Around the World in 80 Days, Day 70: Sweden, Part 1 – Where No One is Special

Visiting a city and want a bit of local flavor?  Take a guided tour.  While there is no substitute for exploring on your own, meeting people, and research, a good guided tour—and sometimes even a bad one—will tell you a lot about what the locals think is important in their city, how they see themselves, and how they want you to see them.  They want to impress you.

In search of just this kind of experience, today I took a tour by boat.  The city of Stockholm is built on fourteen islands connected by bridges spanning a network of canals, so a boat tour is a relaxing way to see the major sites.

Officially, I took the Stockholm River and Harbor Cruise, but it might have more accurately been called the “Sweden is Awesome—or used to be—Boat Tour.”  Given that globalism is so fashionable in Europe, the headset commentary on this tour was surprisingly—jarringly—nationalistic.  “We conquered this” and “we dominated that” and “we defeated them.”  In short, “we are awesome—or we used to be.”

I loved the poetic, strident nature of my male and female lecturers as we floated along.  They might as well have said, If you aren’t Swedish, then you aren’t … well, you know the saying.  Globalism may be the fashion, but not so much that one can’t assert their superiority over other nations.  It was as if my guides knew why I was there and were making a case for Sweden as the world’s greatest country.  They went on to enumerate Sweden’s contributions to civilization:

“America?  We discovered that.”

Skype?  We invented it.

Spotify?  Rock on.

The flat screen?  You’re welcome.

GPS?  We found it.

Pacemaker.  Thump, thump.

Barcode.  Beep!

IKEA?  You guessed it.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?  Damn right she’s a Swede.

It was also a Swede, Alfred Nobel, who invented dynamite.  That alone makes Sweden awesome.  Nobel made his fortune manufacturing cannon and other armaments, and in a great twist of irony, his name was given to a peace prize.  It’s a bit like naming it the Smith & Wesson or Kalasnikov Peace Prize.  Regardless, each year the Nobel Peace Prize committee awards recipients in … Oslo, Norway.  Go figure.

Of course, the commentary wasn’t void of politically correct elements.  On the contrary, nationalism soon gave way to a knee-slapping revision of Swedish history.  You might think that history is simply what it is; that you cannot revise what has already happened.  It’s over and done, right?  But you’d be naïve for thinking that.  In a culture war, history is rewritten and weaponized to give justification to modern agendas.

In this case, Vikings, we were told, were a “gender equality” society, with men raising children at home and women going off to war.  Somehow, I missed this theme in Beowulf (yes, he was a Swede) and in studying the real historic exploits of Vikings with cool names like Eric Bloodaxe, Ivarr the Boneless, Gunnar the Hero, Bjorn Ironside, Sweyn Forkbeard, and, my favorite, Harald Bluetooth.

But Viking men were much more than stay-at-home dads.  They were also primitive socialists.  Yup, that’s what the lady said.  This was deduced from the fact that Vikings drank beer from a vessel called a das horn.  Since you can’t put a horn down because it has no flat surface, you had to pass it.  That, said the narrator, was meant to teach sharing and responsibility to the whole community.  “‘Lagom’ as we say in Swedish, meaning ‘just enough.’”

Nonsense, I say.  The Vikings never had enough.  It sounded more like a Viking drinking game than a lesson in collectivization.  Vikings as socialists?  There’s revisionism for you.  The Vikings didn’t share stuff, they stole it.…

On second thought, perhaps they were socialists after all.

Moving on to modern history, we were told of the virtue of Swedish neutrality.  Sweden doesn’t do World Wars.  In fact, the Swedes haven’t fought a war for well over a century.  Yet, as the guide freely acknowledged, the Swedes collaborated with the Nazis and the Allies, letting the former use their railroads and the latter use their airfields.  Of this, the guides did not seem especially ashamed.  Quite the opposite.  Smugly, our narrators spoke of Swedish cleverness in navigating neutrality both profitably and painlessly.  Hearing all of this, I had the urge to call for one of those DNA ancestry tests.  There must be some mistake about these current occupants of Sweden being descended from Vikings.  The progeny of Eric Bloodaxe?  Surely not.

What about religion?

“Sweden,” the guide began, “is a secular society, which means we celebrate equally both the Christian and pagan traditions … we don’t go to church much.”  The last bit was superfluous.  An afternoon in Sweden and you know that people don’t go to church much.

Motoring through one of the river locks, our guides emphasized collective achievement while frowning upon individual achievement.

“In Sweden, no one is special,” the guide proclaimed with proudly.

Upon reflection, I had to admit that in this, Sweden has succeeded marvelously.  Indeed, I can’t think of a single special Swede since ABBA released “Dancing Queen.”  My son, Zachary, who liked Norway quite a lot, had a visceral reaction to Sweden, calling it “creepy.”  I knew what he meant.  They celebrate sameness to such a degree that the country can feel creepy in the manner of Stepford.  IKEA makes sense in this context.  The furniture, the décor, it’s all the same.  You can walk into someone’s house and immediately identify where they bought everything from the couch to the spatula.  No one, nothing, stands out, and this is deemed virtuous.

I was reminded of a Russian proverb that says, “The tallest blade of grass is the first to be cut by the scythe.”  Sweden’s proximity to Russia is more than geographic.  The socialist mindset has crossed the border in a big way.  One immediately understands why the American Cultural Left aspires to remake America in the image of Sweden.  That alarms me.

To visit this country is to enter Huxley’s Brave New World.