Monday, June 06, 2016

Sweden: Fact vs. fiction

The myth of Sweden's socialist utopia. An interesting blog post plus, in my post, almost everything I think I know about Sweden; of course Swedes and those who've lived in the country can correct me. (One of my sources lived there for about seven years.) The home of Volvo (foreign-owned now?), Ikea, successful Europop groups (Abba, Ace of Base, and others), and formerly Saab.

The free market and Swedes' talents made their country great; the socialist experiment was a setback. Speaking of Americans' strange notion of the place, such as a socialist paradise, the image of Swedes as sexually swinging/libertine came from '60s Italian porn supposedly about the country. (P.J. O'Rourke is right: the women are no more beautiful than women usually are.) Their attitude to everything is matter-of-fact. I've never been; the few Swedes I've seen have been reserved to the point of coldness. I understand it's quietly very irreligious and anti-Catholic, more indifferent than hostile, stone cold. Its liberal high church (women priests for decades, and they call them priests) is nominally Lutheran and recently disestablished but still government-funded; most Swedes nominally belong but don't attend. Two Swedish traits I know of: unlike British-based cultures, everything is democratic, by consensus (how meetings go), and humility/self-effacement rather like the English, the word "lagom" ("that's good enough for the likes of me") conveying that. Beyond that, German-like: hard-working, efficient, and perfectionistic. You want Swedes on your team. The Viking seafaring tradition: I think many merchant-ship officers are still Scandinavians. Swedes all learn English in school now so you can get around Stockholm with no Swedish; before World War II they spoke to the outside world in German. The language is a Germanic sister to ours (so they find English easy to learn) but unlike German, now almost everybody is "du" (the familiar "you"; "thou"), on a first-name basis, not out of friendliness but because it's simpler. Spoken Swedish and spoken German are not mutually intelligible; you can see the cognates when written. Scandinavians understand each other's languages but likely would speak English to be polite. Swedes' big rivalry is with neighboring Norway, whom they see as hicks the way the American North looks at the South. They love their flag and their king. Alcohol is tightly regulated with state stores and there's some resulting alcohol abuse. Suicide is high; being semi-Arctic with no sun all winter (because of the geographical latitude) affects mental health (but "the midnight sun" in the summer). Food: cream sauce, cream sauce, and cream sauce; lingonberries too. The country was famously neutral during World War II. (Norway tried to be too but it was in the way so the Germans grabbed it.) The article also explains 1800s Swedish emigration; why Minnesota is so Swedish. The country was a world power briefly in the 1600s; I live in its former colony (the area's old Lutheran churches became Episcopal after American independence). Very politically correct, masochistic about Muslim intruders, but some are getting fed up. There is the small Sweden Democrat party, "Keep Sweden Swedish," whose supporters include Arab Christians who moved to get away from the Muslims. We don't make political commercials that are this good.

By the way, there are Swedish rockabillies: raggare.

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