Difference between revisions of "Sweden"
Revision as of 22:30, 16 November 2006
Sweden  is the largest of the countries of Scandinavia, in Northern Europe, with a population of about 9 million. It borders Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark via the bridge of Öresund (Öresundsbron).
Sweden is traditionally divided into 25 provinces that roughly match the 21 administrative län (counties). These provinces are grouped into three major regions of ancient origin:
You can find information about these destinations and more on Sweden's official travel and tourism site VisitSweden.com [http://www.visitsweden.com ]
Although having been a military power and spanning about three times its current size during the 17th century, Sweden has not participated in any war in almost two centuries. Having long remaining outside military alliances (including both World Wars), the country has a high peace profile, with internationally renowned names such as Raoul Wallenberg, Dag Hammarsköld, Olof Palme and Hans Blix. Sweden is a monarchy by constitution, but king Carl XVI Gustaf has no executive power. The country has a long tradition of Lutheran-Protestant Christianity, but today's Sweden is a secular state with few church-goers.
Sweden has a capitalist system and is a developed post-industrial society with an advanced welfare state. The standard of living and life expectancy rank among the highest in the world. Sweden joined the European Union in 1995, but decided by a referendum in 2003 not to commit to the EMU and the euro currency. Leadership of Sweden has for the larger part of the 20th century been dominated by the Social Democratic Party, which started out at the end of the 19th century as a labour movement, but today pursues a mix of socialism and social-liberalism. Since the most recent election, a coalition of more conservative parties has come into power, something which many swedes see as a way for them to lay off the socialist ideals of the previous century and move towards the future.
Sweden has a strong tradition of being an open, yet discreet country. Citizens sometimes appear to be quite reserved at first, but once they get to know who they are dealing with, they'll be as warm and friendly as you'd wish. Privacy is regarded as a key item and many visitors, for example mega-stars in various lines of trade, have many times realised that they mostly can walk the streets of the cities virtually undisturbed.
Sweden houses the Nobel Prize1 committee for all the prizes except the peace prize which is hosted in Oslo, a memento of the Swedish-Norwegian alliance that was dissolved just over 100 years ago.
Sweden is a member of the European Union and the Schengen Agreement.
Domestic airline companies:
You can reach Sweden by train from three countries at present:
In Svealand and Götaland driving takes you quickly from one place to the other. In Norrland the distances tend to be bigger between the different sites so the time spent driving may be long. Unless you really like driving, it is often more convenient to take the train or fly to the sites, particularly in Northern Norrland. Traveling by night can be dangerous due to unexpected animals on the roads and the cold nights during the winter. Collisions with moose, roe deer, or other animals are a not uncommon cause of car accidents. See also Driving in Sweden.
Sweden has an extensive railway network. Most major lines are controlled by SJ. Regional public transport is usually operated by private companies contracted by the counties. For instance, when travelling regionally in the province of Scania (Skåne in Swedish), one should refer to Skånetrafiken. Connex provides affordable railroad transportation up north. Trains, especially those operated by Connex, tend to have quite significant delays (up to 1-2 hours). The national public transport authority is called Rikstrafiken whose online timetable (trains, buses and ferries) includes an English language version and is called Resplus. Swebus Express runs a number of bus lines through the middle and southern parts, they tend to be a little cheaper if you can't take advantage of SJs youth discounts. To buy a railway ticket, or to obtain information, phone +46 771 75 75 75 or check the SJ site.
Sweden has a reputation for being a pretty difficult country to hitch in, though it's still quite possible to hitchhike ( but risk assence is no way assured ) . Ordinary people are often afraid to pick up strangers, unless they're not women with babies in desperate conditions, after the dark maybe ( when it's probable that letting them there means killing them for a hypotermia matter ). Truck-drivers are probably most likely to pick up hitchhikers, so target them. Asking at gas stations works pretty well. Bus-stops are common places to attract attention, position yourself before the actual bus-stop so the vehicle can stop at the stop. This works best if the road is widened at the bus-stop, allowing cars to pull off easily.
Swedish is the national language of Sweden, but you will find that people, especially those below the age of 70, also speak English very well. Older people born well before the Second World War usually learned German as their first foreign language, and generally speak that better than English. Today students learn a third language in school, usually German, Spanish or French. Regardless of what your native tongue is, Swedes greatly appreciate any attempt to speak Swedish and beginning conversations in Swedish, no matter how quickly your understanding peters out, will do much to ingratiate yourself to the locals.
The national currency is the Swedish krona (SEK, plural kronor). 1 USD is about 7.8 SEK, 1 EUR is about 9.4 SEK and 1 GPB is about 13.6 SEK as of March 2006. Current exchange rates can be found at Forex. Automatic teller machines take major credit cards. Most stores, restaurants and bars accepts all major creditcards, allthough in some cases there is a SEK 5 fee or a lowest purchase limit (between 50 - 100 SEK). You usually need an ID card or a passport when buying with a credit card, though ususally not in supermarkets and such.
It is not common to bargain in shops but it might work in some instances, especially when buying more expensive products. Bargaining is also OK at fleamarkets and in antique shops. Tip is not required in bars or restaurants, but is appreciated if you consider the service to have been particularly good.
Sweden is considered a relatively expensive country to live in, though you can find cheap alternatives if you look around. Recently opened discount stores such as "Lidl", "Netto" and "Willy's" offers a wide range of items, why not buy a sewing machine while doing the weekend grocery shopping? Accomodation and dining out is cheaper in Stockholm than in most other West European capitals.
Swedish cuisine is mostly hearty meat or fish with potatoes, derived from the days when men needed to chop wood all day long. Traditional everyday dishes are called husmanskost (pronounced whos-mans-cost). This could be meatballs (köttbullar) with potatoes and lingonberry jam, fried diced meat, onions and potatoes (Hash, or "Pytt i Panna") or pea soup followed by thin pancakes. Besides the ubiquitous potatoes, modern Swedish cuisine is to a great extent based on bread.
Pickled herring ("sill"), available in various types of sauces, is commonly eaten with bread or potatoes for summer lunch or as a starter. Adventurous diners might want to try surströmming, which is (coastal) central and northern Sweden's entry in the revolting-foods-of-the-world contest. It's herring which is fermented in a can until it's about to burst, and so foul-smelling that it's eaten only outdoors in the summer so as not to stink up the house. It is considered bad form not to notify (or invite) the neighbours before having a surströmmingsskiva, a party where the delicacy is consumed. It is said that the only way you could stand the stink is to take a deep breath of it just when you open the can - to as quickly as possible strike out your smelling sense. Surströmming is mostly available in August. See http://www.svensson.com/norge/sur1.htm for more information.
Typical Swedish "gourmet" restaurants serve steaks or other grilled dishes garnished with fragrant herbs such as dill, and vegetables such as pumpkin and bell peppers. A cold fish dish known as gravlax, with a very particular taste, is widely known and appreciated.
As in most of Europe, inexpensive pizza and kebab restaurants are ubiquitous in Swedish cities. Sushi and Thai food are also quite popular.
You can get a "cheap" lunch if you look for the signs with "Dagens rätt" (meal of the day). This normally costs about 50-70 SEK and almost everywhere includes a bottle of water; soft drink; or light beer, bread & butter, some salad and coffee afterwards. Dagens rätt is served Monday to Friday.
You will find international fast-food chains like McDonalds and Burger King (although some of the meals are slightly different). While you are in Sweden, you might as well try out the local fastfood-chains like Sibylla or Max and places with signs that spell "Gatukök".
Access to alcoholic beverages is, as in Norway and Finland, quite restricted and more expensive than in other countries. The only place to buy liquor over the counter is in one of the state owned shops called Systembolaget. Though the Systembolaget shops sometimes seem to be closed more often than they are open, they do have a fantastic selection and a knowing staff. The most famous Swedish alcoholic beverage is the Absolut Vodka, which has been voted as the best vodka in the world, but there is a wide range of other Swedish vodkas, usually spiced aquavits and schnapps. Sweden does produce some outstanding beers like the dark Carnegie Porter, but most beers are rather nondescript lagers. The beer you get in shops is called Folköl and has 3,5% alcohol. The wine production is miniscule.
The age limit is 18 to bars and beers in shops, but 20 in Systembolaget. Many bars have an age limit of 20, but some have age limits as high as 23-25, a few places even 30.
The prices at clubs/bars are often very expensive compared to other countries, a large beer (half a liter) costs usually as much as 45-55 SEK (~US$7). For that reason many Swedes have a small pre-party ("förfest") before they go out, to get started on their buzz before they hit the town and go to nightclubs.
Some tourists are surprised that in Sweden you often have to stand in line to get in to a bar or club.
Look for the sign "Rum" (Room) if you go by car, or else "Vandrarhem" (Youth hostel). Sweden also has a Right to access law, allowing camping in uncultivated areas, within certain limitations. Be careful however. You should, if you are travelling to Sweden in the summer, check out the local conditions when it comes to having camp fires. Some forests in Sweden can get extremely dry and temporary bans on lighting fires may apply.
All education in Sweden is free for residents, except for the universities or schools of higher education, where you are required to register in the Students' Union (usually a fee of less than 500 SEK). Although the government has subsidized schools and classes, there also exist many private alternatives, where a tuitition fee is required.
As a foreigners wishing to study at a Swedish university or school of higher education, you may have to pay tuition fees, unless you are connected to a university involved in an exchange program with the Swedish institution.
Some important university cities:
Go to the public "Arbetsförmedlingen" ('The Job Agency') and give it a try, it might work! However, you can also buy a lottery ticket, you will have roughly the same chance to get an income that way. Usually jobs are better provided by certain knowledges and luck.
You are not likely to be exposed to crime, although, keep a watch over your hand-bag in major cities. Unlocked bikes are likely to be stolen. The phone number to dial in case of fire, medical or criminal emergency, is 112. Almost all stores and resturants accept MasterCard and Visa so there is no need to carry alot of cash around. Generally, Sweden is one of the calmest countries of Europe; it's very rare to be in real danger, even, and especially, at night.
The pharmacies are controlled by state monopoly and carry a sign spelled "Apoteket". For small medical problems the pharmacy is sufficent, they carry almost all household medical supplies like band aid, antiseptica and painkillers. Major cities carry one pharmacy open at night.
Swedish health care is usually of a very high quality, but can be quite challenging to receive. Virtually all medical facilities are state-owned, and have problems with funding. Therefore, getting a time within a week at a medical center is very rare. In case of a medical emergency, most provinces (and of course, the major cities) have a regional hospital with an around-the-clock emergency ward. However, you can expect a very long wait, up to 24 hours, before getting medical attention. If your problem isn't deemed severe, expect to be sent home without treatment.
Smoking is not allowed in restaurants and bars if not in open-air. Relatively few Swedes smoke, but many people use "snus" (snuff), a tobacco pouch inserted into the upper lip. Most bars and clubs will have snus receptacles instead of ashtrays on the tables. Smoking is found mostly in the cities
It is a good idea to keep noise level down. Violent and antisocial behavior is severely frowned upon. Expressing racist, homophobic and especially sexist opinions is very ill-advised.
In Sweden you always take off your shoes when entering a home.
You are allowed to take pictures of anything as long as you are in public space. It is even legal to take pictures into private property (even homes) as long as you of course are not trespassing on their property.
You are also allowed to take pictures while on private property, even if the owner does not allow it. You can only be asked to leave the property. If you don't leave, then you are trespassing, and can be removed by force and arrested. You can not have your camera or film (or anything else) confiscated by anyone but a police officer.
The only exception to the above are so called "skyddsobjekt", mostly military installations but some are civilian. They must be clearly marked as such.
Publishing photographs is more restricted than this, but as a tourist you won't have to deal with this. Many Swedes are very proud of their heritage, so some people might find it offensive if you are trying to tell a joke about Swedes.
Sweden has an excellent wireless GSM coverage even in rural areas except in the central and northern interior parts of the country. The major networks are Telia, Tele2/Comviq and Telenor. The UMTS coverage is also good, with the major networks and "3". Sweden's international calling code number is +46.
Sweden is the world's second most Internet connected country (second to Finland). The postal system is often considered efficient and reliable. Inter-European stamps for ordinary letters are 11 SEK and the letter usually need 2 days within EU.