Facts about Sweden
Population: 9.5 million
Currency: 1 krona
Area: 450,000 km² (174,000 square miles)
Political system: Parliamentary democracy
Sweden is a Scandinavian kingdom of about nine million inhabitants, of which nearly two million live in and around the capital, Stockholm. Urban Sweden is modern, stylish and safe. Rural Sweden breathes tranquillity in natural surroundings. Sweden contains some of the largest uninhabited expanses left in Western Europe.
Sweden is a constitutional monarchy, in which King Carl XVI Gustaf is head of state, but royal power has long been limited to official and ceremonial functions. The nation's legislature is the Swedish Parliament (Riksdag), with 349 members. 47 percent of the Parliament's elected members are women.
After the 2006 election, 12 years of Social Democratic government ended when the four Alliance parties – the Moderates (formerly Conservatives), Liberals, Centre (formerly Agrarians) and Christian Democrats – formed a government. The Social Democrats are in opposition along with the Left Party and the Green Party.
Sweden is situated between the Baltic Sea and the North Sea, and is in area the fifth largest country in Europe. It is characterised by its long coastlines, large forests, and numerous lakes. Half of the land surface is covered with forest and less than 10 percent is farmland, most of which is situated in the southern regions.
The distance from north to south is 1,600 kilometres, and therefore incorporates a fairly broad range of climate zones and diverse nature. The northwest is dominated by mountains, the highest of which, Kebnekaise, reaches 2,111 meters (6,926 ft). Sweden's archipelagos are world famous; the west coast is unique in its smooth granite rocks and islands.
The Swedish countryside is legally open to everyone, based on the Right of Public Access (Allemansrätten). You are allowed to walk, jog, cycle, ride or ski through the forests and countryside and across other people's land, provided that you don't cause any damage to crops, tree plantations or other pristine land. Everyone has the right to swim in lakes, to travel by boat on somebody else's waters or to pick wild flowers (so long as they are not restricted under conservation law), mushrooms, berries, etc. You are even allowed to pitch a tent for one night, without any special permission, provided you do not disturb the landowner.
Within the five Nordic languages, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian and Icelandic are quite closely related. Finnish, on the other hand, is not a Germanic, or even Indo-European, language, and is therefore fundamentally different.
Swedish has played an important role in creating and preserving a unique national identity. English is, however, taught as a compulsory second language in Swedish schools from third grade onward. Since Sweden also consumes a great amount of American and British popular culture, English is also learnt to some extent through music, TV and films. Foreign-language TV-programmes and most films (except children's films) are subtitled in Swedish and not dubbed.
Sweden has a population of about 9.5 million people. More than one third of the population lives in one of the three largest cities: Stockholm (the capital), Gothenburg (or Göteborg, the port city on the west coast) and Malmö (in the south, just across from Copenhagen). The central and southern parts of Sweden are the most densely populated. However, as the area of Sweden is large, the overall density is only 18 inhabitants per km² (54 per square mile).
One of the ties that links the Nordic countries together is a common Lutheran religion. The Swedish situation is special, since the Church of Sweden, Svenska kyrkan, very early became a part of the central administration. Gradually, however,the church has been separated from the state, and in 1999 it gained its full independence. Before the separation, children born in Sweden automatically became members of the national church.
The fact that the Church of Sweden has many members, however, does not mean that the average person goes to church every Sunday, or has a personal Christian belief. In fact, only a few percent of the population regularly attend church services. However, the church still has an important part to play in many major life events, such as weddings and christenings.
Apart from Lutheran Christianity, numerous religions are found in Sweden, all of which, however, are fairly small. A large number of immigrants are either Catholic or Muslim. In recent years, there has also been an increase in Hindu and Buddhist immigrants.
The warm Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean gives Sweden a milder climate than other areas this far north. Stockholm, the capital, is located on the same latitude as southern Alaska, but has an average temperature in July of 18°C (64°F). Skövde has a slightly higher average temperature, 18.3°C in July.
The temperature variations between the southern and northern parts of Sweden are slight during the summer but greater during the winter. Skövde, for example, has an average temperature of -2°C (28°F) in February, but it may sometimes drop considerably below that. There is usually snow during the winter season.
In Sweden, the seasons are very distinct from one another. Summer is characterised by light nights, whereas winter daylight only lasts 7–8 hours in the Skövde region. For the winter season, you will undoubtedly need a warm jacket, gloves, a cap, and warm boots. It is best to wear several layers of clothing that are reasonably easy to remove as necessary, being that it is usually relatively warm indoors.
Sweden is on Central European Time (CET), GMT +1. Daylight savings time (GMT +2) applies from the last Sunday in March until the last Sunday in October. Clock time is written according to the European system, e.g. 1 p.m. is written 13.00.
If you want to keep up to date with what is happening in Sweden, www.thelocal.se is a useful site offering Swedish news in English. You can also listen to Swedish news in English, German, and certain other languages at www.sr.se/international.
If you place a call to Sweden, you must dial the international access code +46, plus area code followed by the telephone number. Please note that if you call from abroad, you must drop the first zero in the area code.
The area code for Skövde is 0500, which you would use before a telephone number when calling from anywhere else in Sweden but Skövde.
The Swedish krona (plural kronor), is denoted by the international currency symbol SEK. One krona contains 100 öre. Bank notes are available in denominations of 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1,000 kronor, coins in 1, 5 and 10 kronor. All major bank and credit cards are widely accepted throughout Sweden. Please note, sometimes you might need to show valid ID when paying with a bank card or withdrawing cash at a bank or in a store.
Driving in Sweden
In Sweden, people drive on the right hand side of the road. The legal driving age is 18, and you are expected to always have your driver’s license with you when driving. A foreign driver’s license is valid for a maximum of one year. The laws on drinking and driving are very strict!
In Sweden, winter tyres are required between 1 December and 31 March during winter road conditions. Studded tyres may be used between 1 October and 15 April. For more information about driving with a valid foreign license plate in Sweden, please visit www.trafikverket.se and www.korkortsportalen.se.
The main electricity in Sweden is 220 volts and 50 Hz, as in most of mainland Europe. You may need a transformer and/or adapter for your electrical appliances as, for example, British and American outlets differ from Swedish ones.
If you need emergency assistance, dial 112. You will be asked ”What has happened?” to determine whether you need an ambulance, the fire department or the police. You will also be asked ”Where has this happened?” and ”From which number are you calling?”. Emergency calls from payphones are free of charge.
Sweden has many traditions with ancient roots, some dating as far back as pagan Sweden. Many customs are closely associated with the changing of the seasons.
- Fettisdagen (Shrove Tuesday) was traditionally celebrated before Lent began. Lent or no lent, however, Swedes still enjoy eating their “semla” (a bun filled with almond paste and whipped cream) in February.
- For Påsk (Easter) children dress up as Easter witches in long skirts, headscarves and with their cheeks painted red. In a Swedish version of “trick or treating”, they go from house to house with homemade Easter cards, hoping to get sweets in return. Swedes usually bring in birch twigs decorated with colourful feathers for Easter.
- Valborgsmässoafton (Walpurgis Eve) is always celebrated on 30 April. Swedes welcome spring by lighting bonfires and listening to choral singing at dusk.
- Labour Day, 1 May, is a national holiday in Sweden. Workers get together for rallies and speeches, often joined by marching bands.
- The National Day is celebrated on 6 June, which is a national holiday. The celebration is, however, quite modest among the Swedes, not least insofar as Sweden did not participate in any modern wars. Most cities hold ceremonies welcoming new Swedish citizens.
- Midsommar (Midsummer), at the end of June, is one of the longest days of the year. People gather, often in the countryside, to pick flowers and dance around a maypole. A typical Midsummer menu features pickled herring, boiled new potatoes, sour cream and chives, followed by the first strawberries of the summer.
- A kräftskiva (crayfish party) in August is mandatory for most Swedes. The parties are supposed to be held outside on a warm August evening, with paper lanterns lighting up the table. The crayfish are eaten with bread, cheese, beer, and schnapps, and with comical paper hats for all guests.
- Surströmming (soured herring) is a traditional food that Swedes either love or hate, mostly because of the smell of rotten fish. But well-prepared soured herring doesn’t taste the way it smells!
- Alla helgons dag (All Saints' Day), at the end of October, is a day for remembrance. People light candles at family graves and the lit up cemeteries are usually beautiful in the dark October night.
- Advent is a countdown to Christmas, and also a way of escaping the darkness of the season. On the first Sunday, people light the first of four candles in the Advent candlestick. One additional candle is lit each Sunday until Christmas, until all four candles - now of differing heights - are lit. You can also see electric candles and stars in the windows of most households.
- Lucia, on 13 December, is one of the most beloved holidays of the year. Early in the morning, Lucia, with a wreath of candles in her hair, and with her maids – all dressed in long white robes, holding candles – form a singing procession. At the very end of the procession come the star boys, holding paper stars and wearing conical hats decorated with stars. They sing traditional Swedish Christmas songs and carols, and the audience drink warm "glögg" (reminiscent of German glühwein) and eat saffron-flavoured buns called "lussekatter".
- Jul (Christmas) is celebrated on 24 December in Sweden. A large meal is usually served, with a Christmas ham centrepiece, and Christmas gifts are opened in the evening.
- Swedes like to fika, that is, to have a coffee and often a cinnamon bun, usually in good company.
- Matfestivalen (Food festival) in Skövde. For two days in late August, the entire city centre of Skövde turns into one large street restaurant, with lots of activities, a Tivoli, different live band performances and a great variety of culinary dishes to try out. Restaurants, cafés and pubs move their operations onto the streets and pavements and into the main square.
To endure your first weeks in Sweden, we will give you a few "survival hints" for Swedish customs and culture:
- Be on time. Both at work/school and in social life, Swedes are punctual (most of the time). It is considered impolite to keep someone waiting.
- Pay for yourself. When in a restaurant or a pub it is customary that each person in a party pays for their own consumption of food and drink. This habit is probably due to the comparatively high cost of eating/drinking out.
- Remain in a queue/line. Whenever you are waiting for something - a cinema, to pay in a shop, etc. - you are expected to wait in a proper queue/line. Hardly any excuse will allow you to cut in front of other people who arrived before you. Many institutions, e.g. banks and post offices, use a system of ”queuing tickets”: when your number is shown on the screen, it is your turn.
- Keep talking... Some foreigners complain that it is difficult to meet Swedes socially, and we have to admit that this may be true, to some degree. We might seem a bit reserved, but usually it is only shyness or a certain fear of imposing on the newcomer. If you do not give up, but show that you are interested in making friends, you will discover that we are a warm and friendly people.
- ... But listen too. When talking, Swedes do not like to be interrupted. When you speak, people are normally interested in what you have to say and listen, so do not forget to listen to them. Also, Swedes generally like to keep some physical space between themselves and the person they are talking to.
- No smoking. Smoking is not allowed in public buildings, and even in other places it is considered courteous to check with the people in your party if it is alright to smoke. If you are in somebody’s home, it is customary to go outside to smoke.
- Take off your shoes. Swedes take off their shoes indoors. Remember to leave your shoes at the door when you visit a Swedish friend!
- Shake hands. When meeting people in a group or on their own, Swedes shake hands with everybody before joining in the conversation. However, things are usually less formal within a group of friends.