The Ministry of Silly Walks.

One of the zebra crossing signs in Haparanda. Photo: Stefan Haapaniemi

One of the zebra crossing signs in Haparanda. Photo: Stefan Haapaniemi.

The Ministry of Silly Walks is alive and well in Haparanda, Sweden. I think these signs are very cheerful, fun, and uplifting.

Close to Sweden’s border with Finland, Haparanda has brought a smile to local faces with these new road signs that are shaking up the town centre by urging pedestrians to jump, dance or play the guitar while crossing the street.

The Local got in touch with Terese Östling, who is in charge of “Remake the City”, a project launched in 2012 to revamp the heart of the historic parts of the town, to ask why.

She said the idea for the new signs came from Jytte Rüdiger, the local authority’s chief of culture.

“She (Rüdiger) picked up on the fact that people in Haparanda had lots of ideas for development in the ‘old’ parts of town. Many cities in Sweden struggle with dying inner parts as new, big shopping centres pop up outside of town, attracting visitors and locals out of the town centre. Business, attractiveness and inner city life suffers as a result,” she explained. […] But perhaps unsurprisingly, the signs have sparked the most reaction, with a report by national broadcaster SVT trending on social media on Monday.

How to cross the street while carrying a guitar. Photo: Stefan Haapaniemi.

How to cross the street while carrying a guitar. Photo: Stefan Haapaniemi.

The ideas for the various designs – which include a zebra crossing sign of a man doing a version of Monty Python comedian John Cleese’s famous silly walks – were thought up by local residents.

“The result has been overwhelming! Every day I go into town, I see people taking pictures of the signs and other new attractions, enjoying the new vitality of a once tired and shabby inner city. Haparanda is on its way back,” said Östling.

When asked if she had actually seen anyone give a quick boogie while crossing the street, she said: “I have seen it, but I can’t prove it with a picture sadly.”

Want to dance across the street in Haparanda? Photo: Stefan Haapaniemi.

Want to dance across the street in Haparanda? Photo: Stefan Haapaniemi.

Full story at The Local SE.


  1. Ice Swimmer says

    Fun signs.

    Haparanda (Haaparanta is the Finnish (linguistically the original) name, aspen shore) exactly on the border, on the western shore of the river Tornionjoki (Fi)/Torne älv (Sw) while Tornio is on the eastern shores and some of the islands of the estuary of the river.

    Originally there was only the city of Tornio/Torneå (Duortnus in northern Saami), but when Russians conquered Finland in 1809 and the river became the border and Tornio was left on the Russian side, Swedes founded Haparanda.

    Nowadays the border is quite open, you just walk or drive from one side to the other. Also it’s been normal for the shops in both cities to take both Swedish krona and euro (used in Finland) as payment. Cross-the-border marriages are also quite common and there’s even a word for it: poikkinainti (across-marrying).

    Tornio used to be a big trading place for the Saami peoples in 17th and 18th century, they would bring their produce (reindeer meat, maybe furs and such) there and buy for example silver spoons (also more practical things, I’d guess).

  2. says

    Aspen shore, that’s so evocative and pretty. Thank you for all the background! I love the signs, I’d like to see those all over the place, because we could all use a Ministry of Silly Walks.

  3. Ice Swimmer says

    You’re welcome.

    With Tornio/Haparanda there’s also the darker history. Once, the area was inhabited by Saami people who perhaps spoke the now extinct Kemi Saami language, then came the Finnish settlers, slowly displacing* or assimilating the Saami. The city was mostly Finnish speaking with a small Swedish elite. In the 20th century Swedish authorities tried root out the Finnish language in the Western Torneå valley, without fully succeeding (punishing kids for speaking Finnish in the schools and so on). Nowadays the policy is reversed and Finnish speakers are a majority in Haparanda, though their language is officially Meänkieli (“our language” in the dialect spoken there).

    Finnish authorities had the same kind of policies with Saami people in the north, so we’re not much better. Swedish language has always had a good standing here.

    * = Just how violently, isn’t known.

  4. blf says

    Yes, but can you get a grant to develop a new silly walk?

    And, perhaps just as importantly, is there a Beatles-infested Abbey Road sign?

  5. chigau (違う) says

    Monty Python is some kind of Cultural Universal?
    Do they do MP in the Amazon Rain Forest?

  6. jimb says

    blf @ 7:

    Fish Slapping the Parliament Dance Olympics

    I assume the mildly deranged penguin will be at the forefront to get this event included in the 2020 games? :-)

  7. blf says

    There are three problems with getting the mildly deranged penguin involved:

    (1) After the MP is slapped silly by the fish, the fish is no longer edible. The fish is probably toxic (too much contact with a politician) and requires careful disposal.
    (2) Moar cheese!
    (3) She’s the mildly deranged penguin.

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