For us, Sweden is about the people, the culture and the food more than sites or tours. As I have mentioned before, Kelly was a high school exchange student in Sweden. She spent the summer of 1979 on a farm with the Olsson family, Karl Gustav, Anne Marie and their three daughters Malin, Karin, and Hanna. She remains a daughter and sister to the Olssons returning several times over the years for visits and celebrations.
One of the goals of travel is to meet locals, learn about their lives, their country, their culture. It is a difficult goal to attain with most travel which is why we cherish our time in Sweden where we spend time around a dinner table talking with Swedes about their lives, their politics, their culture and traditions. 15 years ago Kelly and I attended Hanna and Andreas’s wedding. An amazing experience and one we will never forget.
Last week we joined them in the graduation celebration of their daughter Klara. The experience provided a window into the Swedish education system and their graduation traditions. I must say their high school graduation was better than most I have attended in the states.
First, the hat, which is far better than the cardboard mortar boards of my own graduation. The Swedes have graduation hats you might even want to wear outside the graduation ceremony. Second, no boring speeches and long processions of students. At least not for the parents. In Falkenberg, Sweden all of the graduating seniors from all the schools in town have breakfast together then they assemble for a general assembly where they have a few speeches and performances then receive their grades. Parents and families do not attend the assembly. Parents and families wait outside of the building until their senior comes running/dancing out of the building to join up with their families. Forever released from High School.
They can find their family in the crowd because each family is holding up a sign with a baby picture of their senior, the student is then given dozens of flowers from friends and family, the flowers are draped around the student’s neck. We heard how years ago if a student did not receive passing grades they had to exit out the back of the building while their family was waiting in the crowd out front. Somewhere along the way they decided public humiliation was not the best way to address failing grades, so no one had to exit out the back door this year.
All of the students then climb aboard trucks and trailers and are paraded through the city streets. Beer and champagne are prevalent throughout the celebration as the drinking age in Sweden is 18. Each truck must have one sober adult to insure no one does anything stupid. Everyone we saw was well behaved. In the evening Hanna and Andreas rented a hall inviting family and friends to celebrate Klara’s graduation. Another Swedish experience we will never forget.
Later in the week Kelly and I borrowed a car and spent the day driving through the farmland and along the coast of southern Sweden. We had lunch at Ales Stenar with its stone circle and cliffs on the Baltic coast. A beautiful June day with spring flowers in full bloom.
Our host in Sweden was Judith Peterick, who owns a cottage next door to Hanna and Andreas. Judith is a fellow Seattleite who splits her time between Seattle and Sweden, she also happens to be the cousin of Kelly’s exchange father Karl Gustav. Judy’s cottage is a lovely place to stay with a view of the surrounding farmland. Judith allows us to cook a few meals and do a little yard work as thanks for our stay. So if you have a vacation home in need of a little work, just let us know we are happy to trade labor for lodging.
When we come to Sweden we never go hungry. The Swedes celebrate with food and drink and every day is a celebration. I think Hanna is the Swedish national ambassador of Fika. Which is closely related to Danish Hygge. Hygge being the concept of warm, cozy relaxing time often associated with long dark winters. Fika is the year-round tradition of taking time for a mid-afternoon sweet with a cup of coffee and conversation with friends and family.
When you are with Hanna you will never miss Fika, in fact she has been known to have second Fika, when the days are long and there is plenty of time for another stop at a bakery or ice cream shop for a sweet and a coffee before heading home to make dinner. We enjoyed Fika at Feldt’s in Halmstad and at Ostroo Farm where they pack your baked goods and a pot of coffee in a picnic basket to enjoy at a picnic table under the trees. The Swedes know how to do Fika.
And then there is dinner, which at Hanna’s usually lasts two or three hours and always ends with a cup of coffee and dessert. And maybe just a splash of whiskey. In June, dessert will almost always include fresh strawberries. For one of our last dinners Hanna prepared a traditional Mid-summer meal. Mid-summer is a national holiday in Sweden with dancing and singing and food. We were leaving Sweden a few days before mid-summer but did not want to miss the mid-summer meal which includes pickled herring, new potatoes with fresh dill and white sauce accompanied by fresh cabbage and asparagus. Followed by dessert of strawberries and ice cream. A delicious ending to a delicious week.
Our midsummer meal ending around 11 PM