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

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

Sweden’s Act of Royal Succession, 1810-present

On 27 January 2007 I became a Swedish citizen. I was able to retain my USA citizenship due to friendly rules in each country.

Stockholm City Hall

Stockholm City Hall

On 6 June 2008, Sweden’s National Day, I attended a welcoming ceremony for new citizens at the Stockholm City Hall, where, also, Mr. Kwamena Turkson was awarded The Nelson Mandela Prize for his work in promoting the integration of new Swedish residents.

I feel some guilt in not being able to speak Svenska well, but it isn’t currently a requirement for citizenship. I do feel I should learn of my new country’s political structure and function; I have learned much from Eva and from watching the regular political campaigns on television. In addition, upon receiving this invitation, I began to acquaint myself with Sweden’s constitution:

The Constitution consists of four fundamental laws: the Instrument of Government, the Act of Succession, the Freedom of the Press Act and the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression. The Riksdag (Parliament) Act is not one of the fundamental laws but occupies a position between a fundamental law and an ordinary law. The fundamental laws take precedence over all other laws. This means that other laws may never conflict with the provisions of the fundamental laws. (Source).

Because of its historical and cultural value, I present here the Act of Succession, established in 1810 and emended since then, including the repeal of several acts:

Charles (Carl) XIII of Sweden

Charles (Carl) XIII of Sweden

We CARL, by the Grace of God, King of Sweden, the Goths, and the Wends, &c., &c., &c., Heir to Norway, Duke of Schleswig Holstein, Stormarn and Ditmarsen, Count of Oldenburg and Delmenhorst, &c., &c., hereby make known that We, after the unanimous acceptance and confirmation by the Estates of the Realm of the Act of Succession according to which the male heirs begotten by His Noble-Born Highness, the elected Crown Prince of Sweden, His Royal Highness Prince JOHAN BAPTIST JULIUS shall have the right to the throne of Sweden and to accede to the government of Sweden, and after the submission of this fundamental law for Our gracious approval, by virtue of the right accruing to Us according to Article 85 of the Instrument of Government, adopt, accept and confirm this Act of Succession approved by the Estates of the Realm exactly as follows word for word:

The elected Crown Prince of Sweden, His Royal Highness Prince Johan Baptist Julius

The elected Crown Prince of Sweden, His Royal Highness Prince Johan Baptist Julius

Act of Succession according to which the male heirs begotten by His Noble-Born Highness, the elected Crown Prince of Sweden, His Royal Highness Prince JOHAN BAPTIST JULIUS of Ponte-Corvo, shall have the right to the Royal throne of Sweden and to accede to the government of Sweden; adopted and confirmed by the King and the Estates of the Realm at the extraordinary session of the Riksdag in Örebro on September 26, 1810.

We, the undersigned Estates of the Realm of Sweden, counts, barons, bishops, knights, and nobility, clergy, burghers and peasants, now convened in extraordinary general session of the Riksdag here in Örebro, hereby make known that, with the decease, without male heirs begotten by him, of His Noble-Born Highness, the elected Crown Prince of Sweden, His Royal Highness Prince CARL AUGUST, and by our choice, as evidenced by the Act of Agreement and Election of August 21, 1810, of His Noble-Born Highness, Prince JOHAN BAPTIST JULIUS of Ponte-Corvo, as Crown Prince of Sweden, to succeed to the government of Sweden and its subordinate provinces His Royal Majesty, our present most gracious King and Lord, Carl XIII, after his death (be it long deferred by the Grace of God Almighty) to be crowned and hailed as King of Sweden…we have this day determined and confirmed for the legitimate direct male heirs of His Royal Highness JOHAN BAPTIST JULIUS, Prince of Ponte-Corvo, the following order of succession to the crown and government of Sweden, applicable in the manner and on the conditions expressly set forth below.

Carl XVI Gustav, King of Sweden, 1973 - present

Carl XVI Gustav, King of Sweden, 1973 – present

Art. 1. The right of succession to the throne of Sweden is vested in the male and female descendants of King Carl XVI Gustaf, Crown Prince Johan Baptist Julii, later King Karl XIV Johan’s, issue in direct line of descent. In this connection, older siblings and their descendants have precedence over younger siblings and their descendants.

Art. 2. The provisions of this Act of Succession relating to The King shall relate to The Queen if The Queen is Head of State.

Art. 4. In accordance with the express provision of Article 2 of the Instrument of Government of 1809 that The King shall always profess the pure evangelical faith, as adopted and explained in the unaltered Confession of Augsburg and in the Resolution of the Uppsala Meeting of the year 1593, princes and princesses of the Royal House shall be brought up in that same faith and within the Realm. Any member of the Royal Family not professing this faith shall be excluded from all rights of succession.

Art. 5. A prince or princess of the Royal House may not marry unless the Government has given its consent thereto upon an application from The King. Should a prince or princess marry without such consent, that prince or princess forfeits the right of succession for himself, his children and their descendants.

Art. 7. The heir to the throne may not undertake travel abroad without the knowledge and consent of The King.

Crown Princess Victoria, heir to the Swedish Throne

Crown Princess Victoria, heir to the Swedish Throne

Art. 8. A prince or princess of the Swedish Royal House may not become the sovereign ruler of a foreign state whether by election, succession, or marriage without the consent of The King and the Riksdag. Should this occur, neither he nor she nor their descendants shall be entitled to succeed to the throne of Sweden.

In witness of the fact that all that has been thus prescribed is identical with our intent and decision we, representing all the Estates of the Realm of Sweden, hereto attach our names and seals, in Örebro, the twenty-sixth day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and ten.

For and on behalf of the nobility, CLAES FLEMING

For and on behalf of the clergy, JAC. AX. LINDBLOM

For and on behalf of the burghers, J. WEGELIN

For and on behalf of the peasantry, LARS OLSSON

Everything as herein provided We not only accept for Ourselves as the unalterable fundamental law, but also direct and graciously command all who are united in loyalty, fealty and obedience to Us, Our successors and the Realm, to acknowledge, observe, abide by and obey this Act of Succession. In witness whereof We have this day with Our own hand signed and confirmed it, and duly affixed Our Royal seal thereto, in Örebro, on the twenty-sixth day of September, in the year of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ one thousand eight hundred and ten.

CARL

A view of Stockholm from the tower of City Hall

A view of Stockholm from the tower of City Hall

Please click on the image for a very large view

Posted in Örebro, Democracy, Government, Stockholm City Hall, Stockholms stadshuset, Sverige, Sweden | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment