I arrive at the apartment in Södermalm jet lagged and flustered. The air is muggy, and I am warm from walking around in a hurried and confused state. But the host is gracious and invites me inside whereupon I am swept into the world of the "untraditional Midsommer Eve party," with twelve friendly Millennial Swedes. They called it untraditional because most citydwelling Swedes make a mass exodus during Midsommer for the countryside, the lakes, and the smaller villages. Stockholm is a proverbial ghost town.
I am here at this gathering on the invitation of Sarah, who I met in my senior year of high school when she was an exchange student. She quickly makes me feel at ease with her warmth and graciousness. We are in her friend's trendy apartment, where the afternoon begins. Her friends begin to introduce themselves. "Olaf. Like the snowman," someone says, shaking my sweaty hand. Everyone speaks English, and they do, for my sake and the sake of Olaf's girlfriend, who doesn't speak much Swedish, though she can understand it.
"Everyone knows the monkey, but the monkey knows no one." I look at Sara and her friend, Emma, after they say this. "It's a Swedish saying."
"You mean, me? I'm the monkey?" I say.
And conversation and introductions continue. "English, please!" Sara will say when the conversation turns back to Swedish. But I don't mind. I tell them I am happy to make up in my imagination what they are saying to one another.
Topics of conversation during the day are like those I would have with friends at home:
- Trump. "He's a fucking fuckwad."
- The high price of rent.
- Places to go on holiday. "Go to Iceland. Go to Prague."
- Trends. "We want to be like Brooklyn."
- And, finally, Brexit.
Snaps are soon handed round. We hold up our tiny plastic shot glasses and a song commences. By the end of the night, I will have heard (but not learned) at least five Swedish drinking songs. Sara tells me they are mostly nonsensical. Snaps "shots" will happen continuously over the course of the day and well into the evening. Snap choices on hand include: rhubarb, elderflower, and chili. Each flavor is unique.
After cake and strawberries, we take our beers and head out to a nearby park. The park is not deserted. Other likeminded Swedes are here, grilling and lounging on the lawn. Small children strip nude and go into the water. Soon our group has sprawled out on picnic blankets, drinking beer and listening to one of Sara's playlists that include Swedish 80's tunes (think Kenny Rogers), Rhye, Belle and Sebastian, and the like.
Our lingering park excursion ends and we get onto a mostly empty city bus to head to the other side of this island (Stockholm is made up of many islands) to Sara's similarly stylish and well put apartment. Her back patio spills out into an inner courtyard for residents with a grill and long table where we will take a potluck feast and have more snaps and beer and wine. Salmon, bread and cheese, green salads, and for dessert: homemade cheesecake. There is coffee, tea, and more alcohol. It's a delight and a treat to be partaking in this feast on my second day in the city. After dessert comes...
Candy. Like these skull candies.
"Erin, Erin! You have to try these," someone encourages, pushing a full bowl of various candies in my direction. I pick up a large red and black skull and take a bite. Raspberry and Licorice flavor. Licorice, I am to discover, is one of the most favored candies in Scandinavia. In particular, it is salted licorice that reigns supreme.
Selecting bulk candy from various bins at the store is a popular option. Though I don't know for sure, various websites I explore on this topic seem to agree: Swedes are some of the world's highest consumers of sweet confections.
"Music quiz." Someone else pips up. And so we are divided into three teams and the first team to guess the song or the band after listening to a few seconds of music wins a point. The theme: "90's music." And plenty of the musical selections are American. I am amazed at the quick timing and accuracy of everyone (I couldn't even. If it was a Film Quiz, perhaps I would have been of some use).
By 1:00 a.m. I am heading to the nearest subway station with Emma. We both go to the Green Line, yet we are heading in opposite directions.
By 1:30 a.m. I find my way back to the Air BnB apartment in Farsta, almost in a stupor of wonder, at my midsommer's eve experience.
*Names are changed to protect the privacy of the individual.
**Except for Olaf.