20 March 2008

Things I Like About Sweden

Now I know I have written a lot of negative stuff but winter is never my best time and winter is particularly dark up here but Sweden isn't all bad, not even half bad, not by a long shot. So here, written down on a sunny day, drinking a "Three Hearts" beer on a park bench in front of the "Systembolaget" (liquor store) with the rest of the homeless drunks, I came up with a list of some of the things I like about Sweden:

• The women are beautiful. Like, all of them.

• The butter. They make the best butter. It doesn't get too hard, it tastes perfect, it can spread right out of the fridge without being oily, damn it's good butter.

• Everyone speaks English. Everyone. Americans like to flagellate themselves with their linguistic incompetence and say things like, "Well, yeah, Europeans speak a lot of languages." But it isn't that. try speaking English in any other country and see what happens. Here, everyone, and I mean everyone under about 70, speaks more or less fluent English. People over 80 speak some and have an opinion on "Cops." Frankly it's a little creepy since they speak English so well it comes as something of a surprise that they're also fluent in a language you probably don't understand.

• How Swedish is, in fact, so much like English. Many of the words are either the same word spelled slightly differently (and often more logically without the tricky English spelling) or are archaic English/Germanic words that if you are any sort of language and literature buff you'll recognize immediately, ie; skriver=to write.

• In Lund, at least, you can sit on a bench, in the park or walk down the street drinking a beer. Of course a lot of the year it is too cold to do that but...

• The light, at least when there is light, is beautiful, strong yet gentle, clean, long-lasting and pure... sort of like the Swedes...

• The people are generally slim and well-dressed without being overly Euro.

• Despite their pervasive liberalism the Swedes generally have no problems with drinking, smoking or eating large amounts of sausage.

• Good cheese. They have all sorts of cheese. They are proud of their cheese-slicers. There is cheese from everywhere except the United States and I would love to have some good pepper jack, but all in all the cheese is great and diverse and plentiful. Plentiful cheese is a good thing.

• Unlike many "furrin" countries the Swedes make both excellent hamburgers and fries (though their pizza, while relatively tasty, is socialist and weird).

• People walk and ride bikes, the public transportation system (both buses and trains) is excellent, timely, clean and runs late. You can take dogs and babies in strollers almost anywhere and Swedish dogs and babies are, in the overwhelming majority, well behaved. Despite this the Swedes make excellent, fast, solid cars and generally know how to drive them.

• Again, despite their at times aggravating liberality, the Swedes have an anarchic streak that allows for litter, puke and broken beer bottles and smashed bicycles on Saturday morning streets and fairly regular mini-riots involving fascists vs. anarchists. Despite this, in the end, the streets get neatly cleaned without being Swiss.

• There is open land, wilderness, forests, coastline, islands, rural villages and cities that combine Medieval buildings with Scandinavian modernism in a whole that is generally harmonious.

• Swedes aren't any happier about winter or more genetically able to handle cold and grey and dark than anyone else. They just happen to live here.

• Pastries and bread: now Swedish pastries lack some of the elegance of the French but they are incredibly good and, in a Germanic metaphysical Hegelian sense perhaps more honest and always, as they are, perfect.

• The thrift shops are great and not expensive unlike everything else. I hypothesize that the Swedes, with their inherent good taste and tradition of design simply do not posses much bad stuff, even to get rid of. Being neat and tidy (and a bit uptight) by nature many don't even consider using someone else's castoffs though many others (perhaps the notoriously thrifty (some might say cheap) Smålanders, have no problem with this). In addition, they mostly live in apartments and if they upgrade there is simply little room to store an old desk or lamp or trinket. And since they are clean and well-organized then there is a surplus of very good second-hand material that simply must be dealt with. And since, in addition, they're fiends for recycling in all forms, there is a surplus of well designed, un-marred, very good and even interesting used non-crap. If anything could get my mother on a plane to come visit this would be it!

• Reindeer: not only are the Swedes generally not vegetarians, they love to eat Rudolph and I never liked that red-nosed freak anyway. Santa, bastard that he is, didn't care for Rudolph either, letting all the other reindeer oppress him as they would until he happened to come in handy. Yeah, the Swedes chow down on old Rudolph, Donner, Blitzen and the rest as well as good old-fashioned white tailed Bambi but Rudy and clan have a special place in the Swedish culinary soul. You can buy reindeer in numerous forms in almost any grocery store--fresh, frozen, mixed with cream cheese in tubes. In the north you can buy reindeer burritos at fast food stands. If that wasn't good enough they also eat a lot of wild boar and moose.

• Salmon... Now these people are famous for their herring, which ain't too bad (except for the herring and beat salad which ought to be banned by the Geneva Convention) but they also eat vast quantities of salmon in all its known forms. Salmon, yay. yay, salmon. Smoked or fresh or cured how I love and how I will eat thee. They are also mighty eaters of the eel.

• Just when you become overwhelmed by the blonde Nordicness of it all you become friends with an Iraqi or a Cuban, an Azerbaijani or a Uruguayan or talk to a Menadaen Arab or a street musician from New York who has been playing in the train station here for 25 years.

• Coffee. They love coffee. The Italians or French can get all snobby all they want but the Swedes love coffee like coffee ought to be loved. They'll slurp down an espresso, double or triple, a latte or a whateverachino, but more than anything they like putting an obscene amount of fine ground dark roast in the drip machine and drinking pot after pot of strong coffee. They always have coffee and always offer it. They know their own Gevalia is an overrated marketing scam. Strangely, however, the coffee in convenience markets is some sort of weird instant machine awful crap, far worse than regular old American convenience market java. Really, it's foul and neither do Swedes carry their coffee around with them in stylish steel thermos mugs. Then again, there is always coffee waiting upon arrival.

• The beautiful women are friendly. Again, I make a hypothesis, and that is that the women are not only generally well-educated and, in comparison to the United states and much of Europe, in a relatively mature stage of liberalism, but they have too much competition to be particularly stuck-up. Now I am sort of making up these numbers, my study is, shall we say, informal, but when 30-35% OF the female population are stunning blondes, the next 35-40% are stunning other hair colors and most of the rest are damn cute (and the guys they are competing for fall under the same standards) then there is a lot less ability or desire to have an attitude problem.

• They provide free, high-quality (in my experience) language classes to foreign residents and immigrants. If you're going to take in immigrants it is essential that they can assimilate and the most basic way to do that is by providing language skills. Yes, the Swedes all speak English (though not everyone else in the world does) but they also, strangely, have their own language. I guess we can allow them that.

• Though they innately subscribe to the concept of "lagom", roughly, "enough," "sufficient," or "Just right" (there is no exact English equivalent) they do inherently believe they live in the best country in the world. That may sound strange coming from an American but it isn't, I didn't agree, I come from the best country in the world but, as I believe that so do the Swedes. In practice it makes them perhaps the most tolerable of other nationalities. They are entirely lacking in a national inferiority complex that makes so many other countries citizens intolerably contentious. The Swedes know they're the best, thus they are quite lagom.


Blogger afflaf said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:29 AM  
Blogger afflaf said...

This is my favorite post so far Andrew! Though I've only followed it since I met you a few months back. I can pretty much agree with you on every point, even on some things that I completely didn't think of, (being that I've been here for 15years..) It kind of an old perspective that you forgot about (and new for the swedes) It helps you appreciate some of the things that we forgot to appreciate cause we got so used to them. Rock on dude! - Ali

12:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

lesa allt bloggid, nokkud gott

8:08 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home