• Sweden's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Swede-bashing Brit tells why Sweden is like China

Ann Törnkvist · 29 Jan 2014, 16:54

Published: 29 Jan 2014 16:54 GMT+01:00

On Monday, Booth took something of a swipe at Sweden and its Nordic neighbours with a piece published in the Guardian entitled Dark lands: the grim truth behind the 'Scandinavian miracle'.

As it turns out, the description comes from his upcoming book The Almost Nearly Perfect People – The Truth About the Nordic Miracle, out on February 6th in the UK. Booth also spent enough time among Scandinavians to avoid the moniker 'parachute journalist', including a decade on-off in Denmark with his Danish wife. But then that Guardian piece came out. The one in which he said Sweden is a one-party state, the "China of the north", a comparison that ruffled feathers among more than a few Swedes.

"(Sweden) continues to thrive economically thanks to its distinctive brand of totalitarian modernism," Booth argued in the piece, "which curbs freedoms, suppresses dissent in the name of consensus, and seems hell-bent on severing the bonds between wife and husband, children and parents, and elderly on their children. Think of it as the China of the north."

Yet he was also quick to point out that any Swede-bashing about to appear in his article could never compete with Swedes' own image of themselves, which, a recent survey found, contained a few stereotypical gems like "nature loving", but also envious, stiff, industrious, quiet, honest, dishonest, xenophobic.

So whose myths was Booth busting. He answered The Local's questions via email. 

Any pleasure in myth-busting? And what myths did you encounter in Sweden specifically?

What I wanted to do with the Guardian piece was to shake up Guardian readers who have been fed a diet of virtually 100 percent pro-Nordic news for the last few years. The piece was, by definition, very selective and subjective. You could call it stretching a point to make a point. 

The book, on the other hand, is a little more balanced (the title should give a clue: 'almost nearly perfect'), but I have to say, when I was doing my research, I was quite shocked by the negative self-image the Swedes have in terms of their cultural output and their characteristics.

Did you ever think about how the Swedes would react to your book? Did you/do you care?

Again, I don't really say anything about the Swedes that they haven't said before, or that observers more expert than I have said. Plus, in the book there is space for counter-arguments from a range of Swedes, which there wasn't in the more polemical Guardian piece.

That said, the book wasn't written with Swedes in mind (why would they care what some random Brit thinks about them? I am guessing they have thicker skin than that), but to explain to us ignorant Brits and Americans more about the diversity, excellence, and down-sides of the Nordic societies.

Are then any misconceptions that you are happy you sorted out?

I was surprised by Sweden's enthusiasm for making and selling arms. One tends to think of them as a peaceful people (assuming you can ignore the Viking rampages, the European wars, etc.).

I was also surprised by the role played by a small handful of very powerful industrialists in the country's post-war Social Democratic history. That can seem a little sinister to an outsider. Surprised by the rise of the right wing in recent years. Surprised by the relationship to Finland. Sweden is a very surprising country.

Do Scandies tell more jokes about each other than say people in Scotland/England/Wales do about each other?

I doubt it. The Brits joke about everything: it's one of our failings. It is interesting, though, who the subject of the jokes is in Scandinavia...

The worst thing about Sweden? Peoplewise, foodwise, political wise?

Story continues below…

Time to dwell on the positives! I went to Umeå recently: it was fascinating.

Have you ever had an encounter in Sweden where you just felt, f*** this, I give up? And if so, how when where what.

I do find the civic manners very, very difficult to deal with: prime among them, trying to get on trains while other people are still trying to disembark. Just seems illogical, more than anything.

Then again, the British have very peculiar, baroque manners, so who am I to judge

Anything the rest of world should learn from Sweden? And vice versa? 

Sweden has a great deal to teach the world about openness, three-minute pop songs, and modernity in all its forms. From what I understand, what might be lacking in Sweden is a plurality of viewpoints in your media (that's what the Danes say about you, at least).

Ann Törnkvist (ann.tornkvist@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Brexit: Swedes in the UK
'My Swedish friends and I talk about moving to Scotland'
Moving further north is one post-Brexit option touted by a UK-based Swede The Local spoke to. Photo: Photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP/TT Hasse Holmberg/TT

The Local speaks to UK-based Swedes on the impact they think Brexit will have on their lives and their future plans in the country.

Sweden wins seat on UN Security Council
Foreign Minister Margot Wallström and UN Ambassador Olof Skoog beam as Sweden wins its seat. Photo: Pontus Lundahl

A dream come true for Sweden's government.

Swedish billionaire missing at sea
Christer Ericsson has been missing since Monday. Photo: Leif R Jansson/TT

A high profile Swedish businessman is missing at sea after a boat accident near Marstrand off the Gothenburg coast.

Ikea to recall chests of drawers after child deaths
The drawers are only being recalled in the US and Canada. Photo: Cornelius Poppe/NTB scanpix/TT

The Swedish furniture giant will recall a popular chest of drawers model in North America after six children were crushed to death.

Swedish stocks rebound from post-Brexit collapse
The interior of the Stockholm Stock Exchange. Photo: Fredrik Sanberg/TT

On Tuesday the Stockholm Stock Exchange started to bounce back from a Brexit-inspired worst day of trading since 1986.

Man shot dead in Stockholm suburb
A police technician examines the scene in Tensta. Photo: Johan Jeppsson/TT

Swedish police were kept busy on Monday night after a fatal shooting in Stockholm, an attempted murder in Malmö, and a spate of car fires in Gothenburg.

Euro 2016
The humble Swede who sent England home from Euro 2016
Iceland's Swedish coach Lars Lagerbäck. Photo: Ciaran Farey/AP/TT

Is Swede Lars Lagerbäck, who guided Iceland to victory over England at Euro 2016, the world's best football coach?

Sweden must discuss banning religious schools: minister
Aida Hadzialic. Photo: Marcus Ericsson/TT

Some schools are segregating boys and girls, the minister says.

Opinion - Brexit
'The EU must not become Britain’s hostage'
David Cameron also comes under fire in the Sydsvenskan editorial. Photo: Matt Dunham/AP/TT

Britain should not be allowed to delay the initiation of its withdrawal from the European Union, argues Swedish newspaper Sydsvenskan.

Brexit
Citizenship applications up 500% for Brits in Sweden
A Swedish passport. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

Last week saw a record increase as Britain voted to leave the EU.

Sponsored Article
5 reasons you should try dating with The Inner Circle
Gallery
Property of the week: Torhamn
Sponsored Article
How to find student housing in Malmö: 5 tips
International
'A morning of sorrow': Sweden reacts to Brexit vote
International
Sweden opposition cools talk of 'Swexit' poll
Blog updates

17 June

Queen’s Birthday Stockholm 2016: 9th June. 90th Birthday. 900 Guests! (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"What do you do when you read that the Queen’s 90th Birthday in London will be…" READ »

 

10 June

i lördags, på lördag – time phrases for present, past and future (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hejsan! Swedish time phrases can be difficult to master. It takes a lot of practice to…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
Stockholm school celebrates Nepal Project success
International
'Devastated' - Brits in Sweden shocked by Brexit vote
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Gallery
People-watching: June 22nd
Private
The Local Voices
'Swedes don't treat me differently because I wear a hijab'
Culture
How do Swedes celebrate Midsummer?
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
Culture
Coming soon: Sweden’s smelly fermented fish
National
Assange lawyer: Sweden should recognize UN opinion
Private
The Local Voices
Why is this Syrian dentist who hugs like a Swede worried about undies?
Sponsored Article
Education abroad: How to find an international school
Swedish nationalist 'shot and ate' lion and giraffe
Sponsored Article
The man behind Sweden's biggest music festival
Analysis & Opinion
'Sweden's residency revamp is harmful and inhumane'
Photo: The Local
The Local Voices
UNHCR boss: 'It's hard to start your life without your family'
Sponsored Article
US expats: Have you met your tax deadlines?
Politics
VIDEO: Brits in Europe say why UK should stay
Sponsored Article
Malmö: Home to the best food in Sweden?
Photo: Marko Risović
The Local Voices
World Refugee Day: Searching for safety in Europe - in pictures
Sponsored Article
VIDEO: Why Malmö is the world's 6th best city for biking
National
Is Swedish nationalists’ foreign food ban bananas?
Sponsored Article
5 reasons you should try dating with The Inner Circle
Gallery
Property of the week: Söråker
International
Poll shows huge support for EU in Sweden
Sponsored Article
6 simple travel hacks that will make your life easier
The Local Voices
How a Syrian scuba diver mobilized Sweden's biggest asylum centre
Sport
Zlatan: 'If we'd been fighting for real, he'd be in hospital'
The Local Voices
Orlando reflections: Is it possible to be gay and Muslim?
Sweden to go ahead with migrant age tests
Gallery
People-watching: June 17th-19th
3,281
jobs available
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
psdmedia.se