Swedish Holidays

Nearly 23 years in this country and I still forget basic things about Swedish society. ‘Holidays’, for example. In Britain we regard holidays as times to relax, sit on the beach with a good book and a beer, do absolutely fuck all for a week or two, come back nice and brown, and refreshed for work. For Swedes holidays are not like that at all. For a start they have more of them: five weeks, fully paid, established by law, in addition to their frequent ‘public’ holidays, supposedly one day each, but usually stretching to two or three. It must puzzle Americans, who seem to regard holidays as non-productive, as to how Sweden can be such a prosperous society without working everyone to death.

But there’s more to the difference than that. Swedes don’t see holidays as relaxing. They spend them doing things: messing around with boats, mainly, or building summer-houses. Yes, building them. Even if they have perfectly serviceable stugor already, they have to extend them, repaint them, dig up the drainage, fix winter-water, scrape their rowing-boats’ bottoms, and mend their flakmopeder. (A flakmoped is a little three-wheeled motorbike with a platform at the front to carry luggage and grandchildren.) They’re not allowed just to sit around. If you’re not spending your time hammering nails into something, you’re ostracised by your neighbours. (I have a recording of hammering I place by me when I’m sitting in my deckchair. It generally fools them.) You have to have a project. That’s what their ‘holidays’ are: essentially projects.

Which is just by way of explaining why I haven’t been blogging recently. I had hoped to be able to this last week, which we spent in our sommarhus in the Stockholm Archipelago. I was also hoping to get into a huge book I have to review – about Gandhi: it looks terrific, but it’s 1000 pages long, and unlike many reviewers I feel I have to read every word. But no chance. The project comes first.

Back in Stockholm now. Hence this first (trivial) blog entry for a while. We’re all very excited about the football here. Apparently England might meet Sweden later on. A friend asks me about where my loyalties will lie in that event. I’ve told him there’s no contest. I’ve bet £10 on Sweden winning the World Cup; the bookmaker thought I was mad, but the odds were 150/1.  £1500 will buy us a new – smooth-bottomed – boat. As I pointed out to Phil: we live in a capitalist society. There’s no place for ‘loyalty’ there.

Still, I made a patriotic effort last night, from our bedroom window. It didn’t do any good: England 0, Belgium 1. But apparently that’s the result that may bring us up against the Swedes. (Those who aren’t immersed in their building projects.)

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About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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6 Responses to Swedish Holidays

  1. The Swedes’ love of do-it-yourself contrasts tellingly with the Brits’ comparative lack of interest. The Australian hardware chain Bunnings Warehouse invested hugely in the UK, only to find out far too late that the British home owner would prefer someone else, viz, a tradesman, did the work.

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  2. Interesting post, Bernard. Are you not however being slightly disingenuous? You cannot have got where you have in academia without being determinedly project oriented, highly instrumental, pretty much all of the time. Your own Protestant work ethic appears alive and well, and Sweden is an excellent choice for a person such as yourself.

    My own observation in these matters is that those who get to the top – especially in universities – do so largely by virtue of their ability to out-work their competitors.

    Would there not also be a class dimension to the Swedes’ this-worldly activism? I presume members of Sweden’s proletariat are not forever extending their holidays homes and burnishing their boat bottoms.

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    • Wrong about the Swedish plebs! They build summerhouses too, albeit further out in the Archipelago, where land is cheaper. (We’re in the middle.) It’s a very democratic thing. Kajsa says it started in the 30s, when the government closed all the pubs, and holidays were made compulsory, leaving the proles (men) with more spare time and nowhere else to get away from their wives. – And we all know of academics who have become famous on the basis of just one book. There are dozens of them living on their reputations and boring everyone else on high tables in Cambridge. (Bitter experience.)

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      • Marx would have been bemused by that outcome: proletarians owning summer houses.

        A professorship on the basis of one book in the UK? That would greatly surprise me.


      • Swedish social democracy – the best prophylactic against Marxist Communism.

        Not necessarily professorships. At Cambridge there were several dons whose reputations didn’t depend on that formal and rather vulgar distinction.

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