally more expensive).
Student Cafe – study lounge: where you can have hot drinks, milkshakes, sandwiches, salads and delicious pastries all of which is home-made.
Formal dinners once a month (called gasques) where food is particularly good, everyone dresses-up, there is entertainment during the meal (although most of it is in Swedish so I just nod and pretend to sing-along). Food + drinks + club/after-party = 300kr (so approx. £30/€35).
Sport teams, societies, film-nights, culture nights and so on…
Student housing (cheap, good quality, bills included and you don’t have to deal with dick-headed agents who try to capitalise on your misfortune of having signed a contract with them).
Library and study area
How is all this even possible?
Thanks to the time dedicated by loads of student-volunteers that do not get paid and 4 one-year interns that work weekdays 9-6 in their offices and often even during weekends and get paid minimum wage. Everyone works for the benefit of other students in the ‘students for students’ spirit that should and wise administration of the funds and reinvestment of them in creating benefit for the students.
What do they get?
A great social experience. You meet so many people and interact with them in a different environment from the standard study or party one. Whether you are flipping burgers in the kitchen or pouring shots during the club you have an awesome time.
You learn loads and no previous experience needed. From how to make cocktails, to baking pastries, recipes in the kitchen and if your colleague has good tunes on his iPod, you get to broaden your musical repertoire (before working in nations I thought Justin Bieber and Marco Carta were the best artists in the world #mindblowing).
I you have a position of responsibility you have staff discount on all food, drinks and formal dinners, +1 club-night pass that allows you to skip the cue and get free-entry and earn ‘accommodation points’ that help you work-yourself up the waiting list to get student housing with the nation. You get a point for each semester you are member of the nation and if you take a position of responsibility you get, at least, one extra one per semester (I believe it varies on the level of responsibility and the number of hours you’re required to do every week).
Put stuff on your C.V. This works a treat especially if you hold a position of responsibility instead of being a casual worker. This is a list of most of them (that I can think of):
– Club master
– Pub master
– Official photographer
– Magazine Editor
– International Secretary
– Bar Manager
– Kitchen master
– Head waiter
– Breakfast host
– Lunch host
– Café host
– Weekend Brunch host
And I think there may be more..
Could you imagine something similar working in other parts of the world?
These pictures were taken today from a window facing Economicumparken.
As it is one of the hot spots of the Valbourg celebrations in Uppsala and thousands of students eating and drinking for the entire day.
Understandably considering the number of people that went through the park a lot of rubbish was left. I took these pictures at around 5 am this morning as the last few people were stumbling their way back home.
Although they are not the really clear you should be able to see the rubbish on the ground in the bottom-left corner.
If you’re struggling try increase the brightness on your screen. My camera is crap but trust me if I say that the place was absolutely trashed.
These photos were taken from the same spot barely 4 hours later.
As you can see the rubbish has been cleared and the park is almost back to normal.
This goes to show ho organised these events are in Sweden.
Italy and Sweden are two very different countries for many reasons.
One of them is the prime cause of mortality for under 25 year olds:
In Italy the first cause of death is road accidents.
In Sweden its suicide.
Many could read this and say it’s typical, Italians are all crazy drivers and Swedes get manic depressed during winter, but there is much more to see then just that.
The religious factor plays its role, as Italy is predominantly Catholic and Sweden Protestant ad secular and because of this people tend to have different understandings on the ‘consequences’ of committing such an act (I would believe fear of ending up in hell for taking your life is stronger in Italy than Sweden).
What is the real cause at the basis of it?
Difference in climate and hours of daylight/darkness? For sure, the impact of atmospheric conditions on the population’s psychological well-being is important but also society in Sweden tends to be, by stereotype and partly by fact. more shy and individualistic then the Italian one. It might be the strong sense of family, love for the mother (that beyond the stereotypes is actually quite true) and ties to the community that somehow prevails and any idea of terminating one’s life would be seen as an act of ‘selfishness’.
No denying that it is a deeply tragic fact in Sweden too, but somehow I get the impression that in Italy it is, if possible, even harder to accept for the religious/cultural factors connected to it.
Whist depression might be strong ‘common sense’ and road safety are also strong in Scandinavia and this is the reason why out of a sample of 100.000 people only 3 a year die in road accidents in Sweden whilst in Italy it’s 7.1.
Strangely enough even the suicide rate difference between the two countries is similar as in Italy has a stable figure of around 5.9 out of 100.000 whilst Sweden has an unstable rate that varies reaching it’s all-time low in recent years that is around 12 but before used to be around 16. These studies were done 10 years ago and due to the current economical and social situation in Italy the rate of suicides has definitely increased by some margin.
Today is the anniversary of the death of a school mate, just one year younger then me at the time. On the 12th of April 2010 Leonardo Secci, 16 years of age, on his way to school just as he reached the gate on his moped, got hit by a car.
The teachers, friends and two ambulances were useless; nothing could be done as he left us the moment he hit the ground.
That day the entire school stopped; no more lessons, no more bells were rang everyone was on the balcony or in the garden on that sunny day. Some were praying, others were cursing, loads were smoking and most were in tears.
The sensation of surrealism that you could breathe in those hours is indescribable.
Leo was a cool guy. Young, clever, funny, popular and everyone knew him or heard of him..
Two weeks prior to the incident I remember my first long conversation with him as he came for a trial session to the gym where me and a common friend of ours used to go.
Once we finished he went out of his way to gave me a lift to the beach once we had finished, he drove fast and had a very light helmet but so did everyone his age and although at the moment I felt a bit scared I never thought it was worth mentioning to him as I was grateful for the lift and was in no real position to be able to do so.
I’ll never forget that day.
The most recurrent song on the radio at that time in Italy was ‘Young Forever’ and for all of us at school it became a tribute song to Leo’s life cut short far too early.
In general, I think if you ask around you will find that in Italy many young people will know at least one person who lost their life on the road, in Sweden instead, I find that many know of people who decided to take their lives.
Two beautiful countries, two ongoing tragedies.
If we encouraged more cultural exchange programmes for school kids in the two countries could we possibly have a positive influence on new generations of Swedish and Italian young adults?
Road Safety project ‘Vivo Sicuro‘ (live safely) that I and a few mates as school reps started one year later in tribute to Leo but to work on trying to prevent other people from dying on the roads: http://www.vivosicuro.it/
Today, 21st of March, the entire planet has the same hours of light and darkness. There is no distinction between North and South, centre or pole we are all the same.
We could call this ‘Equality Day’ instead of Equinox.
Swedish society is very conscious of gender equality. which also extends to social classes. This country is well known for its advanced gender-equality policies that are truly light years ahead of the rest of the world (as far as I believe).
A series of laws over the past 50 years have notably shaped this society. Before there used to be the same ‘breadwinner society model’ we are used to in Europe but thanks to a reform that taxed the individual (not the married couple) many women were forced into the labour market. With these laws everything has changed. This economic reform made women wage-earners and contributors to both the State and family’s overall wealth. This gave them power to be more independent, free and create another life outside the circles of friends and family.
Equality, not a battle but a project.
There is no need for women to wear the feminist uniform and chant their slogans, most of which were written in the 60’s and 70’s and force them to surrender their individuality to open fire in a battle against the oppression of men.
Instead what we as a society need to do is self-analyse ourselves and understand what we are doing wrong and how we can avoid it and ‘change our ways’. A bit like going for counselling, every one of us should spend some time thinking about the problems related to sexism and discrimination and try to find ways in which they, as individuals, can change things.
Things need changing: both in broader society such as laws and policies but also in our everyday lives.
I’m no expert in social engineering and laws that could change society but a lot of inspiration could be drawn from the Scandinavian countries; what I can try to point out are a series of common sense everyday things that both men and women need to do to truly obtain equality.
End the Gentlemen-era
Men should stop letting ladies on buses first to be polite as the entire concept of ‘ladies first’ is patronising and not flattering.
Men do not necessarily need to ask a woman out on a date but vice-versa could occur
Scrap Valentine’s Day, anniversary and all the massive expectations that most females have about Romeo organising (and paying) for a romantic dinner or holiday, why can’t the opposite happen too?
Change in the Clubs:
If a woman gets a drink from a guy she should offer to pay the next round. This is what girls do in Sweden and it is done so that nobody feels psychologically ‘in-debt’ or ‘inferior’ to someone else and this ensures that equality is guaranteed.
Girls should hit on guys: it is odd to think this, but automatically the thought of a girl asking for a guy’s number or buying him a drink is seen as a move of desperation or a new level of slutiness in Europe but in Sweden it is totally normal and that is how it should be.
Send the right signals! Body language is key in many situations and sometimes problems arise when there is a misinterpretation of signals.
Refuse to go to clubs or bars where there are only female (or male) ‘professional dancers’.
Change in Society:
Abolish single sex schools and teach everyone in the same way.
Promote sport amongst girls and boys in the same way and create mixed sex teams.
Stop using sexualised bodies for financial gain.
Discourage the lad culture and competitive aggressiveness.
Abolish gender roles, expectations including blue and pink ribbons.
Don’t generalise by saying men and women (although I’m doing it myself in this post) but referring to individuals.
Scrap the figure of ‘Woman’s Officer’ but create the institution of the gender-equality officer.
Are not sluts if they chat up a guy or ask for his number.
Can dance with a guy instead of waiting for him to approach them.
Should become good at DIY and not be considered dikes for doing so.
Should not accept that men always carry the shopping or lift heavy weights. There have been scientific studies that have proven that men are naturally predisposed to having stronger bodies then women by only 6% so the fact that guys are stronger is down to a series of habits not nature (you can’t lift it? Go to the gym!).
Do not all have massive tits and are waxed from head to toe.
Can have emotions and should not need to repress them to be respected.
Are not sissys if they show emotions.
Can have Justin Bieber on their mp3 players which does not necessarily state their sexual preference.
Still have a dick even if they aren’t part of a football or rugby team.
Are allowed to be shy.
Can cook, clean, take care of children and it is patronising of women to think that they do it best. A man isn’t a failure if he is a househusband whilst the wife does a 9 to 5 job.
In case of separation should be allowed by law to spend the same amount of time with their kids as the mothers does
Should not be expected to be more polite and understanding towards women as that too would be patronising them.
Do not all have a 6 pack, athletic figures and a massive dick.
These are just a few ideas but overall the number one rule is:
Love and respect yourself before expecting other people to do so and always try to use your common sense.
Many international students complain that the music playlist is always the same in all student clubs here in Uppsala and to be honest I can’t blame them. It is undeniable that the following songs are going to be played in the main dance hall at some point during the night and in some ways, it’s almost comforting.
Everything changes yet everything stays the same.
The following are the YouTube videos of the most played songs in Student Nation Club nights in Uppsala:
Swedish House Mafia classics.
The key word when it comes to talking about Swedish House music is Mafia. Swedish House Mafia’s hits are the most played in clubs and you can see the excitement amongst Swedes when there music comes on.
Don’t You Worry Child
Save the World
This song was Sweden’s chosen song for the 2012 Eurovision song contest, that here in Sweden is a massive thing. This year’s final will be in Malmö (south of Sweden) and apparently tickets have sold out ages ago!
I Could Be The One
The Spanish artist is quite popular in Sweden although people from other countries don’t know who he is, you can be sure to hear at least one of these two if you go out at any point in Uppsala’s student clubs.
Years ft. Matthew Koma
Ingrosso & Alesso – Calling (Lose My Mind) ft. Ryan Tedder
Others you may hear:
Ivan Gough & Feenixpawl ft. Georgi Kay
In My Mind (Axwell Mix)
Far East Movement
Turn Up The Love ft. Cover Drive
The Aston Shuffle vs. Tommy Trash – Sunrise (Won’t Get Lost)
Sunrise (Won’t Get Lost)
Most annoying of all is when the DJ puts a slow sad melancholic song to end the night when many (both men and women) make one final drunken attempt to find someone to share a bed although the odds are against them. The following is by far the most popular for this annoying practice .