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Sweden is calm, logical, and mellow—and it’s also home to weird and wacky happenings that can’t be found anywhere else. No one can say definitively why Sweden has so many odd happenings but one theory is that because life is so orderly, Swedes have a need to shake things up.
Generally speaking, when Swedes drink they drink to get drunk and this is no more true than during the annual studenten celebrations. Each spring, when students finish their final year of high school, they hop on rickety old open trucks decorated with giant posters featuring childhood pictures and their school name, as well as slogans. They drive around the cities and towns screaming their heads off while pounding drinks as they cheer and dance to absurdly loud music and shout to people on the street. It goes on for about a week and everyone who is not a student grimly smiles through the festivities.
Swedes are very generous with their blood, with mobile blood donor trucks regularly visiting large office buildings, and office workers scheduling time to give blood. What makes it interesting is that not only do blood donors receive a thank you text after giving blood, they also receive a text message every time their blood is used to help someone.
Uppsala University is sometimes called Sweden’s Harvard or Oxford. It enjoys a global reputation for excellence and this might just lead to a need to let off steam when the pressure gets to be too much. Letting off steam seems to have led to the Flogsta Scream: every night at exactly 10 p.m, in the Flogsta neighborhood of Uppsala, students throw open their windows and let out a primal scream. No one knows how the tradition started but it’s gained so much attention it’s spread to other university towns.
Sweden has a lot of moose (or elk, if you’d like) and come autumn those moose start looking for rotting apples. Why? Well, they probably taste good and they also get the moose drunk. Rarely does an autumn pass without at least one or two news stories of moose eating fermented apples in someone’s garden and then drunkenly crashing through someone’s living room window, leaving chaos in their wake.
Midsummer might be Sweden’s favorite holiday and it brings out some unusual traditions. There is the singing, the abundance of food, the eating outside, and then there is the frog dance. Swedes raise a maypole on midsummer and sing and dance around it. One of their favorite dances involves hopping around and pretending to be frogs and making movements indicating various body parts that are mentioned in the song “Små grodorna” (“Small frogs”). This is not limited to children—usually grandpa’s had a few shots of snaps and joins in with gusto, as does everyone else. Rarely do people laugh.
Bringing your own booze is something many of us experience when we’re young and perhaps lacking in funds. In Sweden, though, B.Y.O.B. is the standard at most parties, no matter your age. When invited to a party you calculate exactly how much you’ll need for the night and when you arrive at the party you put your supply in the fridge or on the counter—and no one will touch it. Nor will you touch anyone else’s supply, because to do so would be considered the height of rudeness.
Donald Duck (Kalle Anka in Swedish) is one of the stars of the show at Christmas time but Disney’s number one duck is so popular with Swedes that the government had to make a law making it illegal to vote for him. The Donald Duck Party, which promises free beer, was once ranked the ninth most popular political party in Sweden and every election there is a devoted sector of voters who still write his name in.
Sweden and safety go hand in hand, which makes their driving habits even more weird. When driving and making a turn, Swedes don’t indicate until they are already beginning to execute the turn. And this is something they’re taught in driving school. So if you’re driving in Sweden don’t expect any head’s up as to when the cars around you may make a turn or change lanes.
A few years back Sweden experienced a sharp rise in the number of chlamydia cases, with infections among young people doubling in just one year. The government didn’t react by moaning about rampant teen sex (no one thinks sex is wrong in Sweden). Instead, condom ambulances were implemented in larger towns and cities, which will deliver an optimistic 10-pack of condoms to your door.
Sweden has very generous social benefits and strongly believe in the right to a good work-life balance. This extends even vacation time: if you’re on holiday and catch a cold or maybe the flu you can use work sick days to cover those days you weren’t able to enjoy your vacation—and save those vacation days for another time.
Swedes love technology and are among the most advanced tech societies in the world, so it should come as no surprise to hear that Swedes have been able to pay their taxes via text. They send a message from their cell phone and that’s it—taxes are paid. Additionally, you can more or less buy a house or flat via text in Sweden, as well as most other things in life.
This final one is one of the most important social rules to know when visiting Sweden. In many countries when a toast is made people clink glasses when it’s over and get back to the business at hand. Not so in Sweden. People really, really like to make toasts and will make one given even the slightest opportunity. While doing so everyone will raise their glass and when the toast is done, everyone will stare into everyone else’s eyes. Literally. You must visually go around the table and make eye contact with every single person and no one can finally take that tasty toasting sip until all eye contact is completed. This can take some time, depending on several factors—how many people are at the table and how much everyone’s already had to drink.