Let's talk about summer in Sweden. The days are endless, the nights almost nonexistent, and everyone is on vacation. After a dark and grueling winter that seems to last nine months, suddenly the world is bright and warm(ish) and lush again. Swedes use this time to get out of the office and back into nature. For us, the Swedish summer has always felt like a dreamworld, an alternate universe where everything is exactly as it should be.
The dreamiest part of the Swedish summer is that nearly everyone takes an entire month off from work, usually the whole of July. School is out, and even daycare (dagis) shuts down for four weeks. What makes this extended summer vacation possible is a generous policy of paid leave. Workers in Sweden receive approximately thirty-five vacation days per year (in addition to more than fifteen public and floating holidays). Most people we know take at least four weeks off during the summer (and since most people we know are parents of young children, they use some of their remaining parental leave days to add another week--or more--to their vacation).
While some people do go on grand international holidays, a lot of people take a more modest vacation and slip off to the countryside, usually to an old family summer house (sommarhus). Some folks live on their boats for the season, skimming through the Stockholm archipelago or along the west coast. It's worth noting that summer houses themselves tend to be modest, sometimes lacking a shower or even a flushing toilet. People don't go to the countryside (or seaside) to live in luxury; they go to slow down, connect with friends and family, and enjoy the simple pleasures of the season --basking in the sun, splashing in the water, tinkering around the house and yard, and eating delicious food with loved ones. Forests in Sweden are teeming with wild berries--strawberries in early summer, blueberries and raspberries from mid-late summer--and we spend hours going on "blueberry walks" in July and August.
The defining feature of the Swedish holiday, what makes it an genuine vacation, is that no one is expected to work while they are away. This may come as a shock to many Americans, but it is generally accepted that you will NOT be checking email, answering phone calls, or writing reports while you are away. The purpose of a vacation is to rest, recuperate, reconnect with yourself and your family, and explore the world--NOT to stay chained to a job and its stresses. Of course sometimes people do, but that's often a matter of choice rather than necessity. (The last paragraph of this article made me laugh.) Here, it is seen as necessary to a person's health--physical and psychological--to detach from work. The work-life balance in Sweden tends to be, well, balanced.
Isn't that wonderful? It's a necessary counterpoint to the winter here, with its unremitting darkness (the first winter we were, there were five hours of direct sunlight for the entire month of November!). People tend to hunker down at home and close off a bit, but when summer comes, everyone opens up.
What are summers like where you live? Are you able to take much time to be together as a family? Do you have any favorite summer family traditions? I'd love to know!
Want more? Having Kids in Sweden: The Basics, and Found in the fields.
All images by me except the third and fourth; those are by Saltis77
This sounds so different from American vacations. Even when we don’t work while on vacation there is still a kind of pressure to “get the most” out of your time off by visiting a checklist of must-see places. We do research in advance to choose the top-rated restaurants, as though a meal might be wasted by having it at a place that was only average. We rush our leisure because we take so little time off. And this kind of travel is expensive, too, whereas vacationers in Sweden are still getting a full salary while they’re out picking berries and playing board games. So economical! No wonder that when Americans are asked “How was your vacation?” so many of us respond with the same old joke “I need a vacation after that!”. What we really need is the kind of disconnect you’re describing- physical and mental space that creates a feeling of true freedom. I think you’re spot-on by describing it as a healthy balance more than anything. I know I could use that!
Yes! I love this post and Laura's comment. I definitely feel pressure to "get the most" out of my time off, out of my $, well, out of everything! And it is exhausting. I love the idea of disconnecting. A friend of mine just took a trip with her husband and children to a place where there was no wifi/cellular service and they had a wonderful week camping together and unplugging. As I wrote this, I realized that they are Australian. Unplugging does not seem to be a value promoted in the US. I am ashamed to admit that I am totally addicted to my phone - and not usually even for talking on it!
So funny that you realized they were Australian!
Incredibly pictures! The summer in Sweden sounds idyllic. It reminds me of Chicago - the winters were so cold and gloomy that when summer hit, everyone was out and about! Does the summer make the winter worth it? The balance in regards to work/life/family seems so wonderful. I wonder if there is a way to make that happen in the US?
Ha! Winter in Chicago is NOTHING compared to winter in Sweden! I mean, yes, it's cold, but it's the darkness here that's so insidious. And the fact that you're often still wearing your winter coat in May -- and we're in the central/south part of Sweden! Honestly, I don't know whether the amazing summer makes the winter worth it. I'll do a post in the future and talk about how rough the winter is (or at least is for most people), even for native Swedes.