Royal Imported Snow

And so the snow has gone. We can see the pavements once again. Patches of green grass smile at us after several months’ absence. The sky is blue. The sun is shining. And spring, maybe, yes, spring is here.

But not at the palace. Tons of snow has been shipped in and placed around the outside wall of the royal palace in central Stockholm. Not because the King has a particular penchant for snow, but because the Royal Palace sprint is taking place today. A world championship race, this sprint is, of course, on skis and the keen participants skirt the monarch’s outward rim in a sweaty, delirious blur of colour.

It seems to me like the transporting of snow into the city when the snow has gone is a strange idea. It seems expensive and not very environmentally friendly.

Why not schedule the race earlier in the year?

Like, in the winter, perhaps, when we have 4 months of natural unloved snow?

Cream buns for the girls

On International Women’s day this week a primary school on the Swedish island of Gotland came upon a good idea. They decided that, at the morning break, all of the boys would get crisp bread as their usual snack. But to celebrate International Women’s day all the girls would get a cream bun. Little did they know that this would create a parental and media storm to liken the Suez crisis.

At the end of the day, the kids went home and some of the boys complained to their parents that they also would have liked a cream bun. The parents were up in arms! How disgraceful! How terrible! What were they thinking?? How could they violate the rights of the boys and not give them the same as the girls?

This reaction made me think.

While admittedly the primary school maybe didn’t make a clever move, they did provide parents with an opportunity. Thinking parents should have sat their boys down and explained why the girls were given a special treat and why they have a special day. Thinking parents could have explained that girls around the world do not have the same access to education, or that they are married against their will, or that they are killed for speaking up against their fathers etc, etc, etc.

What an opportunity for the thinking parent.

Equality does not start with who gets a cream bun or not. It starts in the home, at the kitchen table, in dialogue between children and their parents.

Gay Swedish footballers

The image of Sweden as a liberal and open-minded country took a bashing this week. In comparison to many other countries in the world, Sweden is liberal. It is a place where, relatively speaking, minority groups can live safe in the knowledge that they are free from attack and protected by the law.

However, earlier this week, a popular young football player came out about being gay in the national press. The news was extra tantalising because the footballer in question is the son of a Swedish football legend from decades back. Many Swedes reacted neutrally to the news, not realy seeing any big issue around the fact that someone is gay – even if they are an elite sportsperson. But not everyone reacted in this fashion.

In the comments box on the football website, hate and homophobia flourished. In the end, the comments were so many, and so vile, that the website’s editor shut down the comments box. The hate that was spewed out had gone way over the limit.

This type of reaction indicates precisely why it is so good that footballers and other sportspeople come out. The macho culture, especially in football, means that many gay sportspeople are afraid to come out because they are afraid that their career will suffer or they will lose sponsors and fans. And as long as this fear exists, different sexual preferences will never been treated as equal, even in the democratic countries around the world.

So, in liberal Sweden, homophobia still exists. There is still work to be done.

The land of the lagom

One of the first words you learn as a foreigner in Sweden is ‘lagom’. In English, there isn’t one word to sum it up. Roughly translated it means ‘enough, sufficient, adequate, just right’. Lagom is widely translated as ‘in moderation’, ‘in balance’, ‘optimal’ and ‘suitable’. While words like ‘sufficient’ suggest some degree of abstinence or scarcity, ‘lagom’ carries the connotation of appropriateness.

Similar to the concept of the middle path in Eastern philosophy, or Aristotle’s ‘golden mean’ of moderation in Western philosophy, it is said that the concept of lagom penetrates the Swedish way of life. Indeed the word lagom can be used in many situations to describe something that is ‘just right’.

Living in Sweden, you hear the word ‘lagom’ often. And just when you think you’ve understood it, something happens that makes it clear that you haven’t understood it at all.

For example, a person can be ‘lagom tall’ or ‘lagom short’ but that is not necessarily the same height.

Things can be ‘lagom funny’. Although said with some irony perhaps, what does this actually mean? That something is funny – but not too funny?!?

Lagom can also be used as an adjective – ‘that jacket is lagom on you’. Does this means it fits perfectly? Or does it mean it looks good enough – perhaps even mediocre?

And finally, things can be ‘precis lagom’, or precisely lagom. A concept that is so fuzzy for those of us not indoctrinated into it, can also be really exact.

The word lagom is generally believed to stem from the days of the vikings. When the vikings would pass around the mead to be drunk, it was important to take enough but not too much. The mead should last for the whole crew (in Swedish ‘lag’ + around ‘om’ Lagom = round the whole crew). Other etymologists claim that it comes from the Swedish word for law – lag – and means according to the folk law, or ‘according to common sense’ as we would say in English.

Whatever the origin, there is a meaningful cultural significance of the word lagom. The value of “just enough” is seen favorably in society as a sustainable alternative to the hoarding extremes of consumerism. But it could also be viewed as repressive – for example, it’s less ok to be too showy about wealth and power.

In a single word, lagom is said to describe the basis of the Swedish national psyche, one of consensus and equality. Despite a shift towards individualism and risk-taking in recent years, it is still widely considered ideal to be modest and avoid extremes.

But is Sweden really as lagom as it thinks in comparison to other contries? There are research databases that claim otherwise. I’ll talk about these in a later blog.

Right now, this amount of text feels, well,….lagom.