The melting pot
So the Swedish arrogance is not really what the Finns promised me. Swedes are a little more talkative and sociable, that`s for sure. But bragging is as `not done` in Sweden as it is in Finland. Being special and, most of all, expecting special treatments are not accepted. Still, the country has produced a fair amount of heroes: football players, industry leaders, music bands. How are they perceived and how much different can one person be from the next?
When walking through the streets of Uppsala, I don`t see two people who look the same. Different colours, different tissues, different piercings, all different and quite unconventional at times. Ylma (20) explains me that one of the best ways to avoid the laws of equality is to create a group in which you can be slightly different from outsiders, but rather similar within the group. Many people follow this trick and it even seems to produce the opposite of a grey mess of people who all look alike. `People who want to be different also want to belong to something, maybe even more so than people who do not care`, says Ylma.
`Why say that you`re not good at something while in fact you are?`
`People who want to make a difference should be smart and kind`, she continues. Getting rich is allowed, because it is quickly perceived as a prove of intelligence. But it will not give you preferred treatment over anybody else. Ylva mentions Ingmar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA as a good example of that: `He has proved himself useful to other people by manufacturing something they need and offer it to them in a way that makes sense to them. At the same time, he has remained modest and quiet.` I, on my side, bet that the tax forms he need to fill out at the end of the year will also keep him quiet: the taxes on income grow progressively as you earn more, making it actually quite difficult to become really rich.
Emil (26) names Henke Larsson, a football player, as an example of how Swedes can be heroes. By showing how much they owe to the team, rather then praising their own achievement or even excitement. `He is a good example of how Swedes like to see their heroes.` The story is different for one of Larssons colleagues: Zlatan Ibrahimovic. `Zlatan is dividing the country in two. Some people love him, some people hate him. He does behave in a different way, and a lot of people do not feel comfortable about that. But times are changing, and he gains much more acceptance now that he would have received 20 years ago.`
The former prime minister G?ran Persson was a good example of how not to earn respect from fellow Swedes. His party suffered an enormous decline in support during the 2006 elections. Main reason: the personal behaviour of the Prime Minister who, at the end of his reign, was thought of as caring more for himself than for the country. Winners of the Pop Idol contest experience the same difficulty. They are first portrayed as heroes, but as soon as they feel like they have become one, the Swedes will be quick to make them feel that they are not that special.
Impressing Swedes is not very easy, according to Emil. `Bragging is not accepted. It is not considered good taste to tell people you are good at something. They will quickly find you ridiculous, suspicious or possibly even plain stupid if you think high of yourself. On the other hand, simply being good at something is well-appreciated or even expected. The same goes for self-confidence. A difficult split, because where does self-confidence turn into arrogance?
Conny (28, photo) used to do swimming as a sport and he proved to be very good at it. `I could say that to my friends and it would not be a problem. Why say that you are not good at something when you are. But strangers would tend to look down on that, even though public opinion is becoming less strict nowadays. The equality rules are starting to become less important, especially in the cities`, he says. He further comments that he feels free to do whatever he wants to do, or be whatever he wants to be.
Karin (29) explains that the equality syndrome also has another side. It also tells people that they can behave differently, without having to let go with their rights as citizens, customers or roles they play in society. However, when it comes to people`s private opinions about one another, conformation remains the ideal. If you really insist, surround yourself by like-minded people and create a small subculture. It will at least give you a measurable excuse for exotic behaviour when dealing with outsiders.
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