The Native: Nils' Ten Survival Tips on Weathering the Swedish Winter

2012-02-10. Published in Life in Gothenburg
by Nils Pasi

The dreaded winter is here, the days have grown short, and the nights dark. This is for sure the coldest time o the year. Indeed, I imagine that many of you are asking yourselves how you are going to survive the dreadful Swedish winter. I also suspect you may ask yourselves how the Swedes manage, year after year. Well, we do, but it is indeed a time when moods begin to fluctuate.

At no other time of the year do I hear from so many friends that they grow weary of their daily lives. It is dark when they rise in the morning, and it is dark when they return home in the evening, having finished work. In some ways, it is easier for students. Students do not attend lectures every day. Furthermore, they usually do not work nine hours on the days when they do have lectures. However, even students in Sweden feel the change as winter comes upon us.

Under the heavy load of layers upon layers of clothes, with the wind hitting your face being both cold and wet – of course it is easy to feel small, insignificant and lonely. It is perhaps then not so strange that many Swedes should opt for staying inside during the winter months, lighting candles and meeting only family and close friends. Indeed, many of my international friends have told me that Swedes tend to withdraw during the winter months, not to resurface again until spring is come. In that way, you may liken Swedes to bears who hibernate during the winter. But is this really the best way to handle the winter in Sweden?

I shall now present Nils' 10 survival tips on how to survive the Swedish winter, and maybe even find it pleasant.

1. Friends: spending time with friends is perhaps the number one most important survival tips that I can offer. I cannot stress enough the importance of meeting friends and spending time with friends during the dark winter months. This is of course true for the rest of the year as well, but I do feel that it is particularly important during the winter.

2. Smile: you should not underestimate the power of the smile. Smiling not only makes you happier, it also makes the people around you happier. The secret here is mimicry. People tend to respond very well to smiles. If you see someone smiling towards you, you will usually mimic that behaviour and smile right back. The result is a positive circle where everyone is encouraging each other to smile.

3. Get out: even though it is the dark most of the time during the winter, it is still important to get out from time to time. So get out and catch some fresh air and what little light there is. There are lots of fun winter activities to do during the winter. For instance, you can go ice skatin, which is a lot of fun, you can visit Slottsskogen and Änggårdsbergen, which is also a lot of fun, and just walking around the city looking at the winter lights and later the Christmas decorations is great fun.

4. Cafes: The winter is a wonderful time to try different cafes in Gothenburg. I love to go around to different cafes and try their hot chocolate. It is perhaps the best beverage to have during the cold and darker winter months, for it is hot, sweet, and absolutely delicious.

5. Let there be light: I find that I am much happier staying away from the dark. Buy some candles or better yet to make them yourself. Making candles is a time-honoured tradition in Sweden, or at least it should be. Many years ago, we actually made candles in kindergarten. For many years after that I would light one of those candles at Christmas eve and remember. A few years ago, however, I ran out of candles and decided to make some new ones. I found that it was a lot of fun, and certainly something that I would like doing with friends every year. Home-made candles is a great Christmas gifts as well.

6. Keep warm: dress warmly and wear good boots. It is no secret that few things can wreck havoc with peoples moods as much as the common cold and the winter influenza. Therefore, dress warmly and avoid getting sick.

7. Singing: singing actually makes you happier. If you happen to sing well, the people around you will become happier as well. Many people, though, tell me that they sing poorly or not at all. This always makes me sad, for despite what most people seem to believe, singing well is a matter of practice. And people who do not sing because they feel that they cannot, will never learn to sing and by extension will never feel this euphoric happiness that you can feel when you sing to your hearts content. So my advice to you is: sing. Not only will you get acquainted with Swedish songs, but you will also experience the happiness of singing.

8. Head north: if you have the opportunity you should head north. Skiing, northern lights, eternal darkness – these are but some of the things that you will find in the north of Sweden. By travelling during the winter, the dark months will seem shorter. Of course, you should bear in mind that the sun never rises during the winter in the northern most of Sweden, although I suspect that the northern lights more than make up for it.

9. Head south: a good way to survive the winter and at the same time annoy your friends is to head south. My grandfather used to do this every year. He would go to Spain and then he would call us on Christmas Eve to wish us a merry Christmas and to 'casually mention' the fantastic weather in Spain, while at the same time the rain was pouring down here in Gothenburg. It was so unfair.

10. Join a laughing-society: you could of course try to join a laughing-society. There are some such societies in Gothenburg, also I have herbs, but that is not important (I am dictating this article on my phone, thus the odd comment about having herbs - it was too amusing to cut). It was my grandmother and first told me about these societies. Apparently, they operate on the principle that laughter prolongs life. Once the members have gothered they will start to laugh. At first they will force it, but eventually the forced laughter will transform into a real, heartfelt laugh. Although I have never partaken in such a gathering, it does sound intriguing.

And there we have it. 10 survival tips on how to survive the Swedish winter. If you have some advice of your own, please don't hesitate to share it with us.

/Nils, team 2011