I went to Stockholm because I had never been there, and also to visit a friend I had met diving in Indonesia.
I told Karin this was not my first time in Sweden, as I had been to Malmö a few years ago. She said: “No, you’ve been to Denmark.” Malmö is indeed in Sweden, but just a short subway ride from Copenhagen. Apparently the residents are under strong Danish influence, and people in Stockholm poke fun at their accent.
So, I had the great benefit of a guide in Sweden, and Karin did not work that week. Would she make me do truly Swedish things that tourists never do? You bet she would!
She made me install Ikea furniture in her apartment! Could my visit be more stereotypical? Of course it could…
Let’s all make Swedish meatballs!
I must say, the bad meatballs they sell at Ikea have nothing in common with the real thing. Really delicious with the slight crunch of lightly cooked onion inside and lingonberry jam on the side. The gravy made by deglazing the pan was also really nice; I’m just not sure about it coming out of the mouth of a cow.
So these stereotypes are based in reality, but others are not. Two different Swedish girls told me that whenever they are at a beach or a pool while travelling abroad and they mention their country of origin, the answer they often get is: “Swedish? Why aren’t you naked?”
Perhaps this reputation comes from the fact that nudity was allowed in Swedish movies earlier than in other countries. Pornography might also have come earlier. Karin said that perhaps this was why foreigners though Swedish women were easy going. I corrected her otherwise excellent English. “Hum… it’s not “easy going”, it’s “easy!” In reality, Swedish women are quite prudish. We went to a popular beach and I never saw anything like the level of nudity one would see almost everywhere in Southern Europe (or even Germany or Norway). Women (and men) were also extremely careful to wrap and cover in all sorts of ways when changing, until they were fully dressed under their towel, blanket or whatever. Of course, before going to the beach, I did not know that. So we walked under a bridge and, after a turn in the path, I look up and saw a beautiful young woman, standing, looking at me. She was wearing an elastic in her hair. And absolutely nothing else. I pretended not to be surprised, thinking that, for all I knew, this was common around Stockholm. Then she struck some kind of pose, and a man I had not been paying attention to knelt in front of her with a very big camera and started snapping away. It was a photo-shoot. I got to live even the false Swedish stereotypes!
The only stereotype I missed was the ABBA museum. But at least I passed in front of it.
As in Norway, drinking in the park is not allowed. And as in Norway, nobody cared about Hanna, Karin, myself and our bottle of wine.
Like Canada, Sweden is a very progressive place. By coincidence, during Pride week, Drottningattan street had nothing but pride flags, and a lonely Canadian flag! Unfortunately, I had not planned for this and realized I would miss the big parade by only half a day. I could have rescheduled my flight, but this would have involved explaining to my awesome girlfriend Michelle why I would not see her in Helsinki, where she was flying all the way from Ottawa to travel with me!
As in most, or all, western countries, homosexuality was once considered by Swedish authorities to be a mental disorder. This changed in 1978, when a lesbian approached some agency of the already well-established Swedish welfare state. She said that since she was sick, she was, of course, unable to work. Using the existing policies, the public servants concluded that, as the victim of a chronic and incurable mental illness, she should indeed stay home and would receive 80% of her salary, for life. The next day, the line-up in front of the Government office extended all the way to Denmark, and the Government decided that all homosexuals were now “cured”.
The country is progressive in other ways. For example, couples each get 8 months parental leave. One parent can chose to give the leave to the other, but to encourage equality in raising children, if both take the 8 months, the family gets a big income tax write-off.
Like in a lot of progressive countries, religion is loosing a lot of ground among young people. For lack of attendance, this enormous cathedral has been converted into the massive Nordic Museum. Most Swedes, except perhaps in the deep countryside, attend church either a few times in their lives, for baptisms, marriages and funerals, or never attend.
Today, the most important religion actually practiced in Sweden is, by very far, Islam. In the reverse kind of conversion, this massive former electric power station has been converted into a big mosque.
We chanced to stumble upon a big Thai festival downtown. Too bad we had just eaten Shawarma sandwiches in the suburbs!
So I did a bit of “touristing”, checking out the Royal Palace, but opting not to visit. Incidentally, I once met the King of Sweden, in Ottawa. But that’s another – long – story.
The Gröna Lund amusement park. Because it is located on a small piece of land, it is possibly the densest amusement park I had ever seen, with roller coasters all mingled one into the other, a “two dimensional” roller coaster (purple, on the left) and 3 towers that shoot you up and down (because they don’t take much space).
And a random anti-Israel demonstration. Didn’t understand a word they said, but it doesn’t matter, I know exactly what they are saying.
A warship of the Swedish Navy.
One of the many nice things about Stockholm is its colourful and original architecture.
In this colourful and fun looking church, the nice and progressive Swedes use to conduct witch trials. But unlike the Saudis, they have the excuse that it was in 1676, and not last year. A 12 year old boy invented some witch story about his mother, in order to try and make some friends. Eventually, several children started spreading rumours, as they liked the attention they got from it. Frighten plebes insisted the authorities do something, so eventually they tortured the accused women until they confessed and hung six of them. One refused to confess, so she was burned at the stake.
After this, the children felt important and became arrogant. At some point, one was confronted and admitted she had been paid by someone to accuse a probable adversary. The children, aged 12 to 15, were taken to court and six of them were hung. So kids, don’t lie, or we will hang you.
Random colourful building: Bellmansgatan 1, where Mikael Blomqvist lives in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
One not so nice thing about Stockholm is the damned birds. Understandable they would attack leftovers.
But bicycles! Why does a bird need a bicycle anyway?
Even the parks were invaded by Canada Geese. This is where people used to lounge by the water and swim a bit, which we were hoping to do. But with all the bird poo on the ground, bathers have now abandoned the park. Disgusting. “Go back to Canada you stupid birds!” Euh, wait, I mean, “Go back somewhere else, you stupid birds!”.
Another bad thing is that Sweden is quite expensive. But I set-up my tent on the sidewalk and compared to Norway, found it relatively affordable. So despite the birds and the bills, Stockholm was an awesome city to “visit” (OK, to relax/hang out/party in), and I can’t wait to return!