Flashback: 10 things we learned about Sweden!

Sweden wasn't just our first destination, but also one of the most relaxed countries we've visited in Europe. Sweden is characterized by its forests, lakes, and rivers, the midnight sun, mosquitoes and moose, Midsummer celebrations, and cinnamon rolls with cardamom. Sweden has become so much to us, but above all, it's a summer fairy tale that still feels that way even in retrospect. To give you a glimpse into this beautiful country, we present to you the 10 things we've learned in Sweden.

Georg sits on the Quest at Vildmarksvägen.
In the foreground the Quest in the desert, in the background a picturesque image of mountain peaks.

Flashback: How we started in Sweden

We spent over 5 weeks in Sweden, exploring the entire country from south to north and back again. The summer we experienced here was not only a relaxed start to our journey but also an unforgettable and immersive time for us. It was exactly the camping experience we had always imagined: campfires by the river, morning swims in the lake, and enjoying the magnificent views, accompanied by moments of joy encountering deer or moose. We did a lot of hiking and highly recommend taking the opportunity to let your feet carry you, as the hiking trails in Sweden are excellently developed. So make sure to pack a tent, a sleeping bag, and good hiking shoes in your luggage.

During these 5 weeks, we had many unforgettable experiences. We visited the oldest tree in the world and asked it about its thoughts on climate change. We also got stuck for the first time and went on our first canoe trip with Momo. While we may have lost some things along the way, we didn’t become poorer because of it. On the contrary, we were enriched by the wonders of nature and the midnight sun.

After all these experiences, we found ourselves wondering what we had actually taken away from this country. This led us to identify the 10 things that we find typical of Sweden. These things weren’t necessarily apparent to us before, but now we are happy to share them with you.

1. Falun Red Houses

These characteristic houses, painted in Falun red, can be found all over Sweden and are not only seen in the picture books of Astrid Lindgren. They give Sweden a classic and distinctive look that we have come to recognize from the books of Astrid Lindgren or Sven Nordqvist, but only now have truly appreciated. What is particularly beautiful is the fact that this trend extends beyond just houses. You can also find dog houses and outhouses in the same Falun red color. This style can be seen throughout the country, even in the northern regions.

2. Surströmming

When it comes to typical Swedish delicacies, terms like Köttbullar (meatballs) or Smörgåsbord often come up in Germany. But when it comes to dishes you should definitely NOT eat, Surströmming is at the top of the list.

Our Surströmming experience: Surströmming translates to “sour herring” and refers to fermented fish. If you’re unfamiliar with it, I recommend watching suitable videos on video platforms because, for a while, it seemed to be a sort of challenge to eat this “delicacy. " However, it’s hard to consider this type of food consumption as actual eating, and it certainly demanded a lot from us.

On our weekly shopping day, when we restocked our supplies, Georg finally managed to get one of the long-awaited Surströmming cans. The can seemed harmless at first glance but was slightly larger than expected. In the weeks leading up to this, Georg had been keeping an eye out for it as he was eager to give it a try. After all, we are familiar with fermented fish from home, so how bad could Swedish fermented fish be, right?! Georg completely forgot about the pressure inside the can when he opened it on the bus. Suddenly, Surströmming water sprayed out of the first hole in the can, filling the bus with a repulsive stench. It’s worth mentioning that due to the pressure inside the cans, they are also prohibited on airplanes. Anyone who has ever experienced the smell of Surströmming would undoubtedly appreciate this prohibition. After all, nobody wants a seatmate who is currently eating that! In a panic, Georg jumped off the bus with the still-spraying can, passing by me.

“You can’t eat this; anyone who eats it would eat small children for breakfast”

Georg repeated, trying to breathe through his nose as little as possible.

I can’t imagine anyone willingly consuming this stuff either. In the meantime, we have developed a theory: Swedes are playing a prank on the world. They create the most repulsive food imaginable and claim it to be a delicacy. And tourists from all over the world fall for it and end up making a fool of themselves. Perhaps it’s a joke, and we were right in the middle of it.

We attempted to wrap the open can in plastic bags to contain the smell, but it wasn’t easy as the odor was truly unbearable… except for Momo, who found it incredibly intriguing and insisted on giving it a try. Throughout the whole process, Georg kept complaining about how disgusting it all was and that he would never eat it again, until I couldn’t take it anymore. I must admit, I’m not a big fish eater to begin with. And then having it with skin, fermented, and as Surströmming—it was really not good.

Taste-wise, the fish was just as awful as the smell suggested. It was a repulsive mixture of rotten fish, rotten eggs, and vomit. Whether you eat it as is or put it with potatoes on bread, it doesn’t make a difference in terms of taste. It would just be a shame for the bread. I’ll spare you the exact details, but my body quickly tried to get rid of this foreign substance.

Of course, after I took the lead, Georg felt compelled to eat the fish as well, and he actually did. He also struggled with the fish. In the end, both of us were running through the woods in our pajamas, and the smell of Surströmming was likely clinging to us just as the bus continued to smell of it for days.

Yes, the fish is repulsive, and I believe nobody wants to eat it. BUT:

Nevertheless, you should try Surströmming at least once in your life. Why? Because it will make you proud. Because it will make you feel like you’ve dared something without having to jump off anything or put yourself in any other kind of danger. When you open a can of Surströmming, you won’t be facing death, but you will understand how it smells.

Max Fellmann, Süddeutsche Zeitung

3. Å

Indeed, the letter “Å” in Swedish is pronounced like the letter “O”. It is, however, peculiar that Swedes use both “Å” and “O”. Unfortunately, we have not been able to find out why this is the case so far.

4. Driving

In Sweden, driving is often perceived as more relaxed and enjoyable compared to Germany. It can be a lot of fun to drive here, as you are rarely tailgated or pressured by other drivers. Swedish drivers are known for being very laid-back on the road.

5. Dill

Dill is often used as a primary seasoning in various dishes in Sweden. It seems that Swedes believe that dill alone is sufficient to flavor a food item. However, we recommend avoiding dill-flavored chips and fish in dill sauce unless you supplement them with salt, pepper, and lemon. Unfortunately, these ingredients are often neglected in the ingredient list.

6. Another Spice: Cardamom

Cardamom is a commonly used ingredient in yeast-based pastries, especially in the famous Kanelbullar (cinnamon buns). It gives these pastries a unique and delicious flavor. But cardamom is not only used in Kanelbullar; it is also used in many other yeast dough-based treats. It is definitely a memorable taste worth replicating.

Swedish coffee break: Two mugs of coffee are standing on a tree trunk next to a carton of kanelbullar
Swedish coffee break: Two mugs of coffee are standing on a tree trunk next to a carton of kanelbullar

So, the next time you make homemade yeast pastries, try adding some cardamom. It’s worth it!

7. The Outhouse

In Germany, the outhouse has largely been forgotten or even banned. The exact reasons for this are not clear. In Sweden, however, outhouses can be found in many places, and they are often clean, odor-free, and well-maintained. Some of them are even designed so lavishly that one might feel like sitting on a throne. Outhouses are a great way to prevent tissues or, even worse, wet wipes from being left in the woods after use. The use of outhouses contributes to cleanliness and the protection of nature, as no contaminated hygiene items are left behind in the environment. They are an environmentally friendly alternative to conventional toilets, especially in areas where sewage systems are not available. It is interesting to see how toilet cultures can vary in different countries. While the outhouse remains widely used and cared for in Sweden, it has lost popularity in Germany.

8. Queueing

It is fascinating how queueing is so popular in Sweden. Everyone respects equality and follows the communal norms. A particular experience was witnessing the zipper merge in traffic. Admittedly, even in our own country, this merging technique does not always work smoothly. However, here in Sweden, it seems to work seamlessly because people prefer to line up properly instead of trying to cut in at the last moment. It is truly remarkable. It is heartening to see how Swedes practice this cooperative behavior. It has shown us that small changes in behavior can make a big difference and contribute to a more pleasant driving experience for everyone.

9. Lagom

The word “lagom” holds a special meaning in the Swedish language. It signifies something that is just right - neither too much nor too little. It can be used to describe the perfect drinking temperature of coffee, for example. An example conversation could go like this:

“Lagom” means that something is exactly right. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but rather in the right balance. It’s about finding an appropriate measure and being in the middle ground, neither too much nor too little. It is a mentality of moderation and contentment that is valued in Sweden.

10. The Right of Public Access

In Sweden, there is the Right of Public Access, also known as “Allemansrätten”. This right made our journey in Sweden so special and uncomplicated. We only visited campsites twice and spent the other nights free camping. In Sweden, this right encompasses the idea that everyone has the freedom to enjoy nature, regardless of ownership. Camping, in particular, is very easy in Sweden. Sleeping in the car is also generally accepted.

However, rights come with responsibilities! Therefore, it was important for us to acknowledge that we are guests in this country. We live in a way that leaves no trace, avoids causing damage or pollution, and does not disturb or harm others. This is significant to us, and we will continue our journey with the same mindset.