What Sweden gets right

When I first moved to Sweden, there were lots of things I missed about home. I missed the systems, the language, the weather, the nature, my family and friends, my job, and the list goes on. That list is now far more specific, and a fair bit shorter.

Swedish winters may be soul-destroyingly depressing and pointless, and there will always be snacks and people in my wide, brown homeland that I miss like hell, but there is a solid list of stuff Sweden does right, and it’s not just the usual parental leave, freedom to roam and social security number you’re so used to hearing about.

It also doesn’t include response to global pandemics, as it turns out, but that’s a story for another twenty whiny pieces I’ve already shared with you.

  1. Bedding.

    This might seem like an odd thing to start my list with, but bear with me.

    Swedish bedding is revolutionary. The pillows are around the size of your head times two. When I moved here, I thought they were basically stupid. But then I saw the benefits. Less excess pillow means less bedfellow’s head holding your pillow down like a paperweight. It means both parties can put their respective pillows wherever the hell it’s most comfy.

    There is no top sheet. This means no sleep-tangles, and less bed-making. A winner.

    Individual doonas! Other countries call this a quilt or something, I don’t know, duvet? How unnecessary. But each person has one in Sweden! Or a couple in different thicknesses for different seasons. Great! I thought it was weird, at first. I was kind of mad about it, actually. I insisted we get a double doona. Felix is a kind man, so he obliged. But very soon I realised, wow! Being able to stick your feet out on either side of your individual doona is a luxury – and a necessity. Thumbs up for the individual doona. Since there’s no top sheet, you use a sheet-fabric doona-cover and wash it with your pillowcases and bottom sheet. Fresh bedding all the time. Super.

  2. The cheese-slicer.

    Swedes love their cheese, and it comes in either huge cylinders (often called “household cheese” as if it’s some kind of multi-purpose product) or large wedges. The smallest amount of cheese you can ever buy in a package in supermarkets is 700g which, as I’m sure you’ll agree, is a shitload of cheese. I used to think it was too much cheese, but I was wrong. It is the second most correct amount of cheese, lagging only behind 1kg of cheese. Incidentally, the best kind of cheese to put on sandwiches is priest cheese, and the best cheese for putting on toasted sandwiches is mansion cheese.

    The size of Swedish cheese blocks makes them essentially impossible to slice neatly with a knife, but good for the handy cheese-slicer, of which Swedes have at least two in their home. If one is dirty (read: cheese-y) then there’s another to take its place! But you have to be careful, or your cheese will become a “ski-jump”, which Swedes hate. Avoid this by making sure to slice in all different kinds of directions so it remains evenly sliced.

    Anyway, the whole thing is easier and smoother than cutting with a knife, because knives get stuck in cheese and, this way, each person at the table slices their own cheese, leaving you free to do something else. Just whack the block of cheese on the table with a slicer on top, and you’re good to go.

    It also helps avoid uneaten cheese slices being thrown in the bin or saved on a plate for three days and then thrown in the bin.

  3. Sauce.

    I am not personally as obsessed with sauce as the average Swede, which is illustrated by my plate at the end of a restaurant meal. Various Swedish visitors to Australia have been scandalised by our lack of sauce.

    Tomato and barbecue are not what Swedes would class as a sauce. They’re talking about creamy, gravy-like sauces. Incidentally, Swedish gravy is called “brown sauce” because it is brown. Wonderful.

    They like their food to swim in sauce, and do not understand where the humour lies in the regular Australian dinner table joke: “want a bit of meat with your sauce, aye?”

    But it turns out that a bit of sauce makes everything better and there are SO MANY kinds of sauce you can have on EVERYTHING. Swedes even put sauce in soup. Most Swedish meals come with either multiple sauces, or mostly sauce. I think they should probably calm down a little bit, but it’s mostly good, and the food is never dry.

  4. Workplace resting rooms.

    Workplaces with 15 employees or more (this number is not heavily researched but near enough) are required, by law, to have a resting room. This is a “sick bay” type place with a bed that any employee may visit at any time. I made good use of this space during the third trimester of almost-Elsie.

    I learned that being able to bail to the sick-bay in an adult workplace makes one much less likely to feel a yearning to do it. Don’t ask me why. That being said, I think I’m the only one who ever used it in my office. It was also a converted sauna, which I feel is very Swedish in itself.

  5. Coffee.

    Originally, I thought Swedes made their coffee too strong. After five years, I can happily – and maybe a bit shakily – report that I was wrong. The rest of the world simply makes their coffee too weak. That’s all, really. It’s very strong. And, even when it’s not very good, it’s strong enough to trick you into thinking it is. Except coffee from any office “espresso” machine which is revolting and to be avoided. The perks of being a freelancer.

  6. Pyttipanna.

    This is just small cubes of meat, onion and potato that comes frozen in a bag and which takes no time at all to fry up, add an egg and a bunch of pickled beetroot, creating the perfect, hearty lunch. It’s cheap, delicious, and not the least healthy thing you could have.

There’s more stuff, but it’s getting late and I’m running out of steam. Will provide a part two if it seems necessary at any point. Then again, I have never, ever published a blog post I promised in a previous post, so I guess I won’t!

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Lily Ray
Lily Ray

Journalist, photographer, traveller and knitter. Mother to a small but demanding infant, Lily's life is messy but generally lovely. She has a lot of thoughts. Here is where she puts them.

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