The north of Sweden has two seasons: winter and mosquitos. As winter drags on, northerners are open to the idea of warmth and pampering. Us Swedes love our saunas, and so it’s no surprise we’ve also embraced the more modern concept of spas. We believe that going from being very cold to being very hot is a good thing, the ideal situation being a barefooted dash between a dry sauna and a drift of snow, preferably while tanked up on ‘starköl’ (strong beer). Spas, however, have brought out our more sophisticated side. Gone is the beer – visit a modern Swedish spa and you’re more likely to be served herbal tea. The hot and cold are still there, although the drifts of snow have been replaced with the more easily controlled plunge pool (considerably less frozen deer poo in these, because it’s good for business).

Last Christmas, I visited one of these spas, which turned out to be a thoroughly Swedish experience. I went on one of the ‘middle days’ between Christmas and New Year, as the venue advertised a ‘middle day’ discount. Sadly, the day of my visit turned out not to be the correct middle day, and so there was no discount. I felt this was a confusing and slightly misleading campaign, but this is Sweden and so my mentioning of said feelings fell on deaf ears. Swedes follow rules; this was the rule. And why would I talk about my feelings?

Having paid full price, the spa itself didn’t disappoint. There is something very special about sitting in an outdoor pool, surrounded by snow. However, as I floated blissfully about, I witnessed the devastating consequence of this modernisation of traditions. Hovering above the surface, woken from deep slumber by the balmy water and ready to pounce, was one bloodthirsty mosquito.

Maria Smedstad moved to the UK from Sweden in 1994. She received a degree in Illustration in 2001, before settling in the capital as a freelance cartoonist, creating the autobiographical cartoon Em. Maria writes a column on the trials and tribulations of life as a Swede in the UK.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Scan Magazine.

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