Difference between revisions of "Sweden"
Revision as of 08:51, 7 May 2007
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:
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 Hammarskjöld, 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 centre-right liberal/conservative parties has come into power.
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 Prize committee for all the prizes except the peace prize which is hosted in Oslo, a memento of the Swedish-Norwegian union that was dissolved just over 100 years ago.
Sweden is a member of the European Union and the Schengen Agreement.
For arrival and departure times, as well as lots of other information about flights and airports in Sweden, visit Luftfartsverket - Swedish Airports and Air Navigation Services
You can reach Sweden by train from three countries at present:
Although Sweden is a fairly large country, most of the action takes place in the southern parts where the distances are not huge. Domestic flights are mainly for travellers with little time or much money, however if you are heading for the far north you may want to consider it.
The most important domestic airlines:
Sweden has an extensive railway network. Most major lines are controlled by the government-owned company SJ. To buy a railway ticket, or to obtain information, phone +46 771 75 75 75 or check their website. Tickets are cheaper the earlier you buy them, so if your itinerary is set, buy your tickets ASAP! Swedish Rail passes are also available for International guests to Sweden.
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. If you're on a tight schedule, be aware that trains, especially those operated by Connex, sometimes have quite significant delays (up to 1-2 hours).
Swebus Express runs a number of bus lines in the southern third of the country, Götaland and Svealand. They tend to be a little cheaper than going by train if you can't take advantage of SJs youth discounts. Y-buss and Härjedalingen operate between Stockholm and Norrland.
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 and Winter driving.
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 women with babies in desperate conditions, after the dark maybe (when it's probable that leaving them there means killing them by hypothermia). 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.
Hej (hay) is the massively dominant greeting in Sweden, useful on kings and bums alike. You can even say it when you leave. The Swedes most often do not say "please" (snälla), instead they are generous with the word tack (tuck), meaning "thanks".
The national currency is the Swedish krona (SEK, plural kronor). 1 USD is about 7.1 SEK, 1 EUR is about 9.1 SEK and 1 GBP is about 13.5 SEK as of November 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 shopping with a credit card, regardless of the amount involved, though ususally not in supermarkets and such where PIN code is king.
It is not common to bargain in shops but it might work in some instances, especially when buying more expensive products. Bargaining is also okay at flea markets and in antique shops. When dining out, a service charge is often included in the bill, and there is generally no reason to tip, unless you're very satisfied with the service.
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. Besides the ubiquitous potatoes, modern Swedish cuisine is to a great extent based on bread. Traditional everyday dishes are called husmanskost (pronounced whos-mans-cost). They include:
Other Swedish favourites:
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.
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 of course also find international fast food chains like McDonalds and Burger King. 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".
If you're on a tight budget, self-catering is the safest way to save your crowns.
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. Although spirits are still quite expensive at "Systembolaget", being a monopoly has brought some perks - Systembolaget is one of the worlds largest bulk-buyers of wine, and as such gets some fantastic deals which it passes on to the consumers. Mid-to-High-quality wines are quite often cheaper in Sweden than even the country of origin; sometimes even cheaper than if you were to buy the wine direct from the vineyard. This does NOT apply to low-quality wines, however, due to the volume-based tax on alcohol.
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 normal food 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 (to prevent teenage drunkeness, some shops have decided to have a 20 age limit for 3,5% beer as well), 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.
Be aware that you often have to stand in line to get into a bar or a club. Many places deliberately make their customers wait in line for a while, since a long queue indicates a popular club. At the very fanciest places in the major cities the queue is replaced by a disorganized crowd, and the doorman simply points to indicate who gets in and who does not (to be sure to get in either be famous, very good-looking or a friend of the doorman. Or simply a regular).
In the cold season it is often mandatory to hand in your jacket at the club's wardrobe for a fee, usually around 20 SEK.
If you bring your own tent, accomodation in Sweden can be very cheap, even free! This is due to the Right to access (Every Man's Right) principle, allowing anyone to camp in uncultivated areas (including private property) free of charge. There are certain limitations, for instance you are only allowed to stay at a certain spot for one night before you have to move on. If you are travelling to Sweden in the summer, check out the local conditions when it comes to camp fires. Forests in Sweden can get extremely dry and temporary bans on lighting fires may apply.
If you prefer camping a bit more organised, most towns have campsites with showers and electricity. Expect to pay around SEK 100-150 for a tentsite. More info on the official site for Swedish campsites: camping.se.
Svenska Turistföreningen or STF is the by far most important operator of hostels in Sweden, with a network of more than 300 hostels around the country. Membership for foreigners is SEK 175, and if you plan to stay four nights or more than at hostels in Sweden you should join, since non-members pay an additional SEK 45 per night. STF is affiliated with Hostelling International, and if you are a member of any HI organisation you are considered a member of STF.
The price per night in a hostel is SEK 80-280 depending on where the hostel is located and how classy or tacky it is. Sheets are required (just a sleeping bag is not enough) and if you don't bring any you have to purchase at the hostel for around SEK 50. You are expected to clean out your room when leaving. Cooking equipment is normally available at all hostels for those who want to self-cater.
Apartments and B&B:s are not the same thing, but Swedish online booking agencies tend to think so. Renting an apartment may be an interesting option if you plan to stay for a few nights in one of the major cities and want more privacy than a hostel offers.
While on the road you may want to keep an eye open for road signs with the word Rum. They don't show the way to the nearest drinking den for pirates - rum in Swedish means room and that sign points to a B&B.
Normal Swedish hotels tend to be clean, not-so-interesting and fairly expensive. A single room can easily set you back SEK 1000. On a more positive note, breakfast buffets at Swedish hotels are often impressive with plenty to choose from - try not to be in too much of a hurry in the morning! Major hotel chains include Scandic and First.
It doesn't matter how many circumflexes Stockholm's Grand Hôtel uses, or how many celebrities stay there, the coolest hotel in Sweden is the Icehotel. Located in the village of Jukkasjärvi in the far north, it is a hotel built from snow and ice. It melts in spring and is rebuilt every winter. Ice hotels are built in several other countries, but the one in Jukkasjärvi is the original. One night in a single room is SEK 2850, book in advance.
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 foreigner 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:
EU and EEA citizens are allowed to work in Sweden without a permit. Citizens of other countries need a work permit, and getting one is quite a hassle. Swedes, foreign citizens already living in Sweden, and EU/EEA citizens have preference over others in obtaining work in Sweden. Also, if the offer of work is for more than three months you will also require a Swedish residence permit. More information about the paperwork is found on the government website swedenabroad.com.
As for finding a job you could try 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.
Sweden enjoys a comparatively low crime rate and is, generally, a safe place to travel. Use common sense at night, particularly on Friday and Saturday when the youth of Sweden hit the streets to drink, get drunk and in some unfortunate cases look for trouble. Mind that it is statistically more likely that your home country is less safe than Sweden, so heed whatever warnings you would do in your own country and you will have no worries.
Pickpockets are rare, but not unheard of. Most Swedes carry their wallets in their pockets or purses and feel quite safe while doing it. Almost all stores and resturants accept most major credit cards, so there is no need to carry a lot of cash around. If you have a bike, do lock it or you may lose it.
In Case of Emergency
112 is phone number to dial in case of fire, medical or criminal emergency. It does not require an area code, regardless of what kind of phone you're using. The number works on any mobile phone, with or without a SIM card, even if it's keylocked.
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, antiseptics 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, if you are unlucky you can expect a long wait before getting medical attention.
Tap water is drinkable and of high quality. There is no real reason for buying Evian or other bottled non-carbonated water in Sweden, apart from vanity, and in fact some brands of mineral-water sold around the world IS swedish tap-water.
There are few serious health risks in Sweden. Your primary enemy especially in wintertime will be the cold, particularly if trekking or skiing in the northern parts. Northern Sweden is sparsely populated and, if heading out into the wilderness, it is imperative that you register your travel plans with a friend or the authorities so they can come looking for you if you fail to show up. Dress warmly in layers and bring along a good pair of sunglasses to prevent snow blindness, especially in the spring.
A serious nuisance in summer are mosquitoes (mygg), hordes of which inhabit Sweden (particularly the north) in summer, especially after rains. While they carry no malaria or other nasty diseases, Swedish mosquitoes make a distinctive (and highly irritating) whining sound while tracking their prey, and their bites are very itchy. As usual, mosquitoes are most active around dawn and sunset — which, in the land of the Midnight Sun, may mean most of the night in summer. There are many different types of mosquito repellants available which can be bought from almost any shop. Other summer nuisances are gadflies (bromsar), whose painful but non-poisonous bites can leave a mark lasting for days, and wasps (getingar) whose stings can be deadly if you're allergic. To minimize trouble from insects, use mosquito repellent, ensure your tent has good mosquito netting and bring proper medication if you know that you're allergic to wasp stings.
In southern Sweden and in northern coastal regions there are ticks (fästingar) which appear in summertime. They can transmit Lyme's disease (borreliosis) and more serious TBE (tick-borne encephalitis) through a bite. The risk areas for TBE are mainly the eastern parts of lake Mälaren and the Stockholm archipelago. Although incidents are relatively rare and all ticks don't carry diseases, it's advisable to wear long trousers rather than shorts if you plan to walk through dense and/or tall grass areas (the usual habitat for ticks). You can buy special tick tweezers (fästingplockare) from the pharmacy that can be used to remove a tick safely if you happen to get bitten. You should remove the tick from your skin as quickly as possible and preferably with the tick tweezers to reduce the risks of getting an infection. If the tick bite starts to form red rings on the skin around it or if you experience other symptoms relating to the bite, you should go visit a doctor as soon as possible.
There's only one type of poisonous snake in Sweden: the European adder (huggorm), which has a distinct zig-zag type of figure on its back. The snake is not very common but it lives all over Sweden except for in mountains in the north and farmlands in the south. Although its bite hardly ever is life-threatening (except for small children and allergic persons), one should be careful in the summertime especially when walking in the forests or on open fields at the countryside. If you are bitten by a snake, don't hesitate to seek medical assistance. All reptiles in Sweden, including adders, are listed as protected species and must not be harmed.
As for other dangerous wildlife, there's not much more than a few extremely rare encounters with brown bear (brunbjörn) and wolf (varg) in the wilderness. Both of these animals are listed as protected species. Contrary to popular belief abroad, there are no polar bears in Sweden, let alone polar bears walking city streets. If you encounter a brown bear in the woods, walk slowly away from it while talking loudly - the bear is most likely to feel threatened if you surprise it. In the unlikely event of a brown bear attack you should play dead, protect your head and make yourself as small as possible. In general, one shouldn't worry about dangerous encounters with wild beasts in Sweden.
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.