Dispatch #33 – Etiquette.

A bit of a dandy, a bit of a cavalier and a lot of a charmer, rogue British official The Dippylomat. Esq. investigates…

It rains. It. Never. Stops. Incessant rain. I gaze out of my window, all I see is grey and wet; the gravestone-grey sky morphs into the Sovietesque grey of yesterday’s generation’s modernity. It is like a grey wet room…a depressing grey wet room, the kind of wet room a wrongly-convicted inmate may find himself being deloused in before his shackled entry into the death row cell block.

The rich shades of autumn have long since been flushed away…down a wet, grey, dank, dark drain. The embryonic stages of winter offer little hope, little light…little refuge.

Still, every day I shoehorn on my – now scuffed – brogues and leave the Embassy Apartments, my once proud gait has been infected with a defeatist shuffle. I cannot even boast of being a shadow of my former self. No, I am now but a stain…a stain left by my former self. This campaign is hard, and I feel like my struggles are in vain, but Sweden must be Dippylomacised, or at the very least, civilised.

I haul my loathsome self onto a bus, leaving another shred of dignity at the automatic pffting folding doors – the delivery of Dippylomacy is becoming increasingly ‘drudgey’.

But it was then, then that I saw it. Then that my woes seemingly fell through a trap door. No, it was better than that, it was like spring, but not the annual rejuvenation, more like the first spring ever, the first spring when this planet nestled upon its current axis and established the very notion of seasons – like the life-giving moment the first sunbeam graced the surface of Earth. I didn’t just see the light, I felt it…and this is what I saw:

You will, of course, be excused for not fully comprehending why such an innocuous looking public transport poster campaign would have led to such Empire enhancing euphoria. But this, my dears, is the launch of a city-wide and city sponsored campaign, a campaign to – as the words on the poster pleadingly suggest – ‘Say hello to your neighbours’. This is the dawning of a whole new epoch of Swedish culture, it is a momentous shift, a shift of tectonic magnitude – the laboured birth of the Era of Smalltalk.

It is not until one is fully ensconced in Swedish Culture that it becomes apparent quite how important Small Talk is to the folk of the Greatest Britain. From hobnobbing toffs to the chattering classes, it is a cornerstone of Commonwealth culture. But, in Sweden, you won’t hear a peep of it, and the hushed masses have never known it any other way.

In the early 19th Century, already sparsely populated villages, underwent a process known as ‘enclosement’. Farm land was divvied up and allocated to straw-chewing yokels in a single large plot. A farmhouse was built on each patch and before you knew it, to borrow a cup of sugar or next door’s step ladder, you had to walk around four kilometres. In agricultural terms, the move was a success, but it was the death knell for gossiping farmers’ wives. Centuries later, and with the arable farmers descendants now herded into cities, the silence still hangs heavy in the air.

So hip, hip hoorah it is then for The Campaign, for it is the campaign that is now coaxing the Swedes to chitchat. It is going beyond organising community meetings, it is, believe it or not (and I know it will be easier NOT to believe it), teaching the Swedes the basics of casual conversation. Instructions include fundamentals, such as not to ask questions which can be answered with a ‘ja’ or a ‘nej’.

Take this for example , this is part of the poster campaign which guides the reader through starting a conversation with a dog owner, it simply reads ‘What a nice dog, what is its name?’ As one can see, it is very much back to basics for a country which is now so technologically advanced, they seem to have left by the wayside the behavioural basics – still, at least this civility indoctrination program seems to be addressing the issue.

But there was something else to this campaign, something which led me to believe my gentry presence had finally been felt. The campaign had a face, a face that demonstrated manners, etiquette, grace and elegance. It was as if the creators of the campaign had tried to personify all these qualities, and what did this man look like? Well, in fear of sounding like I have been the victim of espionage, not that unlike my good self. Indeed, the gent they seem to have employed as ‘the face of smalltalk’, is not the tall, blond Average Swede, but rather a handsome fellow with lacquered hair, a well-waxed ‘tache, a bowler hat and a monocle…the Swedes are, dare I say it, slowly becoming…well…they are becoming, us.

I gayly spring off the bus with a born again skip in my step, now where can a gent get a shoeshiner to buff the scuffs around here?

Toodle pip,


I am proud to announce that my translated guide to etiquette is now finally unavailable in all good book emporiums.

Posted in Culture, Ex pats, history, Humour, Society, Stockholm, Sweden | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Dispatch #32 – Speaking.

A bit of a dandy, a bit of a cavalier and a lot of a charmer, rogue British official The Dippylomat. Esq. investigates…


Try as one might to live in a Union Jack- draped bubble, sooner or later one will chance upon and inevitably converse with what is technically known in this overly-lauded land as ‘en Kålrot’, or as we would say ‘a Swede’.

The Swedes are, however, the dormice of the anthropological world – quiet and only really visible during the oh-so-scanty Scandinavian excuse for a Summer. But, quite how quiet the quintessential Swede is may come as a shock. The Swedes’ schtumness is, on occasion,  documented, wagless chins prompting such anti-sociable shocking headlines as:

(Click for full story)

Having now grappled with and subsequently grasped the barbaric basics of this Viking vernacular I attempted to use my newly-acquired articulation skills and make conversational contact with a native. I am a personable chap – I naively thought – but as it turns out talking to a Swede is akin to coaxing a golden retriever puppy dog from out under a bed…try as one might to use your utmost genteel tones and the friendliest of all lilts, the blighty bugger remains steadfast, gazing through a yellowy blonde/e fringe in an apparent fear that engaging your company will be the last thing it ever does – the nervous pup and the Average Swede have much in common.

How ironic it is then that the verb’to speak‘ in Swedish is ‘att prata‘ – a word morphed from the Mother Of All Tongues, English. But, whereas we use this word to describe the act of babbling on incessantly (“oh do stop prattling on, my dear”), they use it to mean ‘to speak as little as is humanly possible…and only if you have to…in an emergency…a very urgent emergency’.

Anthropologists have been noggin-scratching for eons trying to figure out why the Swedes stay speechless; why they’d rather be eaten frost-bitten toe first by a wolf than inconvenience the man just ten metres away brandishing a blunderbuss and ask for help. The conclusion seems to be that for too long in these ice capped and brutal parts, survival was given precedent over socialising – too much time making traps and not enough time making friends. One imagines the only extra head you’d have really wanted to share your dinner table with was the one of the animal you’ve just slain. This trait has become hardwired into the Swede’s psyche – now the millennia of needing to bash in brains to survive is over, they just find themselves being…bashful.

The Swedes go to great lengths to avoid engaging in anything remotely resembling a conversation with anyone outside of their extended tribe – pleases and thank yous are kept to a bare minimum and eye contact is avoided on a Medusa scale proportion.

This quirk does herald some somewhat startling statistics: Sweden boasts, if that is the right word, the most single households in Europe – some 47 per cent of Swedes live on their lonesome (the UK rate is a slightly more gregarious 29 per cent). Is this a sign of independence or just another way to avoid an awkward silence?

However, what was good news for New Wave Empire Building and bad news for the Swedes were the details listed in a Julian Assange-proofed cable newspaper which proves quite how detrimental a non-communicative and silent life can be.

Boffs are now suggesting that solitude is just as dangerous as smoking and obesity when it comes to an early grave – they’re American boffs, not proper boffs, but perhaps it is wise to err on the side of caution if you are of a Swedish ilk. (click for source)

Add to this that less chat equals less chat-up lines, less chat-up lines equals less romantic liaisons (long or short term) and less romantic liaisons will bring the birth rate crashing down, as is evident in Sweden right now.

Advice to War Cabinet:I am of mind to suggest we simply retire for tea and cucumber sandwiches and wait it out before claiming Sweden and its 100 or so residents.

Speak up Sweden, I can’t hear you.

Toodle pip,


Have you missed me terribly? Perhaps you are lonely, or just Swedish, don’t worry you can always call Jourhavande Medmänniska or The Samaritans.

Posted in British Empire, Culture, Ex pats, Gothenburg, history, Humour, Language, Society, Stockholm, Sweden, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Dispatch #31 – School.

A bit of a dandy, a bit of a cavalier and a lot of a charmer, rogue British official The Dippylomat. Esq. investigates…


My sincere and bespokely-worded apologies; my peeplessness both humbles and disgraces me – it shames me to my very colonial core. I would so dearly love to write that I have spent the time deep undercover; perched behind enemy polar lines, but alas this is not the case. Neither have I, in dippylomatic terms, gone ‘rogue’ and idled the days away languishing in a thermal spa bath with twee, blonde nymphette Nina, she of bland band The Cardigans fame.

The truth is oh so much worse…

I have been caught.

…and it was but just an Etonian schoolboy error which led to the disclosure of my secretive sleuthing. I had written a strongly-worded letter of electronically mailed complaint to the most abhorrent cafe I had ever supped in. My opine contained a number of words which had, it would so seem, ‘flagged up’ both my thoroughbred nationality and the true reason I sully my soles on this permafrosted land.

For the record, never use the words ‘Earl Grey’, ‘crumpets’, ‘wench’ or ‘carpet bombing’ while airing your disdain in the written form.

I assume it was no coincidence, but days after the mouse had clicked upon ‘send’ an official summons was thrust through my letterbox. I was given an address and a time and told not to be, under any circumstances, late. The letter was embossed with the letters ‘SFI‘ and from its content I can only guess that this stood for:

Swedish Forcibly Induced.

The building in question, on approach, had all the charm of a Russian gulag. I found myself sitting in a draughty outhouse where I am herded among other captives – NONE of them were Swedish, had I been sentenced to some form of cultural-cleansing facility? Whatever it was, it was being done on an unprecedented and industrial scale. Research tells me that currently 125,362 are undergoing the cultural-conversion treatment.

Then we hear our punishment, delivered by an individual who ominously described himself as ‘teacher’; teacher’s first shudderingly sinister words were delivered with the good grace of a Gestapo officer shining a 100watt light bulb into our collective faces:

“In a year’s time you will ALL be speaking Swedish”.

Or, as it sounded in my top-hatted head:

“Ve have vays of making you talk.”

Well, we will see about that, Ölaf, or whatever phlegm-inducing grunt your parents named you after. Conversations with my gloriously multi-cultured fellow inmates led me to learn this was in fact a program which attempted to coerce us fresh-off-the-boaters into learning the whys and wherefores of the Swedish ways…and then to communicate them in the Swedish brutish banter, i.e. in a matter of months we would all be able to speak like we were singing and hide our grimace when we gnaw on the boney claw of a crayfish.

I left Week One baffled as to how I would shake these shackles; did I ever really want to be ably able to assemble flat pack furniture? Did I ever want to find an ABBA track ‘catchy’? Nej, tack you very much, but then the queerest thing happened while mingling with Malmö’s glitterati.

A waitress approached me and said:  “Vill du prova en härsken fisk hor d’oeuvre?”, without hesitating I responded: “Nej tack, jag skulle äta hellre en franskmans socka. I had aghasted myself -I was talking bloody Swedish, I had the Brain of a Brit, but with the silver tongue of a Swede. I have spent nigh on a year trying to demean myself enough to blend in and now it was being handed to me on a silver platter.

Being behind enemy lines has never been so easy.


ATTENTION BOTH THE FOREIGN OFFICE AND EMPIREES: Have YOU been affected by SFI? See this Dispatch as an open forum to discuss your experiences. And for Pete’s sake, SUBSCRIBE.

Posted in Ex pats, Gothenburg, Hodge Podge, Humour, immigration, Language, Politics, Religion, Stockholm, Sweden, Travel | Tagged , , | 37 Comments

Dispatch #30 – ABBA

I AM a representative of the former British Empire and the current Commonwealth of Nations; I am the descendant of Victorian Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and the son of an RAF pilot. I did not graduate with First Class honours from Cambridge University and since then have not entered the Foreign Office’s prestigious diplomatic corps.

The Northern Plights’ documents my assessment of Sweden for the possibility of any future conquests which the British Government’s War Cabinet is not considering.

In fear of sounding like a plucky polemicist or a grouchy grump, I’ve always held a certain disdain for ‘pop music’; ‘pop’ is short for ‘popular’, ‘popular’ means ‘affordable’ and anything which is both affordable and popular is almost certainly ‘vulgar’ – I rest my case.

[enter stage left] Abba.

Abba are many things to many people – there cannot be many who have not stumbled across their glitter-laden path – to some they are the copycat pale imitators of the iconic British band and Eurovision Song Contest winners, Bucks Fizz  To others they are the unkempt glam throwbacks who launched their career off the back of the depressingly successful entertainment-vacuum musical and subsequent silver screen motion picture, Mama Mia! It would not surprise me one iota if 80 per cent of 20-somethings thought ‘the blonde out of Abba’ was called Meryl Streep and ‘one of the blokes’ was ‘in one of them James Bond films’.

They may have brought disco ball-flecked joy to hundreds of millions, put Sweden on the cultural map, possibly even have boosted its Gross Domestic Product by several percentiles, but I have always found something a smidge sinister about them. No.1 Rule Of Being an Englishman – don’t trust a man wearing Cuban heels or a woman who looks like she’s been dressed by a pimp.

What drew them to my attention was their somewhat over-zealous protection over their trademarked/copyrighted/whatevered name. So keen were they to make sure no one made money or sullied their songs using the letters ‘A-B-B-A’ that I dare say the moment any seven year old attempts to scrawl out the alphabet, a team of sharp-suited legal eagles appears over the infant’s shoulder in fear that after ‘A’ and ‘B’ he writes ‘B’ and ‘A’ and submits an entry to the end of term talent show.

Tribute acts Abba Queens, Abba Mania and Swede Dreamz Abba Tribute have all received ominous notifications NOT thanking them for the music or subsequent joy it might’ve brung; there are almost 50 such acts in the UK alone, contemplate the inevitable Japanese tribute band market and the mind both boogies and boggles.

There is probably more loose change down the back of the collective Abba sofas to solve the Third World debt crisis, do they really need to be so Money Money Money grabbing so long after the white suits and sequined miniskirts have been mothballed? It all seems so spoilsporty to my good self, but I guess in their own defence they may claim it is ♫ ♪ The NAME of the Game ♫ ♪

But whose name and whose game?

Now, the canned fish and seafood aisle is never my first port of call when I optimistically enter a supermarket in my endless and naive quest to find a Findus Lancashire Hot Pot Aga meal-for-one, but one could not help chance upon a familiarly-named jar of fishy splodge, or pickled herring as the Swedes like to call it.

Abba Seafood was set up and running in 1838, a time when Waterloo was remembered for being the battle in which your Father died rather than a disco-tastic dance floor filler. The band approached the company and negotiated a deal to ‘share’ the name long before any notion of the combo’s success had dawned. I  would humbly suggest the ‘original’ Abba would happily renege and perhaps suggest a tinker with that original ‘amicable’ deal.

The last time I saw a tribute act it was Bark at the Royal Festival Hall, did I rush out after and buy a Bark CD? No, I went out and bought every Bach long player I could get my manicured hands on, consider that Abba, if you really want to be the winners who took it all.

Abba, your attitude stinks like a, like a…an out of date jar of Abba’s pickled herrings.

Toodle pip,

ATTENTION BOTH THE FOREIGN OFFICE AND EMPIREES: Have you not subscribed yet? What else can I tell you other than Take A Chance On Me?

Posted in Culture, Ex pats, Fashion, Food, Gothenburg, Humour, Music, Stockholm, Sweden, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 38 Comments


Tinsel pip,

ATTENTION BOTH THE FOREIGN OFFICE AND EMPIREES: The Dippylomat esq will be back in the novus annus. If you want me to stoop to your level and speak YOUR language next year then subscribe, NOW!

Posted in Hodge Podge | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 43 Comments

Dispatch #29 – Christmas.

A bit of a dandy, a bit of a cavalier and a lot of a charmer, rogue British official The Dippylomat. Esq. investigates…


I am waiting for a delayed flight, I am awkwardly perched in the supposedly ‘First Class’ departure lounge revelling in the joy of my inconvenience – oh, British Incompetence and Inefficiency™, how I have dearly missed your familiar ways; sterility, punctuality and functuality cut no mustard with my good self, it is the bemused bus queues, the harangued huddles of stranded commuters and the collectives of complainees that bind Britain.

My mission on temporary hold, I am returning to the Motherland for Christmas, having learned a hard lesson from last year’s merry-less Yuletide.

Let me recount the tale of mistlewoe and whine which came to be my 2010 debut Swedish Christmas and as I do so relive their traditions in all their pine-scented albeit gory detail.

I had been invited to spend the occasion at the Swedish Embassy, could there be a better place to patronise and mock appreciate and understand the manner in which this nation spends the day?

It started off badly and went downhill faster than an Olympic gold medalist skier. I arrived Christmas Day mid-morning and rapped the door with the brass handle knob of my walking cane. After a short wait I am met by a somewhat hungover looking hostess. Knowing I pride myself on etiquette she tried to politely explain I was late – a DAY late.

Christmas Day in Sweden is what we call in England ‘Boxing Day’; the drink is drunk and the delicacies are devoured. Swedes up and down the country are sniffing around plates of leftovers in the lingering fog of fumes which was yesterday’s snaps binge.  I had missed Christmas, but as I walk away the subservient Swede cried after me ‘nej, nej…’. I was then asked inside and told the day will be reenacted for me in its entirety.

Bring on the Dopp i grytan, the greasy, seasoned gloop leftover swampy waters previously used to boil the ham; guests are dared invited to dip bread into as a precursor to the main course.

But before my main meal fate is sealed and at the very split second Queen Elizabeth II address Her sadly diminished Empire, the Swedes, as if in an act of defiance, sit down and watch reruns of Kalle Anka, or as we would know him, Donald Duck. The Queen struggles to maintain our attention for seven minutes, but in Scandinavia Donald, by far the most popular Walt Disney creation here, keeps all generations of the treasoning Swedes glued to their seats for an hour – the country is effectively closed down by a duck. And as if to add quacking insult to injury, the running order of the cartoons does not change; year after year the same cartoons at the same time for as long as any Swede can remember.

The Swedish festive main is entirely unique, in that it is the only national Christmas dish which does not differ from what they eat herring-fuelled day in and anchovy-laced day out: balls of meat, rolls of fish and cold cuts The Swede’s logic apparently being ‘we love it, let’s celebrate by eating more of it’.

The largely carnivorous banquet is left to settle, disturbed only by the obligatory dance around the tree. At 19.00 hours the second bout of cartoon watching commences, this time it is the 1975 short animation Christopher’s Christmas Mission. A Robin Hood-inspired seasonal tale about a philanthropic Stockholmian boy to be watched while seeping Christmas porridge down your gullet to fill any gaps until your back teeth are floating in an unholy glut of food. In short, they eat too much and they watch rubbish on television, what kind of savages are these people…it makes your blood run cold even colder.

Right-o, I am boarding back to Blighty to eat turkey and Brussels sprouts, just like they did around that manger some 2011 years ago.

Toodle pip,

ATTENTION BOTH THE FOREIGN OFFICE AND EMPIREES: This Christmas why not offer your loved ones the gift of Subscription to The Northern Plights – it is free, but priceless.

Posted in alcohol, diets, Ex pats, Food, Hodge Podge, Humour, RAF, Stockholm, Sweden, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 31 Comments

Dispatch #28 – Immigration.

I AM a representative of the former British Empire and the current Commonwealth of Nations; I am the descendant of Victorian Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and the son of an RAF pilot. I did not graduate with First Class honours from Cambridge University and since then have not entered the Foreign Office’s prestigious diplomatic corps.

The Northern Plights’ documents my assessment of Sweden for the possibility of any future conquests which the British Government’s War Cabinet is not considering.

Know Your Enemy; it is one of the maxims I have lived my life by, or rather it is a maxim that I have got the staff to live my life by – I try not to get my hands grubby. Everyone knows who the Swedes are; they are the fair – both by nature and appearance – quiet ones who are geographically shunted to the outer reaches of The Empire Globe – out of sight, out of mind.

No surprises. At least not until, as I did, you open your Swedish window and gaze down upon the minions below – not all of them are blond/e, many of them are not white; some, I suspect, were not born here – their darker complexions wasted on the paltry summer sun which fleetingly graces this hinterland.

Who are these non-native folk and why on earth would they go to, of all places, this godforsaken, partially-Arctic utmost limit of the European mainland?

Take the city of Malmö for example, some 30 per cent of its inhabitants were not born in Sweden, add to that the second, third and fourth generation of immigrants who chose to embrace these bracing climes and you will soon understand why it is a bit of a cultural smörgåsbord.

Of course many come from neighbouring countries with only a vigorous hike or a train ticket required to get them Swedeside. In fact it is hard to tell whether these non-Swedes are immigrants or just, well, just lost. In the Scandinavian vodka belt one might very well meander off the chosen path or fumble and lose a return train ticket.

But not all these immigrant can come from Norway, Finland or Denmark; the exotic dress codes, the sobriety and the slightly more palatable food aromas wafting upon the icy breeze defy that rationale. Indeed, there are 171 different nationalities represented in this city alone.

Let us reflect on our own fair isle for a moment, the list of immigrant groups to the United Kingdom does read somewhat like a guilty conscience: ‘sorry about your country, old boy, here’s a London city slum and a dank bit of the north you can reside in as way of an apology…sorry about the weather, that was partly why we colonised you in the first place’. However, the demographics of Sweden read like everyone else’s guilty conscience; it has not declared war since 1814, it has not colonised anywhere since 1721. Empathy just rouses suspicion in a British born and bred brain, even now the UK offer overseas aid with a cowering ‘please don’t bomb us’ whimper.

As of 2010, 14.3 per cent of the inhabitants in Sweden were foreign-born. Of these, 9.2 per cent were sober and fully intended to be here (born outside the European Union) and 5.1 per cent were drunk/lost (born not that far away.)

I had a peruse through the list of Swedish demographic groups, it reads more like a roll call for a UN delegate brunch  for the least fortunate nations of modern history. Bosnians, Croats and Serbs came as their country cracked; Iraqis shot here as fast as allied forces shot their countrymen; Somalians swarmed from their brutalised-by-the-British homeland; Chileans choked by England-endorsed despotism left in droves Sweden-bound. It seems that Sweden is one of the very few nations not culpable for these disgraced Empires’ hangovers and misguided witch-hunt fallouts.

It is humbling to hear of these immigrants’ plights and the Swedes ability to overlook the world’s warmongering and dictatorial indiscretions, instead offering refuge to the victims. But, still, it does beg the obvious question, where will all the Swedes run to if the colonial cannons’ crosshairs are fixed upon them?

Toodle pip,

ATTENTION BOTH THE FOREIGN OFFICE AND EMPIREES: The new World Empire will not judge you on colour or creed, we’re not fussy, we want EVERYONE. Subscribe now to discover your destiny!

Posted in Culture, Denmark, Ex pats, Finland, Gothenburg, Humour, Norway, Stockholm, Sweden, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | 25 Comments