The standard question I get when I meet someone is “Where are you from?” After they have guessed every English speaking country in the world, I will have to confess to the fact that I am Swedish. If the person I’m talking to happens to be male and somewhere in between the ages of 18 to a 100, a smile will invariably light up his face as he repeats to himself “easy to get into bed Swedish, eh?” Yes, Swedish, and not so easy to get into a parallel position, but until he figures that out, I might as well enjoy his efforts.
If you, on the other hand, want a bloke to melt for you, all you really have to do is to talk about how you celebrate the summer solstice – an ancient celebration of fertility where we make a giant dick (maypole) out of flowers that we dance around and at night eat strawberries and drink vodka (it’s one of the few pagan traditions the church did not manage to relabel. For example – in Easter the Swedish witches still fly off on broomsticks with their cats to dance with the devil and en route they hand out candy to children, but somehow we are also celebrating the resurrection of Jesus). For the sake of good luck you are then supposed to roll around naked in the morning dew the next day (never mind the fact that we pick seven flowers in silence at night to dream about whom we will marry, that would put him off…marriage should never be talked about by women. You simply wait until he is so desperate to keep other men off your ass that he decides to marry you.). After that he will believe you are the answer to all his prayers (when he discovers that you actually have a brain too, he will be singing hallelujah).
N.B. All photos in this post were taken by me, please don’t use elsewhere without permission. Thank you!!!
Apart from our reputation of being sexually liberated, the Swedes are known for: Ingmar Bergman, Abba, Roxette, Björn Borg, herring, Ikea, H&M, Volvo, Zlatan Ibrohamovic (we went to the same school, never noticed him, but I met someone in Morocco who knew him…) and other sports people whom I don’t know of. And of course, Tiger Wood’s wife. Poor thing. Sex rehab. And he’s not even Swedish!!! (No, we do not make watches and chocolate. That’s SWITZERLAND.)
When it comes to Swedish stereotypes there is a brilliant book called The Xenophobe’s Guide To The Swedes from which I will now quote freely:
Svårmod: a dark melancholy born out of long winters, high taxes and being stuck far out on a geo-political and socio-economic limb. They brood a lot over the meaning of life in a self-absorbed sort of way without ever arriving at satisfactory answers. (…) All this svårmod makes the Swedes very self-conscious and socially awkward. When two Swedish individuals meet for the first time, there are actually four people present: the two visible persons, plus their invisible alter-egos who stand close by and criticize every word and every gesture. Only when the acquaintance is well established do the alter-egos move to the sidelines, albeit still shaking their heads.
Undfallenhet: You may call a car rental firm to say the studs are missing from the winter tyres and that, as a consequence, you are unfairly exposed to the risk of having to pay for any collision damage. To this the rental agent is likely to reply: “Never mind having to pay for collision damage. What about your personal health and safety?” It’s a response that takes all the fun out of complaining. (…) Being aggressive is considered a macho thing in many Western cultures. In Sweden it’s viewed as a handicap. (…) Undfallenhet is not to be confused by cowardice. Sweden has long stood firm on its conviction regarding matters like apartheid and dictatorship.
Lagom: “just enough” or “in moderation.” Lagom permeates Swedish life. Economically it has enabled the nation to find the middle ground between Capitalism and Socialism (Progress and Humanity). In manufacturing, lagom discards gold-plated designs in favor of optimum solutions. Socially lagom puts conformity before excellence, tempers extreme personal wealth and poverty, and leaves the Swedes irksomely at peace with themselves. (…) When something is said to be “lagom good” it actually means it’s the best.
In the battle between idealism, heroism and common sense, the latter always wins.
Patriotism: The Swedes sneer at public manifestations of patriotism, conveniently forgetting that the blue and yellow Swedish flag is everywhere to be seen. (…) Swedes are not patriots in the usual sense. Victory monuments come in the form of rune stones rather than bronze statues. Ask them what link them to their native country and they will hold forth, not about government, history, or culture, but about deep forests, smiling archipelagos, crayfish served with aquavit, and flower wrapped maypoles. For Swedes the national flag is primarily an eye-pleasing backdrop. Rather than rallying people to war, it invites them to a picnic in a meadow.
Being rich in Sweden has never been easy. As Ingmar Bergman found out, even millionaires can have difficulties making ends meet when income tax is levied at 102%. But even after taxation, the filthy rich remain merely filthy in the eyes of the not-so-rich, who themselves are far from poor. Manifestations of personal wealth have always been frowned upon in Sweden, based on the assumption that for every winner there has to be a loser.
Religion: there is a saying that all Swedish people are born free, but taxed to death. Until 1996 all children were born into Lutherian faith. These days they are allowed to choose their own faith. Those who have not opted out show their Lutheran piety by attending church on at least four occasions, namely for their baptism, confirmation, wedding(s) and funeral (I might add here: and the 6-12 or so times you have to attend mass to get confirmed. Ahem. I mean, amen. Swedes are still religious though – we celebrate nature and whatever force created it. Some call that pagan.)
Money Matters: The Swedes truly understand the joy of giving and taking. They give as much as they take, neither more, nor less. (…) Restaurant bills are divided up evenly after meals (not equal shares, but each person pays for their own food). Ulf and Ulla out on a date are equally intent on settling their score evenly. A foreign observer of scenes like these could be forgiven for thinking that the Swedes are pathological skinflints. The truth, however, is that they load becoming dependent on other human beings through indebtedness in any shape or form. Accept a gift and one feels obliged to reciprocae in kind. Receive a favor, and expect to be called in at a later date. (I would say it’s a sense of fairness. Right be right. This can also be applied to dating rich people: then they pay for you, until you make your own millions, then you pay for them and believe me: if you are Swedish you will remember to pay back.)
Women and Men: The stereotype Swedish woman is beautiful, opinionated and speaks three languages. She has a strong aesthetic sense and her attitude to sex is accommodating. While single she travels the world and samples the local climatic and climactic delights. Once married, she invariably has a career and keeps her own money.
The average Swedish man is seen as being shy, taciturn, submissive, sentimental principled, reliable – precisely the sort of male companion the Swedish woman covets as the father of her 13/4 children. He is Mr Fixit (if you don’t know how to handle a hammer, just forget it). He is basically a loner and is happiest at work, on the ski slope or at the country cottage which he is constantly rebuilding. (I kinda like outgoing social type of guys that radiate warmth from a mile away, but maybe that’s just me???)
Swedes congratulate themselves for having been first in the world to achieve total equality between the sexes.(…)
By international standards, Swedish women have always been highly emancipated. In the days of the Vikings, only a woman dared tell a warrior what a corny oaf he was. (…) Nowadays, members of the Women’s Movement are campaigning for men to sit down when urinating, their point being that men have been flaunting their anatomical advantage for much too long.
One thing Swedish men and women have in common is a curious diagnostic to human relationships. Social, as well as sexual, intercourse techniques are analyzed and compared in great detail – along the lines of “How was it for you?” and “How can we improve it next time?” (In stark contrast to Californians’ attitude of: if it’s bad, let’s say it’s good. Problem solving? Are you kidding me? I’d have to confess to there being a problem? That’s a sin, no? Tell everyone they are great and if they aren’t – just never talk to them again. Whatever you do – just never say anything negative. Sneaking out the backdoor is so fucking Cali and to a Swede – so fucking confusing. I’m thankful to be here, I’d just be thankful if I could learn to understand them too…)
Children: The statutory maternity leave is 12 months at 80% of the mother’s most recent salary, plus another 3 months at a reduced rate (you can take this out any time from the child is born until s/he is 8 yrs old, you also, kids or no kids, get 5 wks of vacation every year, plus general holidays). Since nearly all couples have parallel careers, it is up to the mother and father to decide who stays at home with the newborn child. (…) Spanking a child – even one’s own – is against the law in Sweden.
Hospitality (and honesty): The Swedes stake out the limits of their hospitality in no uncertain terms. They assume that you will do the same. So when you tell them to come and see you anytime, they will do precisely that. And if you protest that they are leaving much too soon, they’ll stay on to keep you company. It’s a square, square world. (Unlike Cali, where everything’s a bit fussy around the edges. How do you know when someone means what they say if they only tell you the truth 50% of the time?)
The taboo subject: The Swedes consider themselves the most broad-minded people on earth. They boast that only in Sweden are you free to discuss absolutely anything, be it sex, money, incest or euthanasia. Don’t take their word for it, though, because generalizing about nationalities (other than the Norwegians) is definitively out. Swedish people love to criticise about their own country when amongst themselves; but when a foreigner enters the room, suddenly Sweden can do nothing wrong. (Mark my words, I warn thee.)
Anyone who’s wondering what really make the Swedes tick need look no further: it is coffee. (The coffee shop culture in Sweden can be summed up by saying: a café in every corner. We don’t hang out. We go for coffees, or rather a “fika” meaning coffee and something to eat with it.)
Drinking: It is often said that the Swedes have a drinking problem. (…) As a matter of fact the Swedes consume less alcohol than most other countries in the EU. (…) The Swedish government is defying EU law by restricting the sale of spirits. Outlets are few and far in-between, open late, close early and mask the whereabouts of liquor by displaying everything but spirits in their windows. Citizens who do manage to find one are charged exorbitant prices for anything stronger than wine. (This is why Swedes get drunk when vacating in the Mediterranean and buy all their spirits in Germany.) (…) Another deterrent is the stiff penalty meted out to anyone caught driving a vehicle with even an extra molecule of alcohol in the blood. One hapless driver, who was pulled over and breath-analyzed seconds after swallowing a rum-filled chocolate, tested positive and was driven away to a police laboratory for tests. The tests showed no trace of alcohol in the blood and the driver was acquitted, but only after agreeing to pay for the test as well as a fine for wasting police time. (Of course they do not count how much home-made spirits are in circulation, only deaths and blindness caused by these every year. Just a note.)
Obsessions: A great deal of emotion is associated with childhood memories of summers gone by. It has to do with the taste of wild strawberries and the smell of freshly cut hay, listening in bed to the cuckoo at dawn (in the south dawn is around 3am and sunset around 12am), catching crab with fish heads on a string, and watching the fishermen tar their hulls. The Swedes are the world’s greatest nature lovers and will spout about it until the cows go home. (…) The Swedes have a dream: to save nature from man. This is more than just a vision – it’s as close to a passion as the Swedes ever get.
Leisure and pleasure: The Swedes indulge in sport for leisure and sex for pleasure. (…) President Eisenhower once noted in a speech that there was a country in Northern Europe where moral standards had fallen to an all time low. The subsequent avalanche of American tourist upon Swedish soil left little doubt which country he had in mind. The visitors were not disappointed for they returned home with photographic evidence that the Swedes swim naked whenever they think nobody’s watching (and who has less morals: the person watching or the one thinking s/he’s alone with nature?). (…) In the 18th century Linnaeus studied the sex life of plants with such intensity that he became known as the Peeping Tom of Botany. (…) It is true, however, that their attitude to sex is largely unencumbered by taboos. The Swedes, like the Dutch, believe in easy natural sex as a way of resisting unnatural forms such as prostitution, incest and child abuse.
Cinema: Sweden has a lot in common with Disney World. On the surface people seem to lead a carefree existence in a fairy-tale paradise. Underneath is a whole different world, which is out of bound for most visitors.
If you didn’t get enough – buy the book. I laughed till I cried, but then I am Swedish. You may have an inferior sense of humor.
On a very Swedish note about nationalities: I find being Swedish an asset. I love my home country and feel lucky to have been brought up with some of the values over there. Like people still know how to use a hammer and a sewing machine. Common sense still exists and I like the idea of progress combined with humanity, not one over the other….and don’t even get me started on saving nature from man. I also left for a reason. I just didn’t feel like I was “only that.” I am more than just a Swede. I am a human being. And so is every other person, were they born in the fires of hell, or the kingdom of heaven. No one probably wish to be born in a country, or part of a city, labeled by the rest of the world as dangerous, or nasty in any other way. Nor do people probably grow up wishing to become criminals. Beneath it all: human. People can only see life for what they know of it. Show someone love and they may end up lovable.
Also, I don’t like everything from my personal past. I am sure the Germans today don’t love Hitler either. What good is there to say that the Vikings were warriors? I am not a warrior, well at least not in that sense. Maybe we can learn from the past, but to boast about it? Nor do I agree with all the politicians in Sweden. If someone said that because I’m Swedish I would be like Gudrun Schyman, I would, oh man, faint. And I mean Americans are supposedly against communism, but their greatest financial debt is supposedly to China. Not to mention Swedes being against apartheid and dictatorship in SA and Chile, but neglecting it in Russia (too close for comfort???). There are contradictions everywhere. I love many Swedish values, I get disturbed by seeing all the homeless people in LA (someone told me they amount to a startling number of 160,000) and the segregation between rich and poor (paying to go to school? Please, shouldn’t children at least be equal? How can they become great if they aren’t given a chance?), but I still prefer to live in LA. I am a funny mix and so are probably most of us.