Some people I know rather well live in a small, detached house – what you would call villa in Swedish, but not in any other language. Their next-door neighbours since a few years back is a young couple. My friends are very suspicious of this couple. Why? They have their blinds down all day.

 

Blinds down, in the middle of that day, cannot mean anything else than that the person behind is hung-over, a drug dealer, an insomnia sufferer, a seriously depressed person, too lazy to pull the curtains, or something equally bad. That is my friends’ explanation. Mine is slightly simpler. I happen to know that these people are not originally Swedish, and for them, blinds suggest an efficient means to ensure their privacy and protect their living room from the sun.

 

My English language skills are not sufficient for understanding the difference between Persian or Venetian blinds, so I guess in everyday speech it means the same. If it does not, please forgive my ignorance. And if you have the time, please let me know how to make the distinction. Assuming they are synonyms, I personally prefer the term Persian, as the technique originated from Persia, although commercialised through merchants in Venice. The Swedish word is also persienn, after the French Persienne, which means just Persian. Most Swedish flats or houses are thoroughly equipped with Venetian or Persian blinds. Anyone who has tried to sleep a few nights of Nordic summer understands why. At midsummer, sun sets around 10 pm, and rises five hours later, and that is as far south as Stockholm. The further north you go, the worse it gets. In my opinion, pulling down blinds alone is not sufficient. Especially as I happen to share a flat with two one-year-old early birds, darkening the flat is a major concern if we want to sleep after 4 am. We use venetian blinds, coupled with roller blinds, and on top of that, curtains.

 

Persian blinds entered the Swedish market in the 1930’s, and it took less than 20 years until it was used by virtually anybody. It was seen as a practical and hygienic solution and was part of the national upgrading of living standards that took place during these decades. With a modernist approach to function and aesthetics, curtains thick enough to block out the light were considered out-dated and irrational. Given the climatic conditions and new standards for comfort and health, single glazing was also declared something of the past, and the standard fitting of blinds became between two sheets of panes in a double or triple glazed window.

 

The home itself became a status symbol, the same way an expensive car is in many other cultures. A well decorated home suggests not only economic wealth, but also sanity, health and legitimate activity. This is for everyone to know – if the blinds are up!

 

I will finish off with a few notes on etymology. The Swedish word for windowfönster, stems from the Latin fenestra, via the German fenster. This means it has the same origin as the French fenêtre or the Italian finestra. An older term is vindöga, or vindu, which is still used regionally, especially in the northern parts of the country. This, literally translated, means wind eye, and etymologically is the same as the English window, which, in turn, comes from Old Norse.

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