We Brits living in Sweden have a number of very informative and useful Facebook groups devoted to us. Most of the conversations posted there lately have focussed on the impact of Brexit on us, and carry advice about applying for residence in Sweden, citizenship, driving licenses and the like. Some carry desperate appeals from Marmite-lovers about how to get their favourite spread (you aren’t allowed to bring it through Customs in your hand luggage: it’s a ‘liquid’, apparently, and – I was once told – likely to explode), and other British essentials, like unsmoked sausages; or where they can find a rugby or cricket team to join. There are no real problems with any of these: there are ‘English shops’ in most Swedish cities and an English butcher here in Stockholm; rugby is beginning to catch on here (advertised as ‘the game for men with odd-shaped balls’); and even cricket can be seen played by the local Bangladeshi communities – the ones that run the ‘Indian’ restaurants – if you look hard enough.
Other Facebook contributions are fond of comparing Swedish life with British, almost always to the detriment of the latter. ‘I went back to England last week to visit my Mum and could hardly believe how the country has gone down – dirty towns, shops boarded up, the homeless sleeping in doorways, food banks, knife crime, stressed doctors, nurses and teachers, signs of austerity all around, people unfriendly (especially towards foreigners), a toxic politics, Nigel Farage: no longer the country I used to know and love.’ All this is contrasted with what they have found in Sweden: broad prosperity under a sort of socialism, sparkling clean towns and even immigrant suburbs, plenty of woods and parks to play in, polite if not particularly extrovert people, a fantastic life for parents and children, almost perfect social and (especially) gender equality, civilised political discourse, free education at all levels, almost free medical treatment, genuine newspapers (!) – even the tabloids have ‘Kultur’ sections – and a universal sense of social pride and responsibility which seems to underlie all this.
It may require a foreign eye, from a country like Britain, to see this clearly. For Swedes do sometimes complain about their own country: about the Romanies begging in the streets, for example; high prices and taxes (but look at what they get for them!); the Sweden Democrats (their version of UKIP); a few criminal immigrants; and, for some of them, the boredom that they say all this equality, welfare and niceness brings in its train. A number of books have been published recently running Sweden down in this way. Those who think like this perhaps ought to be forced to spend a month or two on a grotty housing estate in Hull. They’d soon come round to my perception of Sweden as, if not quite a social democratic utopia, at least getting on that way. And whether one is ‘bored’ in any country is surely up to him or her. Speaking for myself, I get quite enough excitement from the food. (A choice of three sorts of sausages in their ubiquitous hot dogs!)
And, as Tony Judge comments on my last post: they mostly are now coming to terms with their past; rather better, indeed, than the Brits.