Here in Stockholm, when Swedes start discussing the ‘changing seasons’ we ex-pats look at one another knowingly and have a secret giggle. Why? Seasons in Sweden are broken down into ‘cold’ and ‘not so cold’.
Not to say that we didn’t just have one of the most fabulous and lengthy summers in memory, because we did. The summer of 2014 was so fabulous and lengthy, in fact, it only really ended well into September. This was a complete aberration, as summer and the accompanying warmth usually lasts for just a few weeks in July and by the time August rolls around it’s not unusual to see scarves and gloves making their appearance across the country.This, of course, begs the question as to why Swedes insist on taking the month of July off, heading to far-flung holiday destinations for fun, sun and a recharging of the old batteries. One would think that they would hang around for that tiny little window of warmth they are treated to each year but no, the streets of Stockholm are usually empty for the entire month of July, although the bonus is that it’s dead easy to get a table at your favourite restaurant, provided it hasn’t shut its doors so the staff can also take a holiday.
Anyway, despite being something of a veteran of the unpredictable Swedish weather one late September morn I stepped out the door with bare legs and an uncovered head – and then ran back inside for a rethink. My brief foray onto the street had told me that the Swedes knew something I didn’t: baby, it’s cold outside.
I peaked out the window whilst searching for a sweater and there they were, covered in scarves and hats and snug jackets and coats, as if they had received some secret overnight memo saying summer was officially over and it was time to prepare. My children, the poor things, had already been sent off to school in just a thin t-shirts and I was convinced my next visit to their school would involve a lot of judgy stares from the other, more conscientious parents. So I did what any right-thinking and paranoid mother would do: I high-tailed it down to the school, with last year’s outgrown jackets tucked under my arm. You didn’t really think I had planned ahead, did you?
Once at the school I desperately searched the halls for my shivering children whilst wildly texting work with a series of increasingly laughable excuses about my tardiness.
Everywhere I looked were smartly dressed children wearing weather-appropriate clothing keeping the chill at bay.
When I spotted the first of my two beloved children I tapped him on his ice-cold shoulder and said, ‘Sweetie, you must remember your jacket in the morning! Autumn has arrived and you’ll catch your death of cold!’ Nothing like a little blame-shifting, with some old-style lingo thrown in, to cover my tracks; the other kids would be sure to report back to their parents that no, Mrs. Lembke did not forget to dress her children for cold weather like she did last year. And the year before. And the one before that. No, it was her forgetful children who had neglected to wear their winter gear. I was totally in the clear.
Or at least I thought I was, until I saw the sneer crawl its way across my first-born’s face. ‘Mum!’, groaned first-born. ‘What are you doing here? Stop it! You’re embarrassing me!’ Yes, well, be that as it may the kid wasn’t getting off the hook. ‘Darling’, I sang, ‘Here’s your jacket. Try to remember it next time. I don’t want to have to run down here with it the entire winter.’ And with that I sweetly kissed him on the cheek (eliciting more groans) and went to hunt down the other fruit of my loins.
Thankfully, second-born is still young enough to get relatively excited when I show my face at school, so not only did I get a hug and a kiss, I received a delightful invitation to join the next class. Due to texts from work coming in at a rate of three or four per second I was forced to decline but as I headed out into the bright, chilly day, the wind whipping my hair as I pulled my coat a bit tighter I smiled to myself. I may have somehow missed the first real day of autumn but I had managed to make it right.
Next year I absolutely not forget that summer here is fleeting and you had better be prepared for the sudden shift to Sweden’s other, longer, season.
Judi Lembke is a writer and editor based in Europe. Her work spans the spectrum, from light humour to corporate film and pretty much everything in between. Most of her adult life has been spent as an expat, with stints in London, Sydney and, currently. Stockholm, Sweden. She finds expat life stimulating, challenging and always very interesting. Judi blogs at Judi Lembke Ink.