Saturday, September 27, 2014

Winter is Coming

See what I did with the title there? Because I’m hip to pop culture. That’s not true. I’ve only seen one episode of that show. But I read the first three books. And they just kept going. And going. And going. And so much happened. But nothing happened. And they kept going. Like this paragraph. On and on and on and on. And so I quit.

See what I did there? Again? I know.

But seriously. Winter is coming. As in the season that follows autumn. And in Sweden that means two very important things that will dominate the lives of every single person in the country. Cold and dark. Dark and cold. Depending on where you are in the country it might be a bit darker or a bit colder, but it doesn’t really matter where you’ll be. It’s still cold and dark. Dark and cold.

It’s about this time of the year though, that people start preparing for the winter. Animals start prepping for hibernation. Swedes prepare for anti-hibernation. Or at least winter preparations in this country involve things that are meant to avoid falling into a seasonal depression, which can and does happen.

I’m here on a grant for my dissertation research. I’ve mentioned that already to remind people that everything I say is my own opinion and doesn’t represent anyone else and blah blah blah. But the other day I was at an orientation meeting in which all the grantees were welcomed to Sweden. We were given information to get us through our year here in the country. We were also warned about the darkness. Fear the darkness. Embrace the darkness. Be one with the darkness.

Fuck that.1 Fight the man! I mean the darkness. Fight the darkness!

We can pretend all we want that the hours and hours of darkness are romantic and beautiful in their own right. That may be true for a few days. Maybe even a few weeks. But the winter is long. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to fight the darkness:

Buy candles. Candles should be one of the four standing items on your grocery list. Milk?2 Check. Bread? Check. Chilinuts? Check. Candles? Check. Buy candleholders. Nice ones. Cheap ones. Doesn’t matter. Do what feels right, as long as you buy candleholders. Then buy the candles to fill them. You can buy the tiny little tea lights, which will keep you warm for hours and can be used as a heater in your car in a pinch. Trust me. I once drove through a snowstorm from Stockholm to Helsingborg in a Saab with no heat wearing my ski gear and balancing lit tea lights on the dash. It worked.
That's the cute little bear that's keeping me safe.

Living your winter in darkness can be dangerous. It’s one of the reason there are so many reflective children running around with vests and telephone numbers printed on them. But children aren’t the only reflective beings in Sweden. Everywhere you look, people will have little reflectors attached to their clothing and bags. It doesn’t matter how old you are. Or how fancy you are. People hang these things on themselves as if to taunt the darkness. Ha, darkness. You think you’re concealing me from that driver sliding on the black ice? Wrong. I have a reflector and am safe in my glimmering, shivering ignorance.

Seriously. Lunch. No one cares what you eat. There are all kinds of suggestions about making sure you get a lot of vitamin D and omega threes in your diet while limiting caffeine and sugar. That’s fine. But that’s not what lunch is for. Lunch is for going outside. Every day. Go outside at lunch and hope to whatever you hope to and pray to whatever you pray to that the sun will grace you with its presence. Because lunch is the one time of the day that a large chunk of Sweden is not dark.

Along with the darkness comes the cold. People think the cold is less charming than the darkness. But that’s a comparison with no clear winner. Or loser. But don’t worry. You can fight the cold as well:

Det finns inget dåligt väder, bara dåliga kläder. There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. This is patently false. And I say this only having lived in Wisconsin last winter. But in Sweden, yeah, it’s probably true. Those nice coats, gloves, hats, scarves, pants, and big boots? Those are the things that are going to allow you to go outside at lunch. They’re the things that are going to allow you to play in the snow, go ice skating, hike around the forest, or just wander around town. They’re the things that are going to allow you to beat back the cold. You’ll need them.

Drink it. You can drink it with or without alcohol. But it is one of the few warm drinks I enjoy. Along with hot chocolate. That’s it. Hot chocolate and glögg. Glögg is basically a mulled wine with almonds and raisins thrown in to give you something to chew on at the end.

Grow one (if you can). They are warm and they are awesome. And if you can't (p.s. that's ok) they've thought of you with these hats.

Welcome to Sweden. If you live way up north, sorry—you’re fucked.3

1 Sorry,mamma. I’m an adult now. Sometimes I say bad words.
2 Almond milk for me nowadays. I can’t drink the good stuff.
3 Seriously, mamma, don’t judge me.


  1. I'm coming up on my 21st winter at north latitude 59 or 60 [Anchorage, Alaska (5); Homer, Alaska (3); and Stockholm (13)]. I don't get depressed. As I age, I get more annoyed at the length of the Winter in February, but then March comes along. I have no secret formula or process, other than to refuse to be depressed.

    1. That's a whole bunch of northern winters. Maybe practice makes perfect?

  2. But I can't grow a beard, I'm a lady (biologically speaking, not when it comes to manners and shit) So sad... :(

  3. Don't worry, they've thought of that:

    P.S. That beard section was meant as a joke, but totally ended up kind of sexist and exclusionary. I'll edit it a bit. Sorry.

  4. I gotta get one of those beard hats. (✿◠‿◠)