A disclaimer about Sweden

I’m likely to say some fairly rude things about Sweden here, at times. I’m not Swedish, and nobody is forcing me to live in Sweden, so I see that there’s a strong argument for me keeping my opinions to myself.

But what I find most annoying about Sweden is not the things it gets wrong; it’s that it gets so much stuff right! Which means that the things it gets wrong – almost all of which other countries do better – are very frustrating.

This is a beautiful, large, empty country with plenty of natural resources and a generally well-educated population. And yet…

Anyway, that’s for the future. Here are just a few of the things that are good about Sweden.

1. It’s empty

I mean, really, really empty. This photo was taken in early September, in southern Sweden, on one of the most popular coasts in the country for tourists. The sea was warm enough to swim in, but there was nobody around but me.

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On the same basis, there’s very little traffic outside the major towns.

2. It’s clean

Probably as a corollary of the fact that there aren’t many people here it’s noticeably cleaner than, for example, the UK. There’s almost no litter along the roadsides, even on the motorways. The streets are clean, the buildings are clean, and people will generally walk out of their way to use a bin.

3. There’s a lot of wildlife

Even where I live, right in the south, deer and moose are common. It’s not unusual to see them pottering about in the daytime, even, and at night it’s sometimes difficult to cross my garden without terrifying/being terrified by some kind of large mammal.

There’s also often a variety of birds performing acrobatics and screeching in the field next door (ornithologist I am not). Yes, it’s a big country, but essentially animals here simply aren’t being wiped out in the same kind of numbers as in the UK, either by traffic, construction or the “guardians of the countryside”.

4. You can go anywhere

Sweden has a thing called Allemansrätt (literally “Everyman’s right”). This gives you the right to enter anyone’s land, providing it’s not their garden. You can also swim in any lake and boat on any water, providing you’re using an unpowered boat. And you pick any flowers, mushrooms or berries that aren’t legally protected.

Obviously this originates in the fact that Sweden is a country with a harsh climate – it’s simply not humane to insist that people have to walk around someone else’s land if they’re going to freeze to death by doing so. But it’s interesting that it’s still enshrined in modern law.

In practice, much of Sweden is actually covered with impenetrable forest so it’s kind of irrelevant. But I live in the soft south and it’s nice to be able to just set off for a walk in the countryside without having to find a public footpath first (although such things do exist too).

5. Everyone speaks English – really well

I know that as a linguist this shouldn’t be on the list, but sometimes – especially when you’ve spent all day working in your other source language – you really just can’t find the words. So when you’re there struggling to remember how to pronounce the registration number of your car to a mechanic, it’s good to just be able to do it in English.

This facility with English is partly down to the education system, but largely – I am assured by Swedes – the result of the fact that TV programmes here are subtitled rather than dubbed. This means that many children have a good grasp of basic English (or at least American) even before they start school.

6. There are no poor people

Obviously this is rubbish. There are poor people in Sweden, it’s just that there are fewer of them per head of the population than, even the poshest bits of the UK. There are rich people here, too – even obscenely rich people. It’s just that there are fewer of them. The vast majority of Swedes (and even second-generation immigrants) have an extremely high living standard. It’s a great country to bring up kids, should you be that way inclined, because they really will find both a job and a house when they grow up. How many other European countries can say that?

7. They do really good cheesecake

Nuff said.