Lonely summer in Stockholm

Parking on the street? Check. A seat on the subway? Check. Empty tables at outdoor cafes? Check. Uhh … what is going on?

Empty subway platforms during rush hour

In a country where a generous six weeks of vacation is the norm, it is only natural to assume that there will be times at which the city feels empty. But here in Stockholm, it seems the Swedes all schemed to choose the same month to go on vacation and leave the city’s restaurants and shops shuttered. July was that such month, where the city’s inhabitants, having shucked off their winter coats and saved up their holiday time, all left. Perhaps 40 percent of the shops on my street closed. Rush hour looked more like nap hour. And my office felt like a graveyard, save for the few of us stuck there desperately dreaming of ways to pass the time.

I have enjoyed the city’s emptiness. There are tons of perks and Mondays feel like Sundays. But try to get anything done in summer and you’re going to be s#&% out of luck. Looking for a job? Forget it. Waiting to hear if you got into graduate school? Sorry. Need to see the chiropractor for a neck injury? He’s at the beach!

In America, where your number of vacation days is similar to what you would take off to battle a severe flu, we are experts at portioning out our holiday time to relieve us from the doldrums of each intense season (Blinding snow? Hello Caribbean. Blistering heat? Oh hello London).

But these Swedes are a hearty bunch. They battle through the arctic temperatures and depression-inducing darkness, and save up the days for summer, the time of year that turns Stockholm into an outdoor paradise. Then they motor off to their summer homes in the archipelago to enjoy an uninterrupted month (or more) with family and friends. And it is all done without a hint of remorse or concern that things still need to be done. It is such a part of the culture that only the government would have the power to alter this practice. And they won’t do anything about it; the prime minister is on vacation.

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