There seems to be a national personality shift in Sweden during the three months of summer. As the sun emerges and the temperature climbs, there is a perceptible change in the national psyche: a lightening, an opening up, as if the sun has peeped through a gap in a clouded sky. People seem happier, and their faces show it. Life seems easier, more relaxed, more hopeful. Everything seems easier, less heavy. In a strange sort of way Sweden becomes more like Australia, Swedes more like Australians.
People act differently during the summer. They take off their clothes, at least the outer two or three layers, and skin can be seen. Faces are raised toward the sun, eyes closed, in a sort of quiet ecstasy. People sit in the sun, just for the sake of sitting in the sun – that, of course, is different from Australia, where shady spots are always at a premium. No-one here sits in the shade in the summer, if he or she can help it.
In summer people go on holiday, heading abroad,. They retreat to their summer houses, eat strawberries, and celebrate the wonder of a land which is finally bursting with life. They dance late into the summer evenings to hopelessly nostalgic music. They drink schnaps. Boats are returned from their winter storages to the edges of endless lakes and rivers or the sea. Sails appear on the water. Motorbikes appear on the roads, with their black leatherclad riders. Caravans and mobile homes are everywhere.
One rather eccentric sight that appears is huge American cars from the 1950s, 60s and 70s – what we Australians call “gas guzzlers.” These vehicles are tremendously popular here, but they are not for normal use. They are a sign of summer. They symbolise the craziness that takes over in Sweden for the months of June, July and August. They are not sensible, and they are not moderate. They are environmentally unfriendly, and they are designed to grab attention in a totally un-Swedish way. The bigger and the more ridiculous they look the more highly they are admired.
It is as if, in summer, Swedes emerge from hibernation and start to really live. They sing and dance and eat and drink and party. They have barbecues. They dig madly in the garden. They mow the lawn over and over again. They renovate. They travel. All with a kind of desperation, before the cold returns. Before they go back to work. Before the colour of summer fades to the grey of winter.
But the colour of summer is so extravagantly beautiful that it is easy to understand this personality change. We are beginning to understand it, no, even more, to experience it. Summer is wonderful…
I understand more and more the words of Hjalmar Söderberg, a Swedish author who once described Swedes as “a gloomy people, much given to merriment.” And the words of Ingemar Unge, the journalist, who wrote “the Swedish summer is some two months long and a metre deep,” describing it as “the few miserable weeks when the ice reluctantly disappears, the snow is replaced by rain, and the sun every now and again tans our pale skins, the weeks during which Swedes come alive and re-live their lives: summer. The Swedish Summer.”