I am taking the Finnish statement about Swedish arrogance for a promise, and hit the street with the objective to find out what the Swedes are proud about. That question seems a lot harder for most people than I expected, leading me to confirm what I had been told earlier: the mentality in the north of Sweden is very similar to the one in Finland.
Peter (31, photo) hesitates for a long time when I ask him what in Sweden makes him proud. When I change the question to what he likes about Sweden, he comes up with nature, equality and food. Peter likes Swedish nature for its cleanliness and wilderness. His favourite place to go is the north of Lappland, where the landscape is rough and mountainous. The Riksgr?nsen area, the border crossing with both Finland and Norway, is popular for snowboarding and skiing in winter, and for hiking in summer.
`I like the nature, the food and the equality in Sweden`
Out of Sweden
Whenever Peter goes abroad, he misses the Swedish kitchen of basic and well-nourishing food. Husmanskosten, as it is generally known, usually consists of decent components. It may include meat balls and mashed potatoes, but it can basically refer to any food that does not take long to prepare, has high nutritional value and contains locally grown products. It reminds him of his childhood, and so does seeing Volvo cars abroad or in films. He is not that much attached to Sweden`s other car brand, Saab. His father used to drive a Volvo and still does to date, so the affection goes a long way back.
Anton (26), misses the folk music and the Swedish language when he goes abroad. Like Peter, and many people that I speak to later, Anton also mentions nature and specifies the Allemansr?tten. This term refers to the right to cross any land that is not too close to private property or residential areas. It is a legal construction that allows people to camp almost everywhere, to pick fruits and mushrooms and, altogether, take advantage of all the good things that nature has to offer.
Eva (26) lived in Ireland for several months and she missed the differences between the seasons. `In Sweden, we have a real winter and a real summer. In Ireland, one random day can be part of any season. I prefer it the Swedish way`, she says.
Stina (24) admits that seeing the Swedish flag abroad fills her with happiness, even more so than seeing the Swedish flag in her own country: `In Sweden, racist movements have turned our flag into an ugly symbol. If I now see a Swedish flag in Sweden, I first need to verify that it is now shown to support the racist case.`
Stina further says that she is proud of the music Sweden exports, even though she does not like all of the music herself. Abba, Ace of Base, Roxette and recently Basehunter all made big hits worldwide. Also, the children books by Astrid Lindgren were great successes abroad. Stina prefers her over the author of Nils Holgersson: Selma Lagerl?f, but she can be proud of both.
One thing that she is not proud of is the way people are almost ashamed to talk to each other. How they can be shy, bored and especially not fond of talking to strangers. When going abroad, she often finds people a lot more outgoing and funny. She hasn`t been abroad a lot, and in this matter specifically refers to the people she met in Dublin, Ireland. Many people share her view: even they themselves say they wished they were a little more open to foreigners. But just that does not seem to be very usual up here in the North.
Many Swedes are proud of the equality in Sweden: the kind of equality that allows for individual difference but does not imply that different people get a different treatment. Roy (21) praises the general opinion that in Sweden `nobody is really rich and nobody is really poor`. Education is accessible to everyone for free and everybody has access to high standard healthcare. Roy quickly adds that the situation is changing under the newly elected government: `The rich are getting richer, and the less fortunate do see their situation deteriorate. Sick leave arrangements are being reconsidered and health care is becoming more expensive.
Above developments form a big dent in Sweden`s international image as a country that aims to distribute resources among all its citizens in an equal way, regardless of their background. The Swedes seem very much aware of this. Many of them are silently ashamed that the accomplishments of over 50 years of work are now slowly being dismantled.
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