No it’s not some Swedish disease I have caught, I merely went blue berry picking. And simultaneously got eaten alive by mosquitoes. Another one of these little occurrences that I have partaken in a few times since moving to Sweden (the blue berry picking I mean. Actually, now I say that, also the mosquito feeding.) I no longer think of this activity as Swedish, but as I sat here tonight trying to decide if I wanted blue berries badly enough to face the mosquitoes, I realised I had never picked blue berries before moving here, and I will never pick blue berries in NZ.
Blueberry (Genus Vaccinium) season in Sweden is typically from July to September, and after seeing some ripe berries in the weekend, I decided now was a good time to go to our nearest forest, Ursvik, and see if there were any there ripe for the taking.
My first year in Sweden, I had a running buddy, and on some days when we ran in the forest, we would bring a little container with us, so afterwards we could pick blue berries. I always suffered from that peculiar child-like habit of one for the bucket, one for me, one for the bucket, one for me. I haven’t changed (it’s also not unusual that when my work colleagues stop by my office at lunch time, I have already eaten all of my lunch). Picking blue berries stains your fingers red, giving you an interesting blue-purplish tinge for the next day (mine are looking oxygen deficient-blue as I type this). So, whether to cure my fingers of their odd colouring, or to simply encourage me to pick more berries (these things are yummy in crepes as a weekend morning treat, and if you wash and dry them, they can be frozen for ages), dear Mr M purchased a berry picker for “us”. At the end of the season. Where it stayed for a whole year before getting one outing last year. And it performed miserably compared to my friends old school, rusty-looking berry picker.
It likes to pick leaves off the berry plants, and some twigs. It snagged the odd ant and occasionally a spider, and tonight I even saw mosquitoes hovering around it. But I’ll be darned if this thing is as good as me at picking berries. Nonetheless, tonight I took it along, for the ride as it turned out. The berries are starting to come out but the patches weren’t thick enough with berries to warrant the drama involved in attempting to use the berry picker. So I was the berry picker. I was also the weird looking chick with far too many clothes on for the weather, who kept slapping herself all over as she hunched down on the forest floor. Not to worry, Swedes could tell what I was doing – picking berries and killing mozzies (oh yes, that explains the itchy lumps I mentioned, but I really don’t think a photo is necessary. Needless to say, I have horrible reactions to the saliva those miserable buzzers inject into me as they steal my blood, and puff up like a balloon in the bitten area. I have also slathered them in witch hazel, a recommended treatment for the swelling, if not the itching).
So it puzzles me somewhat to know that people from other countries, such as Thailand and Poland, who flock to Sweden over the summer months to pick blue berries to earn extra cash, are often mistreated. They are coming from countries where they (comparatively) don’t earn a lot, and here is an opportunity to make some extra money, which is probably much needed. Most Swedes don’t work as blue berry pickers, but they do like to eat blue berries. However, many of these people seeking to be paid for some darn hard work, are mistreated e.g., paid low salaries, or not paid at all. Unfortunately, it tends to be those who don’t have a work permit, so are here working illegally, and aren’t really in a position to complain. Still, I find it pretty awful that people who are willing to work hard (and get eaten by mosquitoes) are treated in such a way.
And I know it’s hard work. My 40 minute effort resulted in about 20 mosquito bites, and I have to say, a poor showing in terms of how many berries I picked.