There is an episode of "Star Trek" where Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock meet the Klingons to fight over what appears to be a peaceful planet of humanoids. At the end, the peaceful beings all disappear in a massive flash of light, leaving Kirk, Spock and their Klingon adversary to wonder what the hell just happened.
That is Sweden in July. The Swedes just disappear. Utilities and transport run, shops and restaurants are open accommodating throngs of tourists, supply chains operate with typical efficiency, but no real business is done. At all.
Of course, this is not unprecedented in Europe. The French, Spanish and Italians all disappear to the beaches in August. Tourists be damned.
In Sweden, tourists are accommodated, but corporate commerce stops. As an American working in Sweden for the first time in 2005 (for Gallaher, a UK company), I found out that every single person in the company was off for at least three weeks, and that the office would be closed in July, and then I was asked by colleagues what I would do during the break ("what break?"). The competitors were also shut down.
I'd never had four weeks off before. In a row. Forecasts were in, the cigarette warehouses were stocked, the snus factory was still operating, as was Swedish Match Distribution. I called my boss and said "the office is closed, and there's nothing to do." He said "go home," so I did.
I called my managers a few times, but they were always on a beach or a boat somewhere, with kids in the background. I called the Stockholm office, and the head of HR picked up once. In an office of 50, she was the only one there, and she was doing personal research on the Internet. Fine. "Let me know if anything comes up" was the message to all. I'll fly over in a minute if need be.
Following Gallaher, I worked in Scandinavia with the folks at Nordic American, and they found it uncanny that the Taboca distributor in Gothenburg was closed for four weeks. Not only was he closed, but he was out on his boat. Office closed. No phone access. No July business meetings. "You gotta believe" I told the boss. I went home again.
WHERE DO THEY GO?
South. It seems almost every Swede I spoke with has a cottage by the sea in the south of Sweden. Those who don't go south go to the beaches of the Mediterranean or west to the USA which they love to death. The pretentious beautiful people who haunt Stockholm's Sparkly Stureplan Square year-round relocate to Visby, the main city on the island of Gotland, and party in the midnight sun.
I found that the Danes and the Norwegians also consider July as the month to take the bulk of their vacation time, but, the Norwegians especially are gradually realizing that one cannot simply disappear for 4 weeks in a global economy, and the ones I know from business tend now to take less time in the summer, and more over Christmas and New Year's.
IT'S A GOOD THING
Working in Sweden was akin to having a proper school-like summer vacation as an adult. The heart beats slower, the cell barely rings. As an American executive, I actually felt guilty taking breaks like that. But, it's ingrained in Sweden, and I know from experience that it focuses the executive on the last two quarters of the year (plus subsequent year planning) with far better acuity than a full working summer would do.
In any case, Happy Midsummer, Sweden. And watch out for the frogs!
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