LC Forstén Fotograf

Capturing life's moments, big and small, through portraiture and documentary story telling.

Photography in Stockholm, Sweden. Documentary photography focusing on families and weddings. Portraits of maternity, infants, children, families, professionals.

Advent Calendar 2017: Tvättstugga + December 3

Dec 3 – Tvattstugga – laundry, literally: Wash Cabin

Laundry day is not affected by Advent.  Today is Sunday, Sunday is laundry day. 

Panorama of the Tvättstugga.  From L to R, the drying cabinets, the mangel, the dryers and washers, the grovtvätt and the library of discarded books for people waiting on laundry.

Panorama of the Tvättstugga.  From L to R, the drying cabinets, the mangel, the dryers and washers, the grovtvätt and the library of discarded books for people waiting on laundry.

To do your laundry in the vast majority of apartment-based Sweden, you go to the Tvättstugga.  Ours is part of our rent and for the people who own here, part of the fee they pay for keeping up the grounds, long-term planning and in our case we also have access to a nice guest apartment and a party room.  (Ahem.  Did you see I said, guest apartment???!?)  So you don’t have to go hunting for kronor or set up a Swish account, which is great.  But you do have to book a time in advance and this little stugga serves a LOT of people.  It’s open from 7am to 10pm.  No night owl laundry allowed.

We got a tour of the tvattstugga when we signed the lease for our apartment.  There are awesome things about a tvattstugga.  In ours 1) There are many machines 2) when it breaks, you call someone and THEY fix it.  3) There is a Grovtvatt.  This is a larger than usual machine that you can wash large items like rugs, comforters, bathrobes, sheets.  I ran all of my winter sweaters, usually so dusty Cora can’t touch them, on the handwash setting, and it worked and didn’t shrink any of them!  4) A drying cabinet – this is a rack in a cabinet that blows hot air.  It’s great because the dryers are so hot that almost anything synthetic is destroyed in a few weeks.  Wouldn’t know what that is like… I just assume… no I don’t need several new pairs of jeans because I was impatient…. And a 5) Mangel – this is a giant ironing machine that Swedes use to iron sheets and other large textiles.  I am getting a “C” in mangel skills, but I’ve used it!

There are many frustrating things about a tvattstuga that you can easily imagine.  1) Weekends must be booked many days in advance 2) you can’t just put your laundry in and go do other stuff, come back when you want.  You have 3 hours to get everything washed, dried, and OUT.  Hope you only have one -two loads or know how to game the system on a random weekday when no one else is around.  3) They are renovating the place, so there are fewer machines and angrier people and 4) you have to haul everything there and back.  Sometimes it’s snowing. 


Like almost everything I’ve been introduced to, I ask for really clear instructions when I’m learning.  Our landlords (who speak English) showed us the room, briefly went over the computer at the door.  I asked if there was any particular etiquette to using the space, so as not to get off on the wrong foot in a communal space.  The common response when I ask if there is anything common about the way people do things here is almost always “No, really anything goes!”

Swedes (and expats who’ve been here a long time, too!) do not mean to lead me astray.  They know the rules so well they don’t think about them.  There is almost NO situation where anything goes.  This is a socialist society, people.  It’s just getting folks to recognize that there are rules and then tell you what they are that is the challenge.

I couldn’t wait to do my first bazillion loads of laundry after a summer on the island with occasional washing machine access.  Remember how your laundry smelled from summer camp?  You don’t want to.  Two kids, outdoor time, no running water, plenty of messy meals and the primary toilet is an outhouse or just “that spot you favor to pop-a-squat, usually with kid company and an amazing view”… rank. 

So I loaded up my machines, but I was a little late on the last load.  I had done this before on a weekday with no impact, but as people began to FLOOD in the door, I realized that Sunday is a whole different ball game for laundry.  My loads would eat away 15 minutes of the next person’s wash.  I sat in the “library” area of the room waiting for the people to come to the machines I was using and tried my darndest in Swedish to explain that I was new and screwed up the system.  One woman was kind-ish… one was super mad and stormed off.  And then… she came back. 

I’ve never been spoken to like an idiot immigrant before.  Either people have patience for my trying or I do ok, or I holler “Coooooora!  Hjalp mig!”  And all is well.  I was by myself.  And I had gotten in the way of a middle-aged woman doing wash on Sunday.  She tried to explain EXACTLY how the system works, slowly and loudly, and kept asking (in Swedish) “DO YOU UNDER-STAND?!? Because this is how it works here!!  DO YOU UNDERSTAND?!?!”  I was mortified, I did not understand most of it, and she would not just let it go.  She is an immigrant too (though here for many many years), and I appreciate the education since it was clearer than the one I’d previously gotten, AND, it was miserable and I had just arrived.  What I did understand is that you can stop any machine at any point in the wash cycle and toss whomever’s clothes out who screwed up.  Sopping wet. 

I vowed to never use the tvattstugga on a weekend again and tried to avoid that woman as much as possible.  I have managed to not do laundry on weekends.  I found out this woman is my next door neighbor.  Like, the second of two doors on our landing, our is the first. 

Since then I’ve been evil-eyed for having rambunctious children in here, had my laundry has been tossed out even when it was my time, and washed EVERYTHING we own.  When the container finally arrived in November (we sent it May 31st for anyone keeping track….) everything STUNK.  Washing everything was a feat of both strength and strategy!  I’ve had people kindly point me to the more effective dryers.  I’ve heard at least 5 languages spoken.  I’ve seen men of all ages doing the wash and the older ones mangel-ing it all after wards.  I’ve seen dads with kids on weekdays doing the wash, meaning on parental leave and running the house.  I’ve watched older teen have screaming crying meltdowns about not having clothes for school.  Oh that poor mom.  I’ve caught up on random Swedish home magazines and I’m starting to learn what all those damn symbols mean in your clothes because they actually matter here!! 

My neighbor and I have since become friendly because I’m American and I small-talk when Swedes don’t.  And last week, I asked her for a lesson on the mangel.  She spoke kindly, and I understood every word.