Nearly 23 years in this country and I still forget basic things about Swedish society. ‘Holidays’, for example. In Britain we regard holidays as times to relax, sit on the beach with a good book and a beer, do absolutely fuck all for a week or two, come back nice and brown, and refreshed for work. For Swedes holidays are not like that at all. For a start they have more of them: five weeks, fully paid, established by law, in addition to their frequent ‘public’ holidays, supposedly one day each, but usually stretching to two or three. It must puzzle Americans, who seem to regard holidays as non-productive, as to how Sweden can be such a prosperous society without working everyone to death.
But there’s more to the difference than that. Swedes don’t see holidays as relaxing. They spend them doing things: messing around with boats, mainly, or building summer-houses. Yes, building them. Even if they have perfectly serviceable stugor already, they have to extend them, repaint them, dig up the drainage, fix winter-water, scrape their rowing-boats’ bottoms, and mend their flakmopeder. (A flakmoped is a little three-wheeled motorbike with a platform at the front to carry luggage and grandchildren.) They’re not allowed just to sit around. If you’re not spending your time hammering nails into something, you’re ostracised by your neighbours. (I have a recording of hammering I place by me when I’m sitting in my deckchair. It generally fools them.) You have to have a project. That’s what their ‘holidays’ are: essentially projects.
Which is just by way of explaining why I haven’t been blogging recently. I had hoped to be able to this last week, which we spent in our sommarhus in the Stockholm Archipelago. I was also hoping to get into a huge book I have to review – about Gandhi: it looks terrific, but it’s 1000 pages long, and unlike many reviewers I feel I have to read every word. But no chance. The project comes first.
Back in Stockholm now. Hence this first (trivial) blog entry for a while. We’re all very excited about the football here. Apparently England might meet Sweden later on. A friend asks me about where my loyalties will lie in that event. I’ve told him there’s no contest. I’ve bet £10 on Sweden winning the World Cup; the bookmaker thought I was mad, but the odds were 150/1. £1500 will buy us a new – smooth-bottomed – boat. As I pointed out to Phil: we live in a capitalist society. There’s no place for ‘loyalty’ there.
Still, I made a patriotic effort last night, from our bedroom window. It didn’t do any good: England 0, Belgium 1. But apparently that’s the result that may bring us up against the Swedes. (Those who aren’t immersed in their building projects.)