Swedish Language Blog

Problems arising when picking berries in Sweden Posted by on Jul 31, 2012 in Culture, Living in Sweden

Right now the berry season is in full bloom. Many people pick berries around their summer cottages (sommar stugor) where a lot of older people live as well. I’m going to tell you about an incident which occurred not too long ago and even surprised me but which however seems to be pretty normal when you talk to people about it. I was out picking blueberries with my mother and suddenly I saw a very good spot with tons and tons of blueberries. I stopped and sat down to start picking while my mother walked on to take a path through the woods. I had picked for no more than five minutes before an old man and his wife came out from the opposite house and the man started walking over to my mother while his wife stood on their porch with her arms crossed looking angry. I didn’t hear what they said but I could guess that he was telling my mother off because after only a couple of seconds she walked back onto the main road and the man turned towards me. Since I was actually on somebody else’s property I knew all to well that this old nosy-body was going to tell me off. And sure enough, once he was within hearing distance he said 

“Du får inte vara här!”  Meaning “you are not allowed to be here!” I replied by acting as if I didn’t know that, ignoring the fact of how rude he had been, no saying hello or even smiling. This wasn’t even his property and he had rushed out as if he were the neighborhood police. The thing is, most of you have heard of the Swedish phenomenon allemansrätten ie. the right to walk anywhere as long as you don’t destroy anything or leave garbage. I should have been allowed to stay and pick even if it was on somebody else’s yard because I was doing no harm. The man however would not leave it alone. “Det här är privatmark, ni får inte plocka bär här!” “this is private property, you are not allowed to pick berries here!”. At that moment I didn’t feel like having a discussion so I didn’t bother, but people can get very protective and even really nasty when it comes to berries, the underlying principle being “rätt ska vara rätt!” translated as “things should be done the right way” or “rules are rules” maybe even. The fact of the matter is that there are more berries there than anybody ever picks, so it is just silly that people should get so worked up about other people picking their berries, and to rush out of their cottages patrolling the neighborhood just seems so unlike the Sweden I usually know, people being so outspoken and everything…

Does this surprise you about Swedish culture? Has this ever happened to you?


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  1. Jerry Nelson:

    In the western states, berry and mushroom picking are becoming ever more popular, but by “professional” pickers, people who do it just to sell at farmer’s markets and such. Much of the land is public land (we do not have allemansrätten, unfortunately) but that doe not stop these folks from “laying claim” to good huckleberry (vilda blåbär) patches and doing all sorts of tricks to keep people away, such as blocking roads or harassing you. This was rare when I was a child, there is plenty for everyone. I think it is because wild foods have become a popular commodity for those too lazy to go out and pick their own!

  2. Aleš:

    Well, what occured to you and your mother doesn’t sound fair and nice, as those two virtues actually are “in my book” when considering Swedish society.

    I have another story to share about blueberries that my mother just shared with me. In my birth town of Škofja Loka (Slovenia) this year due to the ground frost there were no fruits such as blueberries in the woods and cherries in orchards. They were practically impossible to get. But there was a woman that showed up in the city marketplace selling them for 18 eur per kilo (150 SEK). People actually paid that much. Well, later it showed up that berries were actually defrosted last years crop and ofcourse considered as a scam. It’s greedy and dishonest and nothing like the place where they were sold.

    So, when it comes to this old sport you actually have to be careful everywhere – tics in the woods sucking your blood or just stupid people taking benefits where they shouldn’t.

  3. Lee:

    This happened to me, but I think it was my fault. We were playing with a model airplane and running across a cultivated field, and I believe cultivated fields are excepted from allemansrätten.

    One reason people in the USA exclude strangers from their land is because here if people injure themselves on someone else’s land, the landowners may get sued even if the injury wasn’t their fault. A lawsuit here is very expensive even if you prevail. Even if you win, you lose.

    I wonder if this type of litigiousness might be coming to Sweden. If so, then it would not be surprising that landowners would discourage people from coming on to their land despite allemansrätten.

  4. Kranix:

    I live near Kiruna, can not find any berries so far…
    Is it possible that they will be here latter?
    And what about mushrooms ? I miss home made pickles…..

  5. Gabriella:

    Lee’s right: it’s because of the lawsuit-happy culture in the U.S. that public places and parks are very different in the U.S.: you see so many more fences around potentially dangerous sites here than in Europe! It’s as if we must be protected from ourselves.
    People sue McDonald’s for coffee that’s too hot; I’m afraid we’re raising people who don’t know how to take responsibility for anything. If they fall off a cliff, they blame everyone but themselves. People may no longer watch over their own children adequately. . .Well, that’s what I fear.
    Anyway, it creates a very different mindset from Europe to here.

  6. Senchaholic:

    Hmm…I can’t perfectly tell the lay of the land from your description, but it sounds to me that you were a little too close to the house though.

    Allemansrätten, right of public access, is mentioned in the law, but not defined. “Don’t disturb – don’t destroy” which you referred to. But there are some more guidelines which you missed.

    Going very near someones house to pick berries could be considered “bad manners”. It’s not my intent to make you feel bad and that you did something wrong, indeed it can be difficult to know what’s ok or not.

    It’s generally very common with foreigners who hear about allemansrätten and think they can do almost whatever. But the land owner still has rights. You’re allowed to camp on someones land, but to camp so as the land owner sees you is considered not ok. And it’s considered bad manners to camp more than one night, without asking for permission.

    I’d suggest you have a look in this folder:

    It’s a brochure about the right of public access.

  7. Senchaholic:

    Please find the main site here as well, without direct linking: http://www.naturvardsverket.se/allemansratten

  8. Senchaholic:

    Oh, sorry for post bombing, but I’d like to point out to Lee as well, that what you did is not considered ok. Crossing fields generally require permission, unless you can be absolutely sure that the farmer hasn’t planted anything.

    Here’s an excerpt from the brochure I posted:
    “Remember that crops, replanted forest
    or other vulnerable land should not be
    damaged.To avoid disturbing those who live in
    the area, do not cross over or occupy
    someone’s lot. Residents have a right to
    be undisturbed.”

  9. Susanna:

    As a sweed I am sorry to hear that some people behave as asholes, instead of just keep it on a civil level. You have the right to pick berries everywhere, though it is seen as “rude” if you pick to close to someones property. Like picking next to a house. Best way is just to go a bit further in to the forest and then you should get left alone. Same with mushrooms, do not pick close to houses (extremly rude), just go abit away and you will be fine.

    I have a summerhouse where we have mushrooms growing next to our garden, and I would get extremly upset if anyone tried to pick them (even if they have the right to do it, it is an unwritten rule that you leave places like that alone.) 🙂

  10. Barbara:

    Happened to me an my young son . In fact he was allowed to pick berries there a day before as my neighbor was swimming in my pool and had allowed my son an his friend to pick red raspberries. Although only 4 years old he asked to go pick a few the next day and said he would ask my neighbors of 6 years who have no children if he could have some. The wife is a Bulgarian citizen with dual citizenship. Immediately I was aware he went over an did not ask. I got a lecture from 30 year old childless land owners on how rude it was that he did this apologized and spent the next half hour planning a get together with them about next week. The very next day not one but two private property signs an no trespassing signs went up and all I can say is WTF . Guess it wasn’t very neighborly of me to let this happen.

  11. New Swede:

    You wrote “I should have been allowed to stay and pick even if it was on somebody else’s yard because I was doing no harm,” but Allemansrätten does not allow that. You have to keep a good distance from a private house. The people in a private home have the right not to be disturbed. They must have felt that you were invading their privacy.

    See below in Swedish from Länstyrelsen:
    “Men du måste respektera hemfriden och får inte passera över eller vistas på privat tomt eller gårdsplan. Tomt, som inte alltid är inhägnad, är området närmast boningshuset. Där har de boende rätt att få vara i fred. Om insynen är fri måste du hålla dig på rejält avstånd så att du inte stör. Din vistelse i naturen får inte heller medföra att markägaren hindras i sin verksamhet.” http://www.lansstyrelsen.se/stockholm/Sv/djur-och-natur/friluftsliv/Pages/allemansratten.aspx