USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Swedish’
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Swedish Stereotypes

Informant was a 20 year old female who was born in Sweden and currently lives in the United States. She came to visit me.

Informant: There’s a lot of stereotypes of Swedish people. Everyone always says that we are blonde, skinny, tall, and have blue eyes, which is not true. It’s really not true. Most Swedish girls do highlights, which is why everyone thinks we are. Many people are blonde-ish but not like blonde blonde. Swedish girls are said to be like this, but this is only really in the big cities like Stockholm and Gothenburg. People just care more about appearances in bigger cities. In smaller cities, people do not look like the Swedish stereotype. They’re not like that. People are not as high class, people do not really care about being skinny or healthy. People think of these stereotypes because people only go to the big cities and they don’t visit the small cities only the bigger ones, so they see these people and generalize.

Collector: Has this stereotype ever affected you in any way?

Informant: I mean, it doesn’t affect me in a bad way, people think that Swedish people are really cool and pretty and Sweden is known. Everyone used to always ask me why aren’t you blonde? Why don’t you have blue eyes? But people always know that I’m Swedish, they can usually tell with my accent. Also there’s stereotypes of Sweden working well too, with the government and life being easy. Teachers are always asking me questions about Sweden. When they need a good country to compare another one to. I mean, it’s true it does work well, but there are a lot of downsides that people don’t really see, like the immigrants have so many rights, a lot of people are really worried about the amount of immigrants and how they affect our country. Sure, they are acceptive of immigrants, but it’s making Sweden less safe and taking away rights from the Swedes, but all that the outsiders see is that it works so well.

Collector: You sound like Donald Trump.

Informant: (Laughs) No, it can’t be compared. Like the size of the United States is too big compared to Sweden. Like we are very acceptive of immigrants, but it just needs to be regulated, like no one wants to kick them out.

I like that my friend told me about Swedish stereotypes because I have often been the target of Brazilian stereotypes. Not only did she talk about the stereotypes involving physical appearance, but she also mentioned how people perceive the country in general. I think what she said about immigrants is really enlightening because of the situation that is going on in the United States right now with the whole issue of immigration. I think that her perspective – not kicking out immigrants but just regulating it more – would be a great perspective for the United States to take on this issue. It’s really interesting how certain aspects of another person’s folklore and culture can be attributed to current problems in society today.

Musical

The Trollmom’s Lullaby

Informant was a 20 year old female who was born in Sweden and currently lives in the United States. She came to visit me.

Song:

När trollmor har lagt sina elva små troll

och bundit dom fast i svansen,

då sjunger hon sakta för elva små trollen

de vackraste ord hon känner:

Ho aj aj aj aj buff,

ho aj aj aj aj buff,

ho aj aj aj aj buff buff!

Ho aj aj aj aj buff.

Informant: There’s a song that my mom would always sing to me in Swedish about trolls. It’s called Trollmors Vaggivisa, which literally translates into The Trollmom’s Lullaby. It’s about how this trollmom puts her 11 kids to bed, and the kids are trolls obviously, and how she sings a song to them after, and then it literally says when troll mom puts her 11 small trolls to bed and ties up their tails.

Collector: Wait, do trolls have tails?

Informant: These trolls do. And then the last part of the song says that she sings slowly to the 11 small trolls the prettiest words she knows. And then it goes like “ho ai ai ai ai buff ho ai ai ai ai buff ho ai ai ai ai buff buff ho ai ai ai ai buff.”

Collector: What does that mean?

Informant: It doesn’t mean anything. It’s giberish. It’s just supposed to be the prettiest words that the mom knows. And my mom used to sing this to me when I was a kid, and she has always sung it to us even when we were older. When I was in France and missing Sweden, she would always sing that to calm us down and put us to sleep, actually. It reminded me of home.

Collector: Why do you liked this song?

Informant: I think there was always something comforting about my mom singing it to me. It was calming and it made me feel like I was back home in Sweden.

I found this song particularly funny, because there isn’t really any meaning to it at all. I think that’s what makes this song particularly endearing, because it’s a cute little bedtime story about trolls. Even though it’s a song about trolls, it has significant meaning for my friend, as it connects her to her Swedish culture. Being international myself, I know how hard it can be to be away from home, and how important it is to have things that can connect you back to your culture.

Festival
Musical

Midsummer

Informant was a 20 year old female who was born in Sweden and currently lives in the United States. She came to visit me.

Informant: There is a ritual, kinda like a Swedish holiday, but not really. It’s called a Swedish name that means something like midsummer. And it’s generally in June, and it’s basically welcoming summer, so you get a big big cross and you decorate it with flowers and on each arm you put circles, you hang them on the cross, it looks like the things you put on your door for Christmas. Midsummer this year is on the 24th of June. Also what you do is pluck flowers and make flower crowns that you wear for this thing. All that you really do on this day is you just like get together with people. There are different parties or you can do this cross thing with your family or you can go to a big party with everyone in your town depending on your preference and then you usually picnic over there. You have food outside, and you dance around the cross and sing different songs.

Collector: What kind of songs?

Informant: These are typical songs for midsummer, this one song is called the small frogs, literally translated. It goes like this:

Smoagruden na

Smoagruden na

Ad lustiga asia

Ad lustiga asia

A aron A aron

Svan sa hava dia

A aron A aron

Svan sa hava dia

Cua ca ca Cua ca ca

That last part is supposed to be a like a frog sound. So when they say the first part you run around the cross until the second part, and then you put your hands on your ears and make them look like cow ears, and when it says svan sa you put your hands on your butt making it look like a tail. And during cua ca ca you jump with your two feet at the same time around the cross like a frog.

Collector: Why do you like this particular piece of folklore?

Informant: I think it’s a cute tradition that you do with your family. It’s the small kids that really enjoy it, I liked it a lot when I was a kid. It’s a good time to spend with your family and friends, and have fun with them. It’s one of the biggest rituals in Sweden. And even people who go abroad like me carry it with them, and when I lived in France we used to make our own cross in our garden. It’s just like a really nice time to get together with my family and it’s just like really fun. More than celebrating summer, it’s a family thing

I think it’s interesting that two of the pieces of folklore that my Swedish friend told me involved songs with small creatures and gibberish at the end. It makes me wonder if that is a common pattern in Swedish folk songs. I think this is a cute little tradition, and although I’m not Swedish and have never done anything like Midsummer, I remember how much I used to enjoy doing similar things as a kid. I also think it’s cool that my friend carried it abroad with her, and that she still celebrated and underwent this ritual with the cross even though she was no longer in the country that celebrated it.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Swedish Birthday

Informant was a 20 year old female who was born in Sweden and currently lives in the United States. She came to visit me.

Informant: This is like a birthday ritual, that’s very common in swedish cultute. It’s not really anything major, but it’s tradition. So basically your family will wake you up on your birthday very early in the morning before you do anything else. And then the birthday person is still in bed and is woken up by the family coming in and singing happy birthday and bringing presents. And then also you just have some breakfast in bed and open presents and take pictures. We always open our presents in the morning. It’s very Swedish.

Collector: How long have your parents been doing this to you for?

Informant: This has happened to me since I was a kid. I got a bike once, when I was 5 and I was super happy, I opened all of my presents in my bed, and then I walked down and it was something in the living room and it was covered by something and I uncovered it and it was a little bike. It was great, and it made me happy for the rest of the day.

Collector: Do they bring you a cake when they wake you up?

Informant: No, they don’t really come in the morning with a cake. They generally reserve the cake for afternoon or at night. Sometimes, they will put a candle on a platter and will bring something small for me to eat like an orange. We do it for my parents too. My mom will like wake up earlier without waking up my dad if we’re doing it for him.

Collector: So they do it for everyone on every birthday regardless of how old you are?

Informant: Yes, my parents actually made me come home this year to brazil so that they could wake me up like this and celebrate my birthday. It’s always been tradition, so even though we are far away, we have to be together for our birthdays. Also, we sing a special birthday song in Swedish.

Collector: Why do you like this particular piece of folklore?

Informant: I like it because it’s nice, I feel surrounded by love and its your birthday and your parents and your friends and all the attention is on you. I would hate to wait, I love that it’s early and they come in the morning to wake me up, it’s so much better than waiting until a birthday dinner. It’s a really nice time to get together with your family and celebrate your birthday and get attention and love and all of that stuff. It’s very Swedish to be family oriented.

In my family, we always celebrate birthdays at night. That might be because Brazilian culture involves a lot of partying, and partying usually happens at night. I have never celebrated my birthday in the morning. My parents have obviously told me happy birthday when they see me in the morning, but it’s not really a big deal. It’s a much bigger deal at night when we go out for dinner with family and friends, but during the day we go about our day as usual. I think it’s interesting how much Swedish culture differs from my Brazilian culture. My friend loves being woken up early in the morning for her birthday, whereas my parents know that if they woke me up early, I would not be happy. Neither would my parents if the role were reversed. So although birthdays are big things in every culture, I find it cool how the celebration of birthdays differs within different cultures.

general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Shot of Akvavit and Swedish Song

Informant “J” is a 19 year male old college student at the University of Southern California, he is studying Neuroscience and is a Sophomore at the time of this interview. He was born in Danville, California to a Jewish father and as a result J has regular exposure to Jewish traditions and customs. Though he does involve himself with Jewish traditions, he does not practice Judaism and considers himself non-religious.

 

“J: So my… during Hanukkah dinners we’d always go over to my cousin’s house and during this time at the end of the dinner during desert, my… uh… my aunt’s dad, was… uh… Swedish, he was from Sweden and he had this drink over there called Akvavit. It was this type of hard liquor, um, it was a yellowish kinda, it was a yellowish hard liquor, it was a little sweet. But basically at um… after every single meal that he had during Hanukkah at desert time we’d all have a shot, even the little kids, even my cousin who are like 10 and 8 would have a shot of this.

Me: Uh huh.

J: Beacuse it was kind of this tradition that they had afterwards, you would sing a song, we’d try to sing a long as well but it was… it.. uh… we didn’t really understand what he was saying and after that we’d all take a shot and basically what he said was just kind of this old song that meant .. like.. good tiding, like long live the next night and the holidays and meet with your family.

Me: Is this a Swedish or a Jewish song?

J: Uh, that was actually a Swedish song so it was um, it was, he sung it in Swedish because although we were all Jewish he kinda just brought his own little culture into it and it was kind of a way to celebrate it but also do it during a sort of special Jewish holiday. ”

 

Analysis: The partaking of drinking of the whole family during a holiday is very common as a sort of relaxing of cultural customs during holidays, as is seen with things like the New Year’s Kiss or kissing under the mistletoe during Christmas. The fusion of Swedish tradition with a Jewish context, as well as a partaking of the whole family, shows an overall acceptance of J’s aunt’s father’s Swedish traditions, and an acceptance of this fusion as a sign of mutual respect.

The drink of choice, Akvavit, was explain by J as being fairly popular in Sweden. It appears that Sweden is the largest producer of the drink and the name is latin for ‘water of life’. It is made from distilled potato or grains (“aquavit”, Encyclopædia Britannica ).

The song sung afterwards is a classic example of a drinking song, which usually following directly after or before a drink. The song itself is unknown.

Work Cited

“aquavit”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 22 Apr. 2015
<http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/31128/aquavit>.

 

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material

Swedish Saffron Buns

Item:

“Um so my dad has this recipe, it’s for, it’s halfway between cake and pastry, I’m not sure, it’s called coffee cake to be clear. So, it’s a standard dough, um it’s saffron flavored, sometimes raisins go into it, sometimes…[can’t hear the word], sometimes both, sometimes neither. And, it’s coated with egg whites and this kind of like um sugar that’s confectioner sugar that’s re-agglomerated, um maybe uh .2 centimeter sized cubes that are sort of crunchy, but they aren’t grainy and they’re vanilla flavored.”

Context:

The family of the informant’s father comes from Sweden, and this is a recipe that the informant learned from his father. His father always makes these cakes on St. Lucia’s day, a popular holiday in Scandinavia celebrated on the 13th of December. In regards to the holiday, the informant said that “what’s supposed to happen is the youngest female in the household is supposed to wear some sort of like crown of pine branches that has candles on it and present these cakes to the father of the family along with coffee.” His family, however, has only boys, so this part of the holiday is not carried out.

Analysis:

That the informant’s family (a mixed family, his father being from Sweden and his mother from China) still celebrates St. Lucia’s day in America, demonstrates the father’s insistence on passing along this bit of his heritage to his children. Even more indicative of this is that the cakes are still made despite the fact that there  is no female child in the family who could enact St. Luica. Also, that the informant knows this recipe off the top of his head further demonstrates the efforts his father made to instill this bit of Swedish culture into his children.

 

 

Folk Beliefs
Myths

Swedish Mythological Creature: The Tomten

Contextual Data: After talking to me about the Spring-time witch pilgrimage in Sweden, my friend mentioned also that when she was in Sweden and her family went into the woods, they saw small cabins where moose hunters stayed, which were popularly referred to as troll houses. She then started talking about this gnome/troll-like creatures called Tomten. The following is an exact transcript of our conversation.

Informant: “Um, so one thing that they like to talk about is something called the Tomten, and the Tomten’s basically like—”

Me: “How do you spell that?”

Informant: “T-O-M-T-E-N. Um, and he’s kind of like… I don’t know, like a little gnome or like a mini Santa Clause kind of. And especially around Christmas the Tomten has like a Santa-like role, but he has like a little beard and he has like this red pointy cap and… But he’s also kind of mischievous and if you lived on a—in a in northern Sweden you would have to put out porridge every night for the Tomten and if you didn’t put out porridge, he would like, let foxes into your chicken coops and like let your sheep roam free. I mean it wasn’t like, ‘Put out porridge and the Tomten will like shine your shoes in the morning.’ It was like, ‘Don’t put out porridge and the Tomten’s gonna fuck you up’ [Laughs]. Um… So yeah. Um, but it’s actually kind of interesting because there are all these stories about—I remember reading them when I was little, like a little kid. Like illustrated books about the Tomten and kind of his—well actually how he cares for the farm animals and stuff and then goes and gets his bowl of porridge. So maybe it’s not always as sinister as I described, but—but if you don’t, like… You put out the porridge. You don’t not put out the porridge. Um, and I mean, so there are a lot of kind of traditions like that up north.”

- End Transcript – 

When I asked my informant what she thought the significance of this was, she said that she thought it had to do with the fact that many Swedes believe that there is a connection between the people and the land. She said that even nowadays people in Sweden see nature as having kind of a “magical quality to it” — thus the rise of these earth-based mythical creatures (i.e. creatures of “lower mythology”). This is why she feels the story has lasted.

Certainly this can be seen in the way that a Tomten (at least in stories) is perceived as caring for the farm and the animals. Leaving out the bowl of porridge could therefore suggest some form of repayment or offering of thanks. The stories in which the Tomten doesn’t necessarily care for the animals but causes chaos if he doesn’t receive his porridge could be seen as an indicator of beliefs about the power of the land and of these earth creatures—that they’re meant to be respected, and that in some way, something is owed to them for being able to live a peaceful life. Both of these ideas harken back to this perceived connection between the people and the land that my informant says is so important in Swedish culture.

Annotation: http://www.amazon.com/The-Tomten-Astrid-Lindgren/dp/0698115910/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1367443488&sr=8-1&keywords=tomten
This story, a picture book aimed at children and perhaps one of the ones my informant was referencing, depicts the Tomten as a friendly creature that is very much a part of the land and the farming culture.

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Myths

Swedish Mythological Creature: Elves

Contextual Data: After talking to me about the Tomten, my friend mentioned that there was a similar tradition of elves in Sweden. They are seen as these mist-like creatures that come out at night over the lakes. The following is an exact transcript of conversation.

Informant: “One that I also think is really cool to talk about is, um…Has to do with elves. And in northern Sweden, when the temperature starts changing in the summer, um, you’ll get these clouds of mist [Mimes a sphere shape with her hands] that show up on like the lake surfaces — so the surfaces of the lakes, and obviously Sweden is one of the places that has, like, a ton of lakes just from the glacial paths and stuff. Um, and so at night obviously the lakes will be completely flat and then you’ll see these like balls of mist and the ball — and it’s weird because it’s not mist just like coating the lake, there are like balls of mist that are separate from each other, and I don’t know if it’s the wind or something but they kind of like twirl around. Um, and so when I was little and I saw them, my dad told me that they were, um…Elves that are dancing on the water and that’s kind of like a Swedish — well I mean at least in the northeastern part of Sweden where my family is from. Um…There’s this concept of the mist as being like the elves that come out of the forest at night and they dance on the water when you’re not watching. Um, and then of course by the morning — when the morning comes, the sun comes up and they disappear. So you can only see them in, like, the middle of the night when the temperature is just right… It’s actually really cool. And if you get too close, too, they kind of dissipate, so you can only see them — you can never actually get that close.”

Me: “Do you think that’s something they tell for the sake of the children? Or is there any other significance to it?”

Informant: “I think — That actually I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. I think that—and one thing that I really love about northern Sweden is that, um, the connection between, like, humans and the land I think is much stronger than it is here in the U.S. or even maybe in more urbanized part of the country. Um, you know, people really—It’s remote. And you live out there, and my — I know my family, um, they built their house. Like, they cut down the logs and built the house, and then they — they built a boat to take them from the mainland to their house [Laughs]. I mean they’re very, like, they live off the land and in a way that a lot of people don’t now. I mean my…my…Like they weave their own blankets and I mean they’re…It’s really intense. Um, and just like I said: there’s this connection that doesn’t exist here… Um, and I think that people see — even adults see more magic in the land than we do now. And I think that’s something that, you know, while it’s for kids… I think people are more willing to accept it because they understand that nature has, like, a magical quality to it. You know…”

- End Transcript – 

My informant seemed to provide a pretty thorough account of why this tradition sticks around in Sweden. In particular, this idea of the elves as dancing on the water really does seem to speak to the perception of nature as having “a magical quality to it.” Beyond this, it also seems to be a way of making sense of an unusual natural phenomenon — this description of the mist as forming little balls or clusters over the lakes rather than just existing as a sort of loose blanket, as one might expect it to.

Childhood
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Clever Boy

Once there was a boy who worked for a giant. It was a very hard job. The giant had a great big ox that made a horrible mess, and the boy had constantly to sweep out after the ox, and he still couldn’t keep the place clean. The giant was always bawling him out.

One day when he’d worked especially hard, the boy got a bright idea. He took a cork and pushed it into the ox’s rear end. In the morning the giant came to inspect the barn, and found everything nice and clean, but he couldn’t understand why the ox was so fat, or why it wouldn’t eat.

“Perhaps you’d better take a look, Pop,” said the boy.

“Perhaps I should,” answered the giant, and started his examination. When he got to the tail, he lifted it up, causing the cork to fly out of the ox’s behind. It hit the giant right in the temple so hard that he died on the spot and was buried under the manure.

The boy took over everything the giant owned and lived there happily for the rest of his days.

Analysis:

This narrative was taken from a collection of Swedish folktales, in which many of the stories featured bumbling, boisterous giants who posed problems for the humans. In some way, the human would always outsmart the giant and kill him or steal his riches. The tales, especially “The Clever Boy,” highlight the skill of those who appear underprivileged at first glance. What chance does a small boy have against a giant, who in this story and many others, is extremely wealthy and powerful? The answer is stressed in the title; with his cleverness and manipulation, the hero is able to thwart the giant and demonstrate the important of brains over brawn.

Furthermore, the giant himself would stand in for an abusive authority figure perhaps, particularly one who was corrupt and much richer than the rest of the townsfolk, who could pride themselves on nothing else but the cleverness they carried with them. It’s a typical triumphant tale of underdog beats bully, only with Nordic characters.

There is also quite a bit of humor in these tales, no matter if they are long or short. “The Clever Boy” features an ox’s behind and the giant dying in a pile of manure. We still have bathroom jokes and tales to this day, because as perverse and immature as they may be, they can still be funny, especially to those whom the stories are aimed at. Children would be satisfied and gleeful at this ending, in which the boy gets out of doing chores, something which they also probably dream about, and makes the authority figure die in a very undignified way. The boy even calls the giant, “Pop,” a term that’s too familiar for a employer-worker relationship, but very applicable in a parent-child one. Thus the children instantly see themselves as the hero and may strive to outsmart the giants in their lives, also known as their parents. All these features combined make the story a memorable one and lets it stand out from the other hero vs. giant tales.

 

Collected from:

Blecher, Lone Thygesen and Blecher, George. Swedish Folktales and Legends. New York: Pantheon Books, 1993. Print.

Humor
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Who’s Got the Dumbest Husband

Once there were two women who had very stupid husbands. One day they made a bet to see which one of them was best at fooling her husband.

When one of the men was lying in bed feeling a little under the weather, his wife convinced him that he was dead. He was so dumb that he believed her, and he laid himself out so that he looked dead. His wife dressed him in burial clothes and put him in a coffin. Then she got everything ready and invited people to his funeral.

Among the funeral guests were the other woman and her dumb husband. When this husband had started to change his clothes of the funeral, his wife convinced him that he was already dressed! He believed her, and went along to the funeral in his birthday suit.

Afterward, the rode to the graveyard carrying the “corpse” to his grave while he lay in his coffin, peeking out. There was a small hole in the coffin, and through it he could see his neighbor walking stark naked in front of the funeral procession. After a while he couldn’t hold out any longer, and he burst out laughing. One just can’t bury a laughing corpse, so everyone had to walk back home again.

Analysis:

This story was also from a series of Swedish folktales, focusing on marriage relations. There is no true hero or villain in the story, only a comedic tale of wives and husbands, in which the wives are portrayed as the clever, good-natured tricksters and the husbands as shameless simpletons. The situations presented are ridiculous and hard to believe, but they would provide the target audience with ample amounts of humor, despite the fact that the story itself is relatively short. Children who heard the folktale wouldn’t fully understand the dichotomy between wives and husbands in marriage, but this story allows them a little preview of what the future holds. There are inter-couple and intra-couple competitions, to begin with. Also, the tale proves that one can’t shouldn’t take oneself too seriously, as the husbands are not shown to feel particularly embarrassed, and it also stresses the it’s important, or at least, better, to be clever than a fool, regardless if one is a woman or a man.

It is peculiar that the “joke” of the wives’ ends because “one can’t just bury a laughing corpse.” It’s not that the corpse was not a corpse at all, or that the wife felt sorry for the husband, but it was a socially unacceptable act to bury a non-somber body. It may simply be the writing or translation, or the style of the folktale itself, but I still found it interesting that the townspeople had to walk back only because the corpse was laughing, making it seem as if they would have had no problem burying the stupid husband alive.

 

Collected from:  

Blecher, Lone Thygesen and Blecher, George. Swedish Folktales and Legends. New York: Pantheon Books, 1993. Print.

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