In Search of the Swedish Soul
July 9, 2009 4:58 AM   Subscribe

 
A country where divorce is relatively fair and painless, war is unpopular, and capitalist ideals of effort to get ahead exist, yet there is also appreciation and acceptance of socialized infrastructure for the betterment of all? On top of all of this, they have a Pirate Party and are some of the happiest people in the world?

I call shenanigans. This proposed "Sweden" is impossible.
posted by Saydur at 5:15 AM on July 9, 2009 [12 favorites]


Maybe they are all happy but the writer just stays there because his daughter lives there.

...my daughter, now 18 keeps me here...

So it looks more a case of seeing a half empty bottle half full. And the big love for Sweden emerges at the end of article:

I would conclude that Sweden is not at all bad—given how the rest of world is.

Bye Bye loser...
posted by elcapitano at 5:23 AM on July 9, 2009


I know, I've been thinking moving to Sweden would be better even than moving to Canadia. The problems are a) the cold and b) having to learn Sweese.
posted by DU at 5:23 AM on July 9, 2009 [6 favorites]


Seriously, the overbearing conformity sounds pretty depressing. I'm all for the socialized health care and anti-privacy infringement movement, but it's not some Utopian society. It does sound tempting today though, it's going to be 106F (41C) this afternoon where I am, and decently humid to boot.
posted by Saydur at 5:37 AM on July 9, 2009


106F is about half as hot as the majority of Swedish people, so maybe you are safer where you are.
posted by spicynuts at 5:44 AM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


...where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.
posted by XMLicious at 5:45 AM on July 9, 2009


and b) having to learn Sweese.
I believe it's called Sweedese.
posted by From Bklyn at 5:52 AM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


As a long-time resident of Sweden, I'm pretty much in agreement with the article's author: It's a fine place to live & work; a model society in many respects. Even so, I'll be as glad as I'll be sorry when I leave. I'll miss the low crime and the clean air and the lovely, fast internet connections, but, by Odin's beard, I will not miss the food...
posted by misteraitch at 5:54 AM on July 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh come on people, they seem to have a good thing going. Why ruin it for them? If we all did a mass exodus to Sweden in 2 years we would turn that place into America 2. And we all know that the second part in any series is a 50/50 hit or miss.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 5:54 AM on July 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sweden, where some of my father's ancestors came to the US from, seems to be permanently fixed in our (the US's) minds as the place in Bob Hope's 1960s movie "I'll Take Sweden," where the women are silly, buxom, and promiscuous, the men are all of the above but doubled, and there are a lot of funny accents and habits. Either that or it's the forbidding, icy, barren hellhole of angst and despair depicted in most of Ingmar Bergman's wonderful, but in their own way also quite stereotypical, movies. It's neither of those things, nor is it the socialist neverland caricatured by US politicians. I'd love to live there, but I also get the sense that it would be extremely difficult for a non-Swede to fit in there, in any real or permanent way. Maybe I'm mistaken.
posted by blucevalo at 6:05 AM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I believe it's called Sweedese.
I've been assured by no less an authority than the Muppet Show that it is Bork Bork Bork.
posted by namewithoutwords at 6:19 AM on July 9, 2009 [8 favorites]


Maybe we just need it explained in album form: Understand You're Swede
posted by chambers at 6:23 AM on July 9, 2009


I visited Stockholm for a few weeks about 10 years ago, and I liked it. However, the city center was so clean that I got a little nervous that I might get scrubbed if I leaned against a wall for too long. Oslo was grubbier, but felt more comfortable and "lived-in." Maybe that was just me, though.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:34 AM on July 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Nice move putting up a post about Sweden at a time where probably every Swedish mefite is on vacation (not a coincidence there is no Swedish 10 year anniversary meetup). Luckily its 14 C, raining and I'm in front of the computer!

Just one comment: I do not agree that Sweden is overly conformist. I prefer our annoying focus on "equality" to your absolute terror of "Political Correctness" anytime. Oh, and we've downsized social services to lowest levels of acceptance so most parts of Stockholm are now just as dirty as the rest of Europe.
posted by uandt at 6:39 AM on July 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Nice move putting up a post about Sweden at a time where probably every Swedish mefite is on vacation

It would be nice to live in a country with vacation time.
posted by octothorpe at 6:47 AM on July 9, 2009 [8 favorites]


For some reason, it turns out I know a lot of Swedes here in the US, and met many of their visiting friends. They are a kind of master race: tall, fabulously good-looking, smart, cultured, and professionally skilled. Their native food is awful (except for gluurg -- the spiced Xmas drink) and they're all critical of the unions and socialism back home. Swedish pop music is great (for instance, the Merrymakers), ABBA was great, and there are some pretty good Swedish detective novels out there. They are really an incredible people, taken as a whole.
posted by Faze at 6:47 AM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


gluurg -- the spiced Xmas drink

Glögg
posted by martinrebas at 6:49 AM on July 9, 2009


I call bullshit on a lot of this article -- particularly the stuff about how Swedish women 'have been used to being independent since Viking times when the men went away for years in their longboats'. Remember how Iceland's economic miracle used to be explained in terms of the Viking spirit of buccaneering independence? Remember how that turned out?

For a much more perceptive take on Swedish society I recommend Fishing in Utopia, a truly marvellous book by MetaFilter's own alloneword.
posted by verstegan at 6:53 AM on July 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


Vacations and holidays are covered by legislation. All employees in Sweden are entitled to a minimum five-week paid annual leave, after the first year of employment. Normally, vacations are taken so employees can have four consecutive weeks off. Traditionally, vacations have been taken in July, which means that many companies all but close down operations in that month. However, in recent years, because of the much stronger international business environment, full operations continue through the summer, while employees take vacations at other times of year.

Can't blame an international business environment but I'm at work now, taking "late" vacation for three consecutive weeks starting next week. Then a couple of weeks at work. followed by another week off for a charter trip to Greece. Saving a week of vacation for christmas time when it's nice to meet the family and engage in some serious noncelebration of religious traditions, of course with decent amounts of glurrg.

Typing down my plans for vacation this year made me lose interest and I'm kind of already in vacation mode so I won't comment on this bashing vs. praising of the Swedish model. I guess some things are true, others not so much.
posted by mnsc at 7:06 AM on July 9, 2009


I imagine he got that first line from his editor.
posted by fleacircus at 7:23 AM on July 9, 2009


I thought that the key to the Swedish soul was that they're hooked on a feeling.

whups, that's just the blue ones.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:24 AM on July 9, 2009


One thing the article omitted is Jante Law, the particularly Scandinavian social prohibitions against considering oneself to be any better or more important than others. Though some could argue that Jante Law has as much relevance to Sweden today as the stiff upper lip has to post-Diana England.
posted by acb at 7:25 AM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hint: When someone writes about a culture or country being "conformist" they usually just mean that lots of the people in question hold positions that the writer disagrees with (or is annoyed by the validity of).
posted by No-sword at 7:26 AM on July 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I forgot, the Swedish soul ain't all that great.
posted by mnsc at 7:34 AM on July 9, 2009


"The Baltic Sea" by Glasgow/Swedish band "The Social Services" is the soundtrack to go with this thread I think.
posted by rongorongo at 7:36 AM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


GenjiandProust: I visited Stockholm for a few weeks about 10 years ago, and I liked it. However, the city center was so clean that I got a little nervous that I might get scrubbed if I leaned against a wall for too long. Oslo was grubbier, but felt more comfortable and "lived-in." Maybe that was just me, though.

Is that what Stockholm Syndrome is?
posted by shakespeherian at 7:41 AM on July 9, 2009


This is about the weirdest damn thing the Swedes do, and it always scares the bejabbers out of me because I don't want to see anyone's beautiful head of blonde hair go up in flames. I mean, Santa Lucia headwear is right up there with snake handling...
posted by Faze at 7:42 AM on July 9, 2009


I call shenanigans. This proposed "Sweden" is impossible.

Yeah, if they could *really* do all those things, it wouldn't be Sweden, it would be Iceland.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:47 AM on July 9, 2009


...the weekends are notoriously wild. But the students are bright and after I've given a lecture I like to take those who want to out for a drink. Inevitably, the subject turns to sex...

Selective quoting indicates that Swedish professors are really sleazy.


If we all did a mass exodus to Sweden in 2 years we would turn that place into America 2. And we all know that the second part in any series is a 50/50 hit or miss."

I'm sure the odds for sequels are even worse if the first film was self-indulgent. All the worse if the original was about special effects explosions at the expense of character development. For example, Transformers, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:02 AM on July 9, 2009


Swedish pop music is great (for instance, the Merrymakers), ABBA was great, and there are some pretty good Swedish detective novels out there.

Can't comment on Swedish detective novels, but Swedish pop music is (and was) indeed great. There was ABBA, to be sure, but don't forget about Roxette (and even a couple of Ace of Base songs, as much as it pains me to admit my appreciation of them), Neneh Cherry, the Cardigans, the Hives, and Peter Bjorn and John.
posted by blucevalo at 8:07 AM on July 9, 2009


There was ABBA, to be sure, but don't forget about Roxette (and even a couple of Ace of Base songs, as much as it pains me to admit my appreciation of them), Neneh Cherry, the Cardigans, the Hives, and Peter Bjorn and John

And I'm From Barcelona, The Radio Dept., Air France, Irene, Sambassadeur, Jens Lekman, Pelle Carlberg, &c.. Sweden pretty much owns indiepop these days. And fashion-electro (The Knife, REVL9N, &c.)
posted by acb at 8:16 AM on July 9, 2009


A Spin Magazine article from last year on how Sweden became an indie-pop powerhouse. (Note: annoying image-based page browser, but nonetheless worth a read.)
posted by acb at 8:19 AM on July 9, 2009


It hosts thousand of students and the weekends are notoriously wild.

"And sexy as all hell, but I won't say that for fear of sounding like a perv. Although, on the other hand, it's Sweden, so who would care?"

But the students are bright and after I've given a lecture I like to take those who want to out for a drink.

"They're bright. And sexy. Did I say bright? I like to take advantage of my bright Swedish acolytes by taking them out to bars and plying them with liberal amounts of alcohol."

Inevitably, the subject turns to sex and marriage.

"Inevitably, I turn the subject to sex and marriage, even when we're talking about the G8 or Ugandan politics and it's obvious that by changing the topic I'm being socially inept and embarrassingly awkward in that typical way of Brits of a certain generation."

Pushed by my homesick Swedish wife I arrived from living in sunny Spain right by the sea and almost immediately went into depression.

"My Swedish ex-wife is one pushy woman, but so are all Swedish women. We eventually divorced. Damn, I do wish I were back in sunny Andalusia baking on the Costa del Sol and hitting on Spanish students, but my 18-year-old Swedish daughter has me trapped here forever."
posted by blucevalo at 8:19 AM on July 9, 2009 [8 favorites]


the swedes are the germans of scandinavia...you admire their work ethic but who wants to live that way.

and everyone hates the finns.
posted by geos at 8:38 AM on July 9, 2009


the swedes are the germans of scandinavia...you admire their work ethic but who wants to live that way.

I do, but then I have Swedish genes, so there you go.
posted by blucevalo at 8:42 AM on July 9, 2009


... liberal amounts of alcohol...

would be prohibitively expensive in Scandinavia.
posted by acb at 8:42 AM on July 9, 2009


blucevalo's got it, I reckon. Man it's hard to read something about Sweden and how 'we' all are knowing that the differences in social attitudes from Kiruna to Ystad 1420.42 kilometers away range as much as the distance between them.

/short, red headed swede who never fit in
posted by dabitch at 8:45 AM on July 9, 2009


A particular favorite of mine is Benny Anderssons Orkester, which is an odd blend of pop, big band jazz, and Swedish folk music currently being done by the guy who was the keyboardist for ABBA.
posted by hippybear at 8:49 AM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Did anybody else get a sort of Iain (M.) Banks overlay while reading this? I kept expecting digressions about ship names,Special Circumstances and knife missiles.
posted by signal at 8:53 AM on July 9, 2009


To my eye, it seemed like the article/piece was flavoured with a liberal dose of 'Boy this sure ain't how we do it here in America!' Which is why they like to visit Canada. Far away, but mostly the same. Unless you're oot aboot the hoose.
posted by LD Feral at 9:19 AM on July 9, 2009


Metafilter: I guess some things are true, others not so much.

Life: I guess some things are true, others not so much.

Journalism: I guess some things are true, others not so much.

Things your girlfriend tells you: I guess some things are true, others not so much.
posted by spicynuts at 9:33 AM on July 9, 2009


I'm always fascinated by reports about the social attitudes and structure of the northern European countries, but I have serious doubts about the 'exportability' — for lack of a better word — of their political systems.

I've never been to Sweden, but I've been to Iceland (pre-Bubble), and there seem to be substantial similarities. I'm not sure how much stock I put in the "Viking heritage" thing, but there's an agrarian/fishing heritage, predominantly flat social hierarchy, and long tradition of democracy. The population is small, speaks a single language, has a shared culture, and is (at least to an outside observer) pretty homogeneous rather than factionalized. And they have a society that they can justifiably be proud of.

Where I think observers, especially American progressives, go wrong is thinking that any of this can really be used as a model or template here in the US. What works in a culturally homogeneous society with a tradition of cooperating for mutual benefit may not work very well in a society that's diverse to the point of Balkanization and was built on ruthless exploitation and genocide.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:39 AM on July 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


To my eye, it seemed like the article/piece was flavoured with a liberal dose of 'Boy this sure ain't how we do it here in America!' Which is why they like to visit Canada.

The writer of the piece is British.
posted by blucevalo at 9:49 AM on July 9, 2009




... liberal amounts of alcohol...

would be prohibitively expensive in Scandinavia.


there is a popular Swedish website that lists alcohol from the state-owned store in terms of grams alcohol per kr. I lived there for a year and people had no problem getting trashed even if vodka was a little pricey. I would estimate that most of the average student's budget goes to alcohol.

I remember when I had a new roommate moving into our house. I was the only non-swede and the Swedish girls I lived with warned me that this new girl was crazy. I asked why and they simply said "she always wants to be the best and she asks a lot of questions in class." My roommates were also very antisocial. In the US I thought I was antisocial, but I was too social for them. I had to learn the rules:
1. Never do anything on a weeknight except sitting alone in your room doing homework or watching TV on the couch
2. Never talk to anyone during breakfast or dinner. Lunch is OK.
3. If you want to do something together you must send a text message a week in advance.
4. Don't knock on anyone's door or call them unless you have known them for five years or more.
5. Don't act too interested in being a friend.
6. If you can avoid being near other people, you should. Don't sit next to people on the bus unless you have to, etc.
7. Once a week on Friday night, these rules do not apply and you can act like a drunken crazy moron and bring home random people and knock on my door imploring me to go clubbing at 1 AM.
8. There is no way that Swedish guy is going to ask you out unless you have known him for five years. But he might take you home for a night if he is drunk.

I was at one of the best universities in Sweden and the academic quality was terrible. I guess I shouldn't complain since it was free, but it was so confusing. Unlike in the US, the classes were small, the students weren't dumb, but teaching was sloppy and disorganized.

A Swedish friend, a medical student, told me that if he got above 50% (which is a pass and considered great in Sweden) on a test he was upset because that meant he had studied too hard.

It's strange though because Sweden isn't very different from the US compared to other countries like Italy or Spain. I think people just get confused because Sweden is so normal-looking on the surface and they are shocked when they learn how strange it really is.

Despite all this, I miss Sweden. It's undeniably beautiful, clean, and many things are better than the US. I met a lot of good Swedish friends despite the initial iciness and I was able to bike anywhere I wanted.
posted by melissam at 9:50 AM on July 9, 2009 [11 favorites]


I also think it's important to note that right now Swedes are undergoing some turmoil regarding immigration. If you are in Sweden, it's very interesting to visit the immigrant areas. I lived very close to immigrant housing projects. They are isolated from where Swedes live and look very much like decrepit US housing projects. Much of the immigrant population is unemployed. Most immigrants are Muslims, many are hardline Muslims. Unsurprisingly, these communities have some issues with crime and other social ills.

But the typical Swedish attitude is not that the government's dealing with these immigrants is bad, but that the immigrants themselves are a blight on Swedish society. Of course not all Swedes feel that way and I knew many Swedes that were welcoming and non-xenophobic, but there is a backlash brewing. Because of these, Swedes are more open to more right-wing policies than ever and in the next few years expect some dismantling of the old socialist system.
posted by melissam at 10:11 AM on July 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


From the article: [Sweden] was the only western nation to give significant funds to the African National Congress.

Not correct.
"The Norwegian government began to support the ANC directly in 1977."
"Mandela accepted the Nobel Peace Prize as an accolade to all people who have worked for peace and stood against racism. It was as much an award to his person as it was to the ANC and all South Africa s people. In particular, he regards it as a tribute to the people of Norway who stood against apartheid while many in the world were silent."
"The Danish government took a very active stand against apartheid and established the ‘Apartheid Appropriation’ in 1963, a humanitarian budget that channelled all official Danish support to Southern Africa through NGOs."
"The Nordic governments had different policies. Some of them said that their parliament did not allow direct assistance. It had to go through an NGO and therefore we were asked to contact the NGOs. In other cases it was direct, in Norway in particular."
"Finland began contributing to the UN Trust Fund for South Africa in the late 1960’s and with direct aid to ANC in 1977."
posted by iviken at 10:47 AM on July 9, 2009


I knew many Swedes that were welcoming and non-xenophobic, but there is a backlash brewing.

It's already happened; the right-leaning Moderate Party has been in control of the government since October 2006 (although mefi Swedes will know much more than I about the validity of comparing that party to any typical conservative/right party in other Western countries, or, for that matter, countries in Scandinavia).
posted by blucevalo at 10:53 AM on July 9, 2009


Oh c'mon, that backlash has been brewing since the late seventies, peaking when "Ny Demokrati" got seats in Swedens parliment and the current government policies (lead by Moderaterna) are not comparable in any way. Sverigedemokraterna (SD) are the current largest right party, and still The pirate Party yanked that one chair in EU parliment right out from under them in the recent election without even breaking a sweat.
posted by dabitch at 11:14 AM on July 9, 2009


geos: everyone hates the finns.

Shenanigans! The Nords all hate each other, like a dysfunctional family. Again I have to bring out my handy chart of inter-Nordic stereotypes, though I've updated it a bit.

Icelanders: Jackass drunks.
Greenlanders: Suicidal drunks.
Finns: Depressed drunks.
Swedes: Stuck-up drunks.
Danes: Arrogant drunks.
Faroese: Christian drunks.
Norwegians: Boring junkies.
posted by Kattullus at 11:24 AM on July 9, 2009 [7 favorites]


The article strikes me as reasonably accurate, but written with rose-colored glasses.

The key thing about living in Sweden is that the country is provincial - very, very provincial. There is very little mixing of cultures - as melissam wrote, immigrants are often concentrated in ghettos, and Swedes are very resistant to taking in cultural influences. I remember growing up, back in the 70's and 80's, in as major a city as Goteborg (2nd largest city after Stockholm), there were maybe 5 Chinese restaurants - and all served the same lame menu, like a generic chicken soup, but with - HOW EXOTIC!! - peas floating in it. There were virtually no other cuisines represented. Stockholm was not much better. That went for everything else too - 99% of the stuff there is bland Swedish culture. Maybe it's changed a tad since then, but it's still depressing as all hell.

That's why I love living in the U.S. - Los Angeles, (and I hope eventually, when I get enough $, New York). The sheer variety of people and cultures. The openness of the people, how quickly one can make contacts, the enthusiasm and energy. Sweden strikes me as the opposite of all this. My choice is clear. That said, I do miss the sense of equality between men and women in Sweden (even though it's still far from really equal) compared to the U.S. - really, it's amazing how unaware Americans are of the vast gender inequality that exists here.
posted by VikingSword at 11:29 AM on July 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh c'mon, that backlash has been brewing since the late seventies ....

Like I said, mefi Swedes would know much more about the particulars than I! Jag beklagar!
posted by blucevalo at 11:43 AM on July 9, 2009


As long as Sweden can produce great folk metal like Otyg, Fejd, and the awesome and prolific Vintersorg, then God bless that wonderful land.
posted by spinifex23 at 11:47 AM on July 9, 2009


Sweden produced Caramelldansen. Tell me people who could make a song like this aren't the most happy, joyful people on Earth. And I will tell you you are wrong.
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:50 AM on July 9, 2009


Vikingsword, the food situation seems to have improved. There are lots more Thai restaurants and some of them are good. In Stockholm there is even a Malaysian and an Indonesian place. I found that sushi in Stockholm was very good also. Good SE Asian ingredients were also available at any store. My friends from Indonesia were able to whip up reasonably authentic native cuisine easily. I would kill to be able to find Kecap Manis at the average US grocery store.

Some Swedes have even discovered that not all salads need to be made of mayo, out of season watery tomatoes, cucumbers, and iceberg lettuce...though most are still made that way.

The pizza is uniquely terrible though and the horror that is kebab lurks nearly everywhere.

My favorite was the "Chicago" pizza at the local pizza joint: bearnaise sauce, peas, cheese, and green peppers. WTF. Don't get me started on the "Mexican taco party" my roommates had. It made Taco Bell look authentic.

For my birthday my Swedish friends prepared a "Sandwich cake." It was layers of bread with mayo between them coated with an "icing" of mayo and some various Swedish favorites like onions, cucumbers, cheese, sundried tomatoes, radishes, and salmon as decoration...it was very strange. Swedes love mayo and anything related, particularly the aforementioned bearnaise sauce, which they love on pizza or just about anything.


A tip for Sweden: only let in immigrants if they promise not to open any more kebab or pizza shops. Recruit immigrants from countries that have tasty food.
posted by melissam at 12:30 PM on July 9, 2009


Well, maybe it was unfair to pick on Sweden wrt. cuisine. Swedes traditionally had a stunningly narrow and uninteresting cuisine, so the kind of culinary culture that flourished in, say, France, never even had a chance to develop in Sweden. Northern land, few vegetables in season; mostly fish. What the heck could you do with that? As a result, Swedish taste buds are very primitive indeed. That said, Swedes have been traveling en masse these past 50 years or so - you'd think some of that foreign culinary culture would have rubbed off. But noooo.

I'm glad to hear things have improved, but I hold no hope - it's a low-population country (9 mil), and the market is simply not there to sustain a variety of cuisines or career chefs. Not enough people, and not concentrated enough.

But I picked cuisine as a kind of emblem of what's the matter with the whole culture, and the obstacles they face. Music is slightly different, in that you can use the internet to connect remotely, and people living all over the place can get together online and collaborate.

Still, the bottom line is: small, provincial country, destined to forever be a follower, never a leader in world culture. Fail.
posted by VikingSword at 1:06 PM on July 9, 2009


melissam: I hate smörgåstårta. I can't see why it's so damn popular.
It's near impossible to escape that horrid dish!

You're wrong about one thing: It isn't layers of bread with mayonnaise between them. It's layers of mayonnaise with some bread in it. Urrgh.

Being a grey, cold swede, I have noticed throughout my life that swedes are growing disgustingly social. :p

A lot of them, especially the young ones, are ignoring the Supreme Right To Not Be Spoken At. :p
posted by Ingenting at 1:11 PM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I remember growing up, back in the 70's and 80's, in as major a city as Goteborg (2nd largest city after Stockholm), there were maybe 5 Chinese restaurants

I'm not sure how many Chinese restaurants there are in Göteborg today, but there are at least 50 Japanese/sushi restaurants.
posted by martinrebas at 1:35 PM on July 9, 2009


I'm not sure how many Chinese restaurants there are in Göteborg today, but there are at least 50 Japanese/sushi restaurants.

Back then, there were 0 sushi joints in Goteborg. I'm glad to hear things have improved. The thing is though, here in LA I have pretty much every cuisine on earth to choose from. Does there exist in Stockholm/Goteborg/Malmo/Sweden even a fraction of these choices? I'm not blaming Sweden for it - as I said, the market is just not there to support such diversity. But regardless of fault, the fact remains, if I feel like Australian food today, I can jump in my car and within 30 minutes I'm eating. And I like that.
posted by VikingSword at 1:53 PM on July 9, 2009


Oh don't you mess with the smörgåstårta! I'll kick the shit out of anyone that goes against it. If you can't take mayo just replace it with sourcream and you're done. The concept of the smörgåstårta is to take the most delicious sandwich you can think of, stack it ontop of another delicious sandwich, make the whole thing really big (like 50x40 cm) and then putting decorative shit like salmon,radishes and roe ontop of it all. Mayo should only really be used to glue the different layers together. People who dont know this should just stick to eating boiled potatoes and cabbage.

Swedish pizza is not a "real" pizza any more than a Chicago deep dish is a real pizza. It's totally greasy and disgusting but its ours. Up north they've greased it down and mated it with falafel and made a roll that is the most delicious streetfood I've had in all of Europe.

All asian food in Sweden is basically chicken boiled in soy sauce. Swedes are notorious pansies when it comes to taste + people are programmed to expect that thai and chinese food is canned bamboo sprouts boiled in soy sauce. If they get anything different they complain.

There are two or three sushi joints in my block and probably a few more in a 100 m radius. Sushi is decent here but only because we have really great salmon.
posted by uandt at 3:36 PM on July 9, 2009


I'm surprised no one's mentioned the Swedes' inventive lofi remakes of movies, like Predator & Terminator 2.
posted by Pronoiac at 4:16 PM on July 9, 2009


For a much more perceptive take on Swedish society I recommend Fishing in Utopia, a truly marvellous book by MetaFilter's own alloneword.

Thanks for that book recommendation, verstegan!

From the review you linked: "Brown lived for some time in a Swedish forest, where 'the silence among the trees was very deep'."

Ah, I envy him. I yearn for that kind of silence.

I've read quite a few books about Sweden, and I look forward to reading this one. Though I was born in the US and have never been to Sweden, I'm of Swedish descent. My grandparents spoke fluent Swedish. I've been learning the language and am planning to travel there eventually to do some genealogical research (and, hopefully, spend some time in Swedish forests as well as cities).

My favorite of the books I've read so far is Modern-Day Vikings: A Practical Guide to Interacting with the Swedes. Seems to garner good reviews from Swedes and Americans alike. There's also The Swedish Secret: What the United States Can Learn From Sweden's Story, but I found this book less nuanced.

And here's what I remember most clearly from my Swedish language classes: Gesällvisan ("journeyman's song," I think). Sadly, I still can't speak much Swedish, but I can sing this song on command. Heh.

Måndag gör jag ingenting,
ingenting, ingenting.
Tisdag ser jag mig omkring,
mig omkring, mig omkring.
Onsdag går jag ut och vankar.
Torsdag sitter jag i tankar.
Fredag gör jag vad jag vill.
Lördag stundar helgen till.
posted by velvet winter at 4:25 PM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I left a small sleepy northern Swedish town in the late 80:s, and I can totally see why some people have disparaging things to say about Swedish cuisine from that time. But I find that improvements to the food in Sweden has been the most obvious and startling change between then and now - at least to my eyes. I'm not talking eating out per se, as eating out is still reserved for weekends and special occasions for many people. Yet there has been a huge influx of new and good restaurants, even out in the boonies. (South of my hometown there is a Thai restaurant in an old barn, for example, which is very popular.)

The biggest change has been in the supermarket. I have never even seen some of the fruits and veggies they carry in my home town ICA (super market chain). I mean I can't even identify them! And there is just as wide of a selection there as there is at the grocery store here in Arlington, VA, if not larger. My cousins oohed and ahhed in wonder over the tacos we made for them in 1989 (I carried taco shells in my hand baggage). They marveled at the canned whipped cream we brought back, and had trouble figuring out what "icing color" could possibly be used for (they decided to try to use it to make ice cubes purple). Now their kids eat sushi for lunch without blinking, and ask for Pad Thai as the dish of choice on their birthdays. It's been a huge change since then.
posted by gemmy at 5:59 PM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]



The biggest change has been in the supermarket. I have never even seen some of the fruits and veggies they carry in my home town ICA (super market chain). I mean I can't even identify them!...
Now their kids eat sushi for lunch without blinking, and ask for Pad Thai as the dish of choice on their birthdays. It's been a huge change since then.


Totally agree. The sushi in Stockholm, particularly at the fish markets is very very good. Sushi is popular enough that there is a great site with just sushi maps (sushikartan.se). It's not hard to find very spicy food at restaurants either.

I would say that if you are looking for it and you are a good cook, good food is easy to come by in Sweden. Dragonfruit, groundcherries, passionfruit, fresh herbs, delicious wild berries...all kinds of exotic and fresh ingredients were at every super market and the international aisle was very well-stocked. I even found pumpkins, sweet potatoes, Southern BBQ sauce, and cornmeal, making my native Southern cuisine not very hard to replicate. There is lots of organic and biodynamic food available too. I'm in Chicago now and I'd say that in the midwest such food is hard to come by in a regular grocery store.

I went to ag school there and yeah the local cafeteria served up liver stew with messmor to the old professors, but just around the corner a Thai place was dishing out pad thai and nigiri to younger students.

Traditional Swedish food is quite good too and the flavor of the local dairy products was unparalleled.

The truth is, I miss Swedish food. Maybe the average tourist in Stockholm gets stuck with crappy stuff, but if you actually live there you can't complain about the grocery store selection.

I will complain though about being subjected to surstromming and kalvsylt...
posted by melissam at 8:22 PM on July 9, 2009


melissam: I would kill to be able to find Kecap Manis at the average US grocery store.

If you have access to dark Chinese soy sauce, palm sugar and a bit of star anise, you can make your own. Brown sugar will also work if you can't find palm sugar. Don't use a Japanese one as those are more fermented-tasting.
posted by emeiji at 9:56 PM on July 9, 2009


verstegen -- thanks for the kind words.

The transformation in Swedish food has been immense. When I lived outside Gothenburg in the late Seventies, we couldn't even buy garlic without travelling into the saluhall in the city centre. Now there are sushi joints everywhere in town, some of them pretty good (the one round the corner from Mauritz Cafe is cheap and excellent). But off on the provinces it's still a fantastically dreadful experience to eat out.

Is there anyone who actually likes surströmming on mefi? I'll eat herrings almost every other way you can prepare them, but partially rotted and fermenting just doesn't do it for me.
posted by alloneword at 1:12 AM on July 10, 2009


Historically, the aristocracy was spread thin in the countryside and there was no large and powerful rural upper or even middle class that wanted to enclose the peasants' land and push them out to work in the dark satanic mills. Hence the yeoman peasants ruled the countryside and this is the origin of the near-classless society of modern Sweden. It is also, as Prime Minister Fredrick Reinfeldt explained to me, why war has been out of favour in Sweden for over 200 years.

Also having a buffer zone called Finland between Sweden and Russia helped a lot. It is still one of the main reasons why Sweden's military policies differ so much from Finnish.
posted by hoskala at 1:30 AM on July 10, 2009


Funny, the posted article starts with sex and we end up talking about the food, which as everyone has stated above has changed immensely since the 70s - I too have brought home taco shells in my suitcase (not to mention peanut butter, Doritos and Mt. Dew), and I shopped at speciality stores to get my halva, my sharons and my thai saces, but these days you can find most everything and tons of exotic fruit and veg at your local ICA.
posted by dabitch at 4:14 AM on July 10, 2009


I'm playing with a theory that in the long term countries turn into a mockery of their foundational ideology and assumptions. Foundational pillars are the most agreed part of political discussion and get always dragged out whatever it is that people are trying to do, and in the long term they get to be the most diluted, meaningless and misused concepts of that country.

In case of Sweden and other Scandinavian countries, tough Viking heritage as feared northern warriors and pillagers of Europe has turned into a very peaceful, equilitarian and amiable indeed. Workers paradise => USSR. Workers paradise => China. Freedom and equality => USA. High culture => Berlusconi's Italy...

The trick seems to be to start with a negative self-image instead of positive attributes and use it as a straw man it is destined to become and slowly build a society that can compensate against assumed weaknesses of people. Oh my stupid, poor, slow and non-communicative, technologically backwards country.
posted by Free word order! at 6:12 AM on July 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


Sweden, by the way, have just taken over the rotating presidency of the EU (countries get 6 months slots. The Economist marked the point with this article - most notable for me for the cartoon at the top.
posted by rongorongo at 9:03 AM on July 10, 2009


I like it here.
posted by beerbajay at 9:03 AM on July 10, 2009


well then beerbajay, lets do the metafilter tenth meetup in Malmö and turn Sweden into a respectable metafilterzen! I can bring some Doritos. ;)
posted by dabitch at 9:37 AM on July 10, 2009


I know a lot of Swedes here in the US...and they're all critical of the unions and socialism back home.

Which is likely why they are here. Are they ambitious entrepreneurial types, I wonder?

My (statistically insignificant) experience of western europeans coming to America in recent years is that they tend to fall into two categories- those who are eager to roll up their sleeves, work hard and succeed big, and frequently do not expect to return home (Unions, socialism...).

The second type thought the streets are paved with gold, there for the taking. The dot com bubble brought a bunch of this latter type, and for a brief shining moment, it worked. But come the decline, the paved with gold types became discouraged, bewildered, and usually ended up going back home (nationalized health care, long vacations). (Not just techies, btw, but also a would be restaurateur who thought that established breweries would bankrole the opening of his place - as they would and eventually did in his native Belgium.)

The roll up their sleeves by contrast applied for American citizenship.

Again, my limited experience.

(For comparison sake, here is a list ranking countries on how easy it is to do business. Sweden is (surprisingly?) high)


The trick seems to be to start with a negative self-image

The real trick seems to me is, when and how often can you reboot?
posted by IndigoJones at 5:02 PM on July 10, 2009


My girlfriend is Swedish and I've spent a few months in Stockholm. Yes, the Chinese food is awful and all of the restaurants serve the same thing (fyra små rätter with a fried banana as dessert) or "Mongolian barbecue." However there's quite a few good Indian restaurants there and some good Italian-style pizza places, Ciao Ciao Grande being one example. There are a lot of restaurants serving "modern Swedish cuisine" that are quite good - basically what you'd expect from French fine dining restaurants, but with a Scandinavian touch (e.g. reindeer meat, smoked salmon, etc.)

I have to say that I kind of like traditional Swedish food, although I couldn't eat it for the rest of my life. I like gravad lax. I like how almost everyone bakes their own bread and have fond memories of eating open faced sandwiches with ham and butter for breakfast. And I really miss the peach-flavored filmjölk. And Västerbottensost, and the little pies they make with it...

As an Asian-American I had some interesting experiences there. Generally I felt that people I interacted with saw me as an Asian first and foremost, despite being born and raised in the US. On one occasion I had ethnic slurs yelled at me. Obviously there exist bigots in every country but living in the US I hadn't experienced that since grade school.

People are polite in general but as other posters have mentioned, there is an undercurrent of racism, especially against the Turkish and Assyrian immigrants. I think it has to do with continental European immigration policy in general - unlike the UK, US, or Canada, it's very difficult to immigrate as a skilled laborer, so the only immigrants who get in tend to be economically disadvantaged asylum seekers.

Also, like many expat Swedes, my girlfriend is quite critical of socialism in Sweden and generally skeptical about how US and Canadian liberals tend to view her home country as some kind of socialist utopia. The country does have a lot going for it though - it's got that Germanic cleanliness and order, relative gender equality, and functional social services. And Swedes punch above their weight internationally when it comes to fashion - we're talking the country of Acne, Nudie, Filippa K, H&M, Tiger, the list goes on...
posted by pravit at 6:36 PM on July 10, 2009


Is there anyone who actually likes surströmming on mefi?

I love surströmming! But then I grew up in fermented herring country just north of Ulvön.
posted by gemmy at 11:10 PM on July 10, 2009


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