I’ve now been living in Sweden for around half a year and since I’ve passed this completely arbitrary milestone I feel like I’m now well-placed to offer my opinions of the country. Although it’s kind of impossible to summarise an entire nation in just a short blog post, fortunately the modern world is all about superficial understanding (e.g. Buzzfeed explaining complex political issues in ‘Top-10 reasons’ lists, people basing their understanding of entire military conflicts on a few tweets, and so on). With this in mind, I think I can be forgiven.
Sweden is like a gigantic, prestigious retirement home. The only difference is that people of all ages live in it. Also, the home is not so much one building-complex but a very large country with many villages, towns and cities. Additionally, most of the people living in it aren’t actually retired; many have normal jobs or are just students. In fact, Sweden is very much like a fully-functioning country- although it is certainly retirement-home-esque.
Larger retirement homes often have old people riding around the grounds on 2mph mobility scooters, Sweden is not dissimilar. All the cars here drive around exceptionally slowly, in a sort of reverse motor-sport where the person who drives in the most excruciatingly leisurely manner wins. The buses drive even slower, to the point where it’s sometimes quicker to cover yourself in vaseline and crawl towards your destination. Alternatively you could cycle, but apart from a few days in Summer this means exposing yourself to near constant rain/wind/snow/sleet/drizzle/darkness.
Some of the best retirement homes have a long list of general rules for the residents to follow; “Patients are reminded not to die in the corridors!”, for example. But unfortunately what often happens in old-folks’-homes is that many of these rules go widely ignored, because of widespread dementia. However, fortunately Sweden is full of young, dementia free residents and they can remember rules with ease, rules which are treated with extreme reverence. The Swedes look to the rule of law and to a complex web of social norms and values in the same way Muslims walking into Mecca view the Koran. To break the rules of society is an offence to the underlying-fabric of the universe.
For example, I recently was volunteering for a posh dinner for heads of the university ‘Nations’- essentially mini student-unions This dinner included a champagne reception with 74 precisely filled glasses, for 74 well-groomed attendees who had just finished watching repeats of Last of the Summer Wine. These glasses were essentially unguarded, yet in a miracle testament to long term Scandinavian social-engineering, only one person came to the bar complaining they hadn’t got their champagne- meaning that virtually everyone had only drank their allotted glass! If this had been in Britain, the first 20 guests would have quickly assessed the surroundings, realised the situation was ripe for exploitation and gulped down 3 glasses each at a minimum.
Like any sensible retirement home Sweden tries to strictly limit the amount of alcohol consumption for its population: if you want to visit the bar downstairs to play some bingo, you’re only allowed one drink at a time and even if you’re just a little bit tipsy the care-workers won’t serve you any more booze until you’ve sobered up. Additionally, if residents want to buy some alcohol for personal consumption in their bedrooms, they will not be able to find any in the supermarket but will have to go to the special systembolaget shop, which is located between the reception and the morgue.
Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit for attempted comedic effect. But there is an element of truth in everything I’ve said. Rules are sacred here and that means that the society functions extremely efficiently. The quality of life is extremely high; there’s no corruption, barely any crime, everything just works. It is certainly a very good place to live, although sometimes it’s just a bit too good, when everything works so well all of the time things can start to feel just a little bit, boring. If Grass is always greener on the other side then Sweden is definitely on that other side, with much of the world enviously looking over the fence. But sometimes you do just want to jump back over and join the real world again.