Expat Focus: Tattoos & Abba

Tattoos and Abba – not two words you’d normally would – or should – hear together but they pretty much sum up my Swedish summer, which came to a screeching halt in mid-August when everyone returned from holiday and the autumn weather slowly started creeping in.

Let’s start with the tattoos: in between working a lot this summer I took my boys on a two-day jaunt to Scandinavia’s largest water park, Skara Sommarland. Or, as we like to call it, TattooLand.

Located about four hours west of Stockholm in the middle of pretty much nowhere, Skara Sommarland is enormous fun, featuring not just plenty of dangerous water slides (where I had a brush with the Grim Reaper) but also zip lines, a small fun fair, alarmingly treacherous go-kart tracks, and the obligatory gruesome theme park food. The kids, naturally, loved it.

I’ll confess right here that I’m not the biggest fan of tattoos but I’ve been rethinking my stance after seeing two, three, even four generations of families wandering about this water park wearing little more than some of the most ambitious body art I’ve ever laid eyes on.

The middle-aged man sporting two large handgun tattoos on his stomach – with both pointing directly towards his manhood? An absolute showstopper. Grandma with giant pink bows inked across her bum? I was mesmerised. Every other person having Carpe diem etched across a shoulder, forearm or thigh (or sometimes all three)? I looked at the kids and said ‘Let us embrace this moment’. A tad trashy it may have been but I am now absolutely certain that neither of my children will ever cross the threshold of a tattoo parlour.

As far as I know none of the members of Abba have tattoos but then again, when blinded not just by their soaring harmonies but also by their outfits I’m not sure anyone would ever have noticed any stray ink peaking out of a glittery vest or mini-dress.

I was fortunate enough to attend a fabulous weekend event in the harbour town of Vaxholm, just under an hour from Stockholm and home to the Fortress (Kastellet), which was built in the 16th century and used to repel unwelcome invaders. It was at the Fortress that I had the Abba moment to end all Abba moments and I’m quite sure some ghosts of invaders past were aching to rise up and chuck the lot of us out.

The theme for one of the weekend’s events was Abba/70s, meaning everyone was invited to dress up as their favourite Abba member (or, as one gentlemen did, their manager Stig Andersson), or in general 70s attire.

There were plenty of Agnetha’s to go around, a few Benny’s and Björn’s, possibly one or two Anni Frid’s and then a bunch of incredibly unhip middle-aged folks toddling around on their finest platforms whilst balancing giant Afros on their heads. All very well and silly and of course there were roars of laughter as we gathered together but once drinks were served and mingling began most of us fell back into ‘So what do you do for a living?’ mode.

We were seated for dinner and the grownup chitchat continued but just as we finished the first course the dulcet tones of Agnetha and Anni Frid suddenly wafted through the room. Staring at one another in amazement we craned our collective heads to see where these fabulous sounds were coming from. It turned out they were coming from Sweden’s most famous blonde and brunette, Agnetha and Anni Frid.

Ok, it wasn’t actually Agnetha and Anni Frid (Agnetha doesn’t do public these days and Anni Frid is too busy being a fabulous Princess) but it was their doppelgänger’s: Sweden’s number one Abba tribute band, Super Trouper – and as they launched into their act the crowd went absolutely wild.

And here’s the thing: everyone knows that if you haven’t learned each and every Abba lyric and dance move before reaching the age of majority your Swedish citizenship is revoked and you’re sent away to try again. So it was no surprise that the Swedes were absolutely on point in this area.

But this was an international crowd and what was surprising was that pretty much every person there, irrelevant of their nationality, matched the Swedes harmony for soaring harmony, hip sway for groovy hip sway.

So as Super Trouper ran through the many hits of Sweden’s unofficial national band the excitement grew, shouts of encore! abounded and in the end, when they did their final song (can you guess what it was?) you had 100+ people who normally go about in business wear now on their feet, shaking their booties and shouting into one another’s faces the unforgettable lyrics of – you guessed it – Dancing Queen.

And that, my friends, is why the summer of 2014 will always be, to me, memories of Abba and tattoos.

Glad Sommar!

 

Expat Focus Columnist

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