Sweden lessons 3: crossing the road

herr garman

In Sweden, crossing the road can be a risky affair.  Consider yourself warned.

The first thing is that you look to the left to cross the road. You do this preferably at a crossing, indicated by the white and blue sign of the crossing gentleman known as ‘Herr Gårman’. Crossings with traffic lights are a little easier, as the green figure chirps a high-pitched signal to indicate it is safe to cross.

However,  pelican crossings are treacherous. Approach them with great caution.  Cars and bikes are legally supposed to stop to let pedestrians across, but not all do. So the way to do it like this:

  1. Approach the crossing with assertiveness, maybe a little spring in your step
  2. Pause casually on the pavement at the crossing, looking to the left
  3. Lift a leg, either will do, and dangle it out over the crossing. This signals your willingness to cross
  4. Try to make eye contact with the approaching driver
  5. Step gingerly out into the road as you notice the driver slows down
  6. Avoid the bloody cyclists who bomb along the road and who don’t think that normal traffic rules apply to them and who think that they own the road and that you as a pedestrian have to get out of their way and not the other way around and if you don’t pay attention they will literally mow you down as you stand on the pelican crossing.
  7. Success! You reached the other side!


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Swedes ban rice

Just when you thought it safe to go back into the kitchen, the Swedish Food Health and Safety Board announced today that rice is killing us. This white staple apparently has the deadly chemical arsenic in it. 

People who eat rice more than four times a week are strongly advised to cut back and parents who reach for the convenient rice cake to appease their children should stop it immediately. 

While I’m sure this is thoroughly well-founded, it’s a bit hard to take seriously as over the years we’ve been warned about eating most foodstuffs in one way or another. 

From a global perspective, to the east of us, there are entire nations who build their cuisine on rice. And to my, granted limited, knowledge, I don’t believe arsenic poisoning is the biggest cause of death there. 

Dark clouds over Öresund 


With the refugee crisis raging on, the news is full of articles and commentary. People are taking to the streets and the railway stations in support of the refugees,donating money and other needed items. This issue is in full focus, deservedly so. 

If this blog was called ‘Watching the Danes’ I would be outraged by my adopted country today. If media is to be believed, it seems like our neighbors to the south are doing everything they can to deny sanctuary to these desperate people. 

For example, they want to shuffle refugees through Denmark to Sweden without processing their refugee applications, which is against EU law. They resist any form of pan-EU deal on refugee quotas and are happy to watch other countries bear the ‘burden’ of those seeking asylum. They cancelled the trains between Denmark and Germany. Elements in the government want Denmark to leave Schengen, thus making border control more strict and difficult.  They have even gone as far as putting adverts in Lebanese newspapers urging immigrants not to come to Denmark. The Danish door is firmly closed thanks to its racist and protectionist agenda. 

Their political leaders should be ashamed. 

But this not a blog about Denmark, it’s about Sweden. 

And I’m happy to witness that solidarity, compassion and empathy are still going strong in this Scandinavian nation. 

Was Spock Swedish? 

According to the World Values Survey, Sweden is one of the most rational non-secular countries in the world: decisions tend to be made on logical rather than on emotional or hypothetical grounds. 
One area in which this manifests itself in Sweden is in the separation of church and state. Policies and legislation spring out of political, and not religious, ideologies. Unlike other countries where religion has a strong influence on how the country is run, Swedish politicians base their arguments on statistical and factual information. God is never mentioned in political debate, not even by the far-right Christian Democrat Party. If they mentioned God, it would probably send them swiftly packing out of the Parliament building. 

This is why what is currently happening in the USA is so fascinating. In the USA there is a strong connection between God and rhetoric. In the USA you simply don’t become President unless you mention God several times in your speeches. With this background, it’s not surprising that extremist Christians can arise, such as marriage registrar Kim Davis in Kentucky. The delightful Ms Davis abuses her position of authority and refuses to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples as it collides with her Christian views. In doing this, she denies these couples their legal rights and interprets the law to suit her own religious agenda. This has caused outrage in the USA and she has been ordered to back down, but continues to righteously defy the courts. And is allowed to do so. Prison is next in line, but she cannot be dismissed as her position is one for which she has been publically elected. 

This is a simple, but insidious, example of how religion, law and social legislation do often not make for a happy marriage. What would happen if we all decided to interpret the law according to our own religious convictions? Chaos. Religious dogma. Moralising power mongers.  In Sweden, Ms Davis would have been stripped of her official duties long ago. 

One secular quote reflects Swedish society in a nutshell. And it’s from Star Trek’s Spock in 1982: 

‘The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.’

It’s logical. May Swedish society live long and prosper.