H&M owner Sweden’s top taxpayer.
The main owner of Swedish clothes retailer Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) is Sweden's biggest taxpayer this year, a newspaper reported Nov. 30. Stefan Persson has to pay 797 million kronor (114 million dollars) in taxes for 2009, financial daily Dagens Industri reported. Persson has been board chairman of H&M since 1998. From 1982 to 1998 he was chief executive officer of the firm, which has operations in some 35 countries. The daily estimated that Persson's tax payment for 2009 was equal to that of the country's 10 other top taxpayers combined. Second on the tax list for 2009 was Fredrik Lundberg of the investment company Lundbergs with 122.2 million kronor.

China stakes claim to Santa.
A Hong Kong man earned the title as the world's top Santa in a Swedish competition that included reindeer races, porridge eating and chimney climbing events. Jim Cheng of Hong Kong bested eight competitors from diverse locations including South Africa and Australia at the 2009 Santa Games in Gällivare, Sweden. Elisabeth Landby, head of the event, said the participating countries each had different criteria for choosing their representative Santa, but each of them had to endure rounds of chimney climbing, porridge eating, present wrapping and reindeer racing while maintaining jolly dispositions during the Nov. 29 event. Landby said "several hundred" people braved subzero temperatures to watch the games.

No more minarets please!
One in four Swedes favors prohibiting the building of more minarets in the country, according to a new poll conducted by the Sifo polling firm together with Sveriges Television (SVT, Swedish Television). Minarets are the tall spires with onion-shaped crowns, the distinctive feature of an Islamic mosque. According to the poll, 26% of Swedes support putting a stop to more minarets, and 30% of respondents were doubtful and didn’t know whether or not they would support a minaret ban. “One fourth of all respondents are against allowing people to practice their religion in Sweden. I view that as quite threatening,” Abd al Haqq Kielan, an imam and head of the Swedish Islamic Society, told the TT news agency. The highest level of opposition to the building of more minarets is in Malmö in southern Sweden, where 39% of respondents supported a ban on further construction. Currently there are mosques in Stockholm, Fittja, Brandbergen, Haninge, Järfälla, Umeå, Uppsala, Örebro, Göteborg, Högsbo, Malmö (this mosque has two minarets), and Trollhättan. The poll comes less than a week after a referendum passed in Switzerland banning the building of any more minarets in the country. Jan Hjärpe, an emeritus professor of Islamic Studies at Lund University, told the Aftonbladet newspaper that the proportion of Swedes in favour of a ban is “roughly the same” as in Switzerland. “Populist xenophobia exists in every fourth person. It’s clearly the general state of affairs throughout Europe,” he told the newspaper. “I interpret it as a reaction to concern about the economic and political future. As I see it, it’s a faulty analysis of the cause of the problem.”

Look who’s dancing now!
In the U.S. the show is called “Dancing with the stars”, in Sweden they call it “Let’s Dance”. Different names but the same winning concept. The upcoming Swedish dancing season features Gudrun Schyman, spokesperson for the Feminist Intitiative (FI) political party as one of the ones who will whirl and waltz. Schyman views it as an opportunity to help her get into the Swedish parliament. “It’s a great start to the campaign,” she said. “Considering the Feminist Initiative has neither the money nor the staff, this is naturally a great opportunity.” Schyman added that she expects her appearance on the show, which is broadcast during prime time on TV4, to benefit the party. “Many people think that feminists are angry, bitter old hags who go after and hate men. Now many will be able to see that this image is both wrong and prejudiced and that will have great political benefits,” she said. Other parties will have to settle with paying to appear on TV4 in the upcoming election year, with the cheapest ad spots going for one million SEK ($145,000) and ranging up to seven million SEK, not including value added tax. In addition to the cost of airtime, other parties will also have to pay for production costs, leading some parties to charge that Schyman’s appearance on “Let’s Dance” gives the Feminist Initiative an unfair advantage. “TV4 is a commercial channel, but I think that they could learn something from public broadcasters, and not give one party such an advantageous position during an election campaign,” said the Left Party’s (Vänsterpartiet) Siv Holma, chair of the Riksdag’s committee on culture.

Not without my Wiener nougat!
Wiener Nougat or Viennese Nougat or, in German, Schmelz-Schokolade – call it what you want, it is a perfect treat for Christmas. At least if you ask Monika Ahlberg, famous Swedish chef and food critic (and married to equally famous Swedish actor-director Thommy Berggren). “Oh, my wonderful wiener nougat, I couldn’t be without it for Christmas!” Ahlberg says she loves Christmas and all its traditions, and that’s the reason why her new book out is called “Monikas jul” (Monika’s Christmas). “The perfect Christmas for me is a lot of happy and noisy children, a lot of people and time to be together over good food.” Well, we can help you with the Viennese Nougat. Here’s Monika’s recipe: 100 g flaked almonds, 250 g soft chocolate nougat, 150 g dark chocolate. Roast the almond flakes in a dry and not overly hot frying pan. Put aside. Melt the nougat in a water-bath. Chop the dark chocolate finely and let it melt along with the nougat in the water-bath. Finally add the roasted almonds. Pour the paste into a long pan lined with an oven paper. Let it cool and become solid, then cut into pieces and enjoy!

Used gifts.
Would you consider giving a used item as a Christmas gift this year? You'd do the environment, people in need and probably your own wallet a favor. 50% of Swedish Metro’s readers said they would consider buying second-hand gifts, and in times like these why not? Students in particular are willing to give away second-hand stuff, and more women than men are interested, least interested are seniors. Also more people from the Green Party and the Left Party are willing to shop second hand than people who voted for the Moderates. “Our attitude to ‘used’ has changed. It’s much more positive today, and that has informed Christmas shopping as well,” says Meta Troell, analyst at Svensk Handel. Swedes are expected to buy Christmas presents for about 30 billion SEK ($4,356,990,165). The main reason people are buying second-hand is because of the environment. But in many places where one buys second-hand, part of the profit goes to charity, making it a win-win situation. Says Ingela Holmertz, director of health and social services at the Swedish Red Cross: “It’s good both for the environment and all the people we support through our social work.”