Thursday, July 13, 2006

In search of the Swedish soul

Living abroad makes you aware of your own heritage. Right now I'm in a patriotic mode (in the good sense of the word). The last week I’ve been thinking a lot about my home country and what separates her from other nations of the world, how much of my manners are due to the fact that I was brought up there.

What is Sweden besides The Nobel Prize, Volvo, IKEA, Saab, Ericsson, ABBA, Greta Garbo, Ingemar Bergman, Linneaus, sparse interior decoration and a muppet chef?

Part I: Vocabulary

The picture above shows a famous Swedish poster from WWII. The words could either mean “A Swedish Tiger” or “A Swede keeps silent” which was the intent of the poster, i.e. don’t be an informant (to the Germans or Soviets, anyway).

The spirit of the poster lives on (or maybe it's always been there) since Swedes, in an international comparison, is a very quiet people. Maybe we don't have a lot to say, maybe we're just boring or maybe there's just not enough of us to make ourselves heard.

The only Swedish word I know that have been adopted in most of the western world is ombudsman (representative), which is an institution that citizens who feel they are wrongly treated or discriminated in a certain issue can turn to, to get justification. In Sweden there are lots of ombudsmän, one for children, one for people with an ethnic background other than Swedish, one for the press, one for people with (legal) sexual orientations that is not hetero (abbreviated HomO, and yes it means the same thing in Swedish) etc. It's not a weltschmerz or zeitgeist trendy word that you would use in New York, more a Brussels kind of thing, but you couldn't have chosen a better word to export to depict a society built mainly on social democratic politics for the last century. With a huge public sector, but also with an intent to care for every citizen.

Big Brother doesn’t just see you, he listens to you as well.


And reading it now just before I published it I realise that I did not keep to the topic or answer any question, but hell...I'm only learning.


secret wombat said...

weltschmerz is a hell of a word, though. i know bugger all about sweden, really, but the facts, ruumours, lies and stereotypes that I've gleaned make me think the country offers evidence that good levels of government social support without compromising business, economy etc. Though I guess it's easier in a developed country with a relatively small population.

Lone Gopher said...

Just to prove the point yesterdays Inquirer (20th July) had a top story about a Ombudsman, and did not mention German words in a single sentence.

I think we are happy with the rumours. Since we managed to stay out of both WWI and WWII and had a lot of good inventors and entrepreneurs we rose from being the poorest country in Europe to the richest in the world i just over 50 years. After that we've "lost" a bit but it's still as you say, a good mix.