World, meet Sweden

In Finland, there are thousands of jokes about the Swedes. Entire books have been dedicated to the art form, and one of my all-time favorite jokes actually comes from one of those books. I read it when I was about 12, and I’m not really sure why I still think it’s sort of funny. It’s almost not even a joke.

“A Swede shot an arrow to the sky. He missed”.

Anyway, Finns like to tell jokes about Swedes, and often it’s the Swedish man who’s the butt of the joke. In the jokes, the Swedish men are slow, thick, and often, if not homosexual, then at least soft and feminine. They discuss things.

When I first moved to Sweden, I used to tell a joke: “Finland is the country stuck between the world’s biggest country, and the nation that thinks it’s the world’s biggest country”.

Because the image of the Swedes in Finland was that they were obnoxious, loud, and – with their ABBA and Björn Borg, goddammit – successful.

And to be fair, the Swedes at the office laughed, too. Because they can.

After I had moved to Sweden, I became very Finnish. In my first year, I read Finnish classics, watched old Finnish movies, and traveled back a lot. And in the middle of the culture shock, just as I had told my boss at work that I’d be moving back to Finland, along came a woman and showed me a Sweden that I had never known.

Not only was she smart and beautiful, she was also so very Swedish. She liked to discuss things. She was understanding, she tried to understand the Finnish boy inside me to the point that the Finnish boy got to sit in the car once a week at the Stockholm university parking lot reading Finnish classics when the Swedish woman was taking Finnish classes.

She quoted Pippi Longstocking to me – “She who is very strong must also be very kind” – she took me to IKEA, she taught me the purpose of fika, the art of sitting down with a cup of coffee and talk for hours.

And with her, an even bigger Sweden opened up to me. Her family. Her grandparents, aunts, uncles, her parents, her sisters, and her brother. She took me to dozens of birthdays parties, and other family gatherings, and for the first year, or three, I mostly just sat there, listening to the chatter, stuffing my mouth with cake and cookies.

Theirs is a Sweden that sticks together, cheers for the underdogs, and believes in Pippi. In that Sweden, you think and care about others, you think positive, and you’re ready to give people a second chance. It’s also a Sweden that has a very hard time tolerating people being treated unfairly, a Sweden that stands for its rights and the rights of others, and who wouldn’t even dream of taking any crap from somebody that parked his car too close to your car and then wants to pick a fight, even if the other person were a twenty years younger, big dude.

That’s also the funny and considerate Sweden. The one who’ll always help you move or give you a ride, or if for some weird reason he’s unable to do that, he’ll offer you his car, or if even that’s impossible, he’ll buy you a new one, and it’ll be fine because he got a good deal on it, anyway, and he’ll be able to flip it and make a nice profit.

That’s the Sweden that dreams big, and likes to start new things – but also always wears the special Christmas socks on Christmas Eve. That Sweden has the world’s biggest Peter Forsberg hockey card collection, and a collection of coins, and stamps and – just stuff. A word of warning, though: That Sweden will eloquently beat you in badminton.

Now you, too, can get to know that Sweden because “every week, someone in Sweden is @Sweden: sole ruler of the world’s most democratic Twitter account”, and for the next seven days, that someone happens to be my father-in-law.

Follow him, you won’t regret it. And heck, I’m sure you can even discuss things with him.

Or tell him a joke.

3 thoughts on “World, meet Sweden

  1. Beautiful. This was my experience in visiting Sweden, the home of my ancestors. I’ve never been able to articulate it so well. Perfect. I miss it so much.

  2. I was fortunate enough to work for a Swedish company about 10 years ago, and made three business trips to Sweden. I’d love to make it back someday, as I couldn’t get over how beautiful and clean the cities were, and how friendly and approachable the people.

    I’m a firm believer that every American should travel abroad and see with their own eyes how other countries live. All too often, we in the US get stuck thinking that we’re the only ones who have come up with any good ideas on how to organize a society.

How does that make you feel?