Being An American in Sweden

I’ve been living in Stockholm for ten years. I like it.

I like that I can speak English to a stranger without even wondering if he or she will answer in kind. I reckon around 95% of the people I encounter have conversational English, including immigrants from non-English-speaking countries.

I like that most Swedes, or at least those in Stockholm, whom I meet in passing will not fail to respond to an uninvited inquiry or observation I might make to them. It seems a Swedish characteristic to resist making the first step in a personal encounter but, once engaged, the Swedes I meet will not resist a bit of back-and-forth at the bus stop or grocery store.

Looking toward our apartment complex from the Minneberg bus stop

Looking toward our apartment complex from the Minneberg bus stop

For both good and ill, in my view, popular American culture (i.e., from the USA part of the North American Continent) continues to flow into Sweden through fast food chains, IT-related companies, movies, TV, music, computer games, and fashion.

The language of business and science is English, and there is plenty of international business, science, medicine, and technology in Sweden.

So, I float along on this ambient bubble of English language (both American-style and the Queen’s), and the local familiarity with, even affinity for, popular USA culture.

I don’t look typically, or stereotypically Swedish. Many legal residents, immigrants, and children of immigrant Swedes don’t. From my DNA-genealogy service I learn that my two population reference groups are found in, first, Germany and, second, Lebanon. Three of my grandparents were born in Greece, and the fourth, born in the USA, had lineage back to Holland and Scotland. So, my appearance is not untypical of a person from, say, France, or thence southward and eastward. Before I open my mouth to speak American I might be taken as an immigrant from another part of Europe.

Upon a first conversation, I am often thought of as being from England. I always identify myself as from California. Almost everyone I meet has been to California, wants to go to California, or has a relative or friend in California. It’s still a magical place in the imagination of many.

(Beginning of rant)

What about the “socialism”?

What socialism? It rankles me that politicians and other professional talking heads in the USA make gratuitous and inaccurate assertions about Sweden’s form of government and its politics. They know nothing about it.

First, “socialism” is this (from merriam-webster.com):

1: …collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
2: a system of society or group living in which there is no private property

The government doesn’t own or administer the means of production, and private property is everywhere:

Sweden is a highly competitive capitalist economy with a generous and universal welfare state by applying very high income tax to all that distributes income across the entire society, a model sometimes called the Nordic model. Approximately 90% of resources and firms are privately-owned, with 5% owned by the state and another 5% operating as consumer or producer cooperatives. (Source).

Sweden is more accurately (but still too simply) called a “welfare state”, as in the above definition. I have heard the same word used for England.

Income taxes are graduated to 55% at the top marginal rate. There is a also 25% maximum value added tax (VAT, or “MOMS” in Swedish) on most things bought, including government services.

Taxes pay for what Swedes want the state to provide: single payer hospital and medical insurance (with limited co-payments), but with services provided and managed by counties and private companies; subsidized child daycare; preschool and grade school education; university and other post-grade school education (not books and housing); social services for various categories of people including immigrants, the disabled, the aged, and so forth. Whether this is “welfare” is arguable.

So far the medical services I have received have cost out-of-pocket something, but not too much, and I’m satisfied that my personal physician is properly solicitous for my health. I have had referrals to specialists who reassured me I’m in pretty good shape for the shape I’m in.

The point is that in this country of around 9.5 million people and with eight political parties, the voters have elected politicians who cause the government to provide these services. Currently, the government is scaling back the provision of some of these services, or the subsidies for them.

In addition, of course, the government does what most other governments do: defense, judiciary and law enforcement, coast guard and other national border maintenance, public health, foreign affairs, state land and property management, etc.

I opine that some of what the Swedish government does wouldn’t work in the USA because of different histories, and mostly because the USA is so vast in comparison; and, that the USA is a union of 50 different states for which there is no analog in Sweden.

End of rant; back to what I like.

I like that in Stockholm I don’t need to own a car. The public transportation system (for which I pay a senior-discounted $77 per month at the current exchange rate) is extensive and convenient. When we need a car, we reserve one via the Internet from a “bilpool”, a commercial enterprise that places cars around Stockholm. We pay for time and distance only.

Alvik Metro Station in the Fall

Alvik Metro Station in the Fall

I like that Stockholm is an international capital. There are many national and international NGOs headquartered or with regional offices here. I attend many public presentations in English at some of these organizations, and also at some of the universities.

I like that Stockholm, and Sweden in general, is awash with good music, both popular and classical. My preferences are for blues, jazz and classical. There’s plenty of world class quality music to choose from.

I like that the national public news and broadcasting organization often hosts TV forums where the leaders of the eight  political parties, sometimes all of them together, answer questions from journalists and engage with the other leaders. It’s good for the democratic process.

I like that the political scandals, when they may occur (and not very often), are of the most benign nature, especially in comparison to, say, those occasionally revealed in Chicago or Washington. D.C: credit card stuff, minor hanky-panky.

Fall scene in neighboring Traneberg

Fall scene in neighboring Traneberg

I like that there are seasons in Sweden, and that one can welcome Spring and Summer so gratefully.

I like also that there are many English-speaking expatriates in Sweden, especially Stockholm, from the USA, Great Britain, and countries formerly in the British Empire. We form clubs, associations, and book discussion groups in which native Swedes are also welcome to use their English.

As I said, I’ve lived here ten years, longer than I have lived in any one house or apartment in California, Brooklyn, Alaska, and Texas. (Places lived).

In the apartment complex where Eva and I live, I have watched the older folks grow still older. Some have disappeared; some have become less physically able. Even though I don’t have more than a nodding acquaintance with some of them, I feel akin to them. They, like I, are the survivors. Despite the long and often cold winters, despite life’s vicissitudes, they carry on stoically—a trait in Swedes that I admire.

That’s enough to like.

It’s good to be here.

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Posted in Alvik, Minneberg, Stockholm, Sweden, Traneberg | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Sweden’s Navy Says Goodbye to its Most Excellent Large Hole in a Granite Island

Muskö can be translated as “musk island,” but I don’t know the derivation of the name. Perhaps it should be renamed Granitö or “Granite Island,” for that’s what it mostly is.

Bus route from Stockholm to Muskö

Bus route from Stockholm to Muskö

Yvonne Crooks-Dahllöf of The American Women’s Club in Stockholm, arranged a tour of this underground fortress built by the Swedish Government during the Cold War. Sweden felt particularly vulnerable as a non-aligned nation whose borders touch the territories of both sets of, now former, protagonists: Warsaw Pact nations and NATO members.

So, the government planned, blasted and built, over a few decades, this great set of holes in Muskö, with controlled access to the island and the ability for the underground facilities to withstand nuclear attack. The facilities were designed to be self-sufficient factories and repair shops for everything a modern warship needs.

But The Cold War is over, new alliances and treaties are in force and Sweden no longer feels the need for an extensive and expensive military. It has scaled all its military forces and facilities back to what appears to be the bare minimum to fulfill its current mission: The Focus of Swedish Defence Policy, 2005-2007.

In partial fulfillment of this new mission, the naval base at Muskö has been sold to Kockums AB.

A ship bay with portal to the outside, being viewed by the touring party, center-right

A ship bay with portal to the outside, being viewed by the touring party, center-right

The Swedish Navy has contracted with Kockums AB to repair its vessels at the base, and Kockums AB plans to expand operations at the Muskö facility to include commercial vessels. Quoting from their press release on the purchase of the Muskö facility:

Kockums, in alliance with a network of subcontractors, is determined to transform the Muskö facility into a marine engineering centre. Looking a few years ahead, there are also plans to establish a container port in Nynäshamn, in partnership with Stockholms Hamn (Ports of Stockholm). The idea is that shipping will avoid having to navigate all the way into Stockholm, being able to dock in the outer archipelago instead. The transit time between Nynäshamn and Muskö is not long, and their relative proximity will almost certainly generate a number of repair and maintenance assignments.

Close-up of “SL” (Stockholm Line) Buss 849 route to Muskö, via a tunnel on the left, emerging further right. Two of the ship entrances to the underground facility are marked, as well as the entrance for ground traffic.

Close-up of “SL” (Stockholm Line) Buss 849 route to Muskö, via a tunnel on the left, emerging further right. Two of the ship entrances to the underground facility are marked, as well as the entrance for ground traffic.

The Swedish Navy has diminished in size and its current complement of bases and ships is noted here: Royal Swedish Navy.

The Kockums employees were very tolerant of us tourists as we snapped more than enough pictures of the many workshops, warehouses, stores and offices in the tunnels.

The Kockums employees were very tolerant of us tourists as we snapped more than enough pictures of the many workshops, warehouses, stores and offices in the tunnels.

More pictures that I snapped can be seen here.

It was good to get back into the sunlight.

Posted in Government, History, Muskö, National and International Defense, Sverige, Sweden | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ant Mounds, Sweden’s Tree Line, Blue Butterflies, Sámi Villages, Etc.

Once again, Eva and I had a satisfying time at and around the Saltoluokta Mountain Station, where we first visited three years ago. You can see the pictures and travelogue here. To give you a taste of the views, I offer the sample image immediately below before expounding on the topics in the title of today’s journal entry:

Ant Mounds, Sweden's Tree Line, Blue Butterflies,  Sámi Villages, Etc.

At the lower levels of our day-hikes (below the tree line) we saw many ant mounds, usually at or near the base of a tree. The ants seemed to be black in color, but an Internet search shows that the ants were likely “red wood ants.” Here is a picture of the tallest ant mound we encountered:

Ant Mounds, Sweden's Tree Line, Blue Butterflies,  Sámi Villages, Etc.

A small blue butterfly, now identified as Cupido minimus, fascinated us. We saw many along the way, as we hiked upward from the tree line.

Ant Mounds, Sweden's Tree Line, Blue Butterflies,  Sámi Villages, Etc.

Our first day’s objective was the Sámi village next to lake Pietsjaure six kilometers away over a mountain pass. We hiked up 360 meters, then down 90 meters to get to the café advertised along the way with home-made signs at a few critical junctions.

Acke and Siv Kuoljok, owners and operators of "Pietsjaure Sijdda" (village) Café and boat rentals

Acke and Siv Kuoljok, owners and operators of “Pietsjaure Sijdda” (village) Café and boat rentals

As written in the beginning of this journal, you can see the pictures and travelogue of the entire trip here.

Toward the end of our journey, we had a long wait for a late train during which I composed a haibun, entitled Empty Time.

Posted in Geography, Hiking in Hills and Mountains, Pietsjaure, Saltoluokta, Sverige, Sweden, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Glorious National Day for Sweden

In that Sweden’s National Day, 6 June, has been an official holiday only since the year 2005, one can reasonably ask: “what do we Swedes celebrate on this day?”

Some answers are found here in an article in The Local, the English language weekly online newspaper in Stockholm (heavily edited):

Gustav Vasa I, 1496-1560

Unlike other countries, which have anniversaries of independence or revolutions to commemorate, Sweden has never been occupied and has never got rid of its monarchy. The day coincides with the anniversary of Gustav Vasa’s election as Sweden’s king in 1523, marking the end of the union with Denmark and the start of a new period of closer unity within Sweden. This day was celebrated from the 19th century as a national day of commemoration.

June 6th was also the day in 1809 on which Sweden adopted a new constitution, something it did again on the same date in 1974. From the 1890s, the Skansen open air museum in Stockholm started organizing patriotic celebrations on June 6th. In 1916, the day became The Swedish Flag Day.

National Day was first recognized officially by the government in 1983, but it only became a public holiday in 2005, after years of debate. The official hope was that it would be a day of unity for the Swedish people.

My Swedish Citizenship Certificate (Click on it)

I attended one of the many ceremonies conducted on this beautiful, cloudless Spring day which gave us temperatures hovering at and above 30°C (86°F). The image below shows musicians playing Swedish melodies that preceded the main event: several speeches of welcome and the “Nelson Mandela Award”, as mentioned in a previous journal entry. The final event was my receipt of a bevis (certificate) commemorating my acceptance as a citizen of Sweden, along with around 300 other new citizens in the magnificent Blue Hall of Stockholm City Hall where the annual Nobel Prize dinners are held.

Gathering in the "Blue Hall"

Gathering in the “Blue Hall”

Since the ceremony included only the new citizens to be recognized, the speakers and other dignitaries, the ushers, the photographers, the people from the National Museum asking survey questions of selected new citizens (including me) and other unidentifiable attendees, Eva was not invited. She met me outside the Blue Room’s entrance after the 30-minute formal ceremony at around 3:30 in the afternoon. We then embarked on a journey, by foot, from City Hall, across one of the several bridges to Old Town (Gamla Stan), then across another bridge to Kungsträdgården and thence to the aforementioned Skansen Open Air Museum.

In starting out from City Hall to Old Town we had in mind to walk through the main tourist shopping area along Västerlånggatan (West Long Street) in order to pass by the ice cream shop where Eva’s daughter Liv was newly working at her summer job. She was quite busy making waffle cones, so we walked the remaining length of Västerlånggatan to a plaza where the street turns a corner and becomes Österlångsgatan (East Long Street) to attend the gallery of our friend Terry LeBlanc. She was near the end of her successful day, so we hung around a bit and chatted before we went over the bridge to Kungsträdgården where more public celebrations were being held.

Looking at one of Terry LeBlanc's pictures

Looking at one of Terry LeBlanc’s pictures

The Crowd was large at Kungsträdgården, but Eva was able to spot a dear friend, George, along with his friend Eva whom we had not previously met. The four of us linked up for the remainder of the day and walked together the not inconsiderable distance to Skansen. Along the way we paused to view the outdoor art display at Berzelii Park. Here is George being entertained by this set of playful displays:

A Glorious National Day for Sweden

On the walk along Strandvägen from Berzelii Park to the bridge over to Djurgården where Skansen Park is located, we saw the military escorts of the royal family returning from Skansen where the King and Queen were attending an outdoor concert and other official duties for the day. You can see the empty carriage in the second picture below:

A Glorious National Day for Sweden

A Glorious National Day for Sweden

The outdoor concert and official ceremony of awards to outstanding citizens was hidden from our view because we arrived just as it all began. We could hear everything, nonetheless, and enjoyed the relative freedom of not being compressed in a crowd. George and his friend Eva had brought some snaps for celebration:

A Glorious National Day for Sweden

I end this narrative here with two last pictures, the first of merry Swedes waving their small Swedish flags after the playing of an old-time folk song that ended the official ceremony at Skansen, and the second showing the folk musicians helping us on our way out of the park.

A Glorious National Day for Sweden

A Glorious National Day for Sweden

Posted in Gamla Stan, Government, Skansen, Stockholm, Stockholm City Hall, Stockholms stadshuset, Sverige, Sweden | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment