Sweden is many things to many people. In the last couple of centuries, Sweden has given the world dynamite, a internationally renowned prizes (that sometimes get misspelled in Hollywood movies), cheap furniture, meatballs, pop music, more pop music, a car that has ignition on the floor, three-point seatbelts, refrigerator, and according to an old client of mine, color.
I think he was trying to say that some Swede had invented a color printer, a color TV, or maybe something even more basic color technology, but the way he said it made it sound like people had been living in black and white – and not just in the Dark Ages – until that Swede invented color.
Anyway, Swedes are an industrious people and the world has a lot to thank them for.
We can also note that Swedes are tall (and getting taller), blond (and getting darker, thanks to the last five decades’ immigration), and quite outdoorsy.
The first ray of the first spring sun sends a signal to the collective Swedish spinal cord and makes them pack a picnic basket and head outside. There’s no place where a Swede couldn’t have a picnic, for better or worse. Any public park will do, and what more public than the one at Drottningholm, the King’s residential castle.
Swedes are a collective bunch anyway, not just in springtime. In fact, it’s obvious every weekday at noon. It’s as if an invisible – or at least a silent – big bell calls everybody out to lunch. “Lunch” in Sweden, and in Swedish office speak, means “noon” to the point that lunch is not a unit of time.
Meetings get booked for “before lunch” and “after lunch”. And because a meeting is always an hour long, “before lunch” means 11 o’clock, “after lunch” 1 pm.
But I am here to tell you the one thing that encapsulates Sweden better than Abba, IKEA, Roxette, Ace of Base, SKF, Volvo, Saab, and Electrolux put together.
First, “bench” pulls together everything I’ve written above, from the collectiveness, outdoorsiness, to the inventiveness of these Viking ancestors.
Bench is solid and useful. There are different designs. Benches are beautiful and safe and if you remove the legs, they can be packed inside a very flat cardboard box.
In Sweden, benches are also ubiquitous. There is no place – and this is no exaggaration, simply a fact, so I repeat it: no place – a Swede can’t set up a bench, or hasn’t already done so.
Go for a walk on one of the many paths in and around Stockholm, stop to admire the view, and there’s a bench. Walk to the subway station, and cut across the little recreational forest. Halfway up the stairs, you realize the hill was steeper than it looked, but it’s OK, you can sit down on the bench that is right there.
Outside every apartment building, there’s one. (The one outside our old place was chained to its place, because benches are a hot commodity).
Of course, there are benches alongside bike lanes, in parks, at bus stops. No view is necessary, the view comes from within, I suppose, because I have seen benches overlooking a construction site and a parking lot.
I can’t say that I understand the purpose of every single bench I see, but ten years here have taught me the general idea, I think.
The bench is there because sometimes you need a break. You need to think, talk it out with a friend, or just listen to your inner voice, make a mental note of that idea you have. Or, the sun may come out for the first time in a while.
And it would be a shame if there wasn’t a bench when you needed one.