‘Sweden is more complex than a Billy bookshelf’

The Local's Susann Eberlein catches up with Gunnar Herrmann, a Stockholm-based correspondent from Germany, to learn about stereotypes and Germans' undying fascination with Sweden.

'Sweden is more complex than a Billy bookshelf'

Herrmann, 37, works as a foreign correspondent for the Süddeutsche Zeitung. In addition to spending his days scouring for Swedish stories of interest to readers in Germany, he has also written two books detailing his impressions of Sweden and the Swedes.

As the son of a Swede who grew up in Germany, Hermann has a closer relationship with Sweden than the average German.

His latest book, “Alter Schwede! Zwei Hochzeiten und ein Elchgeweih” (‘Goodness Swede! Two weddings and an elk antler’), was published in January and uses his own personal reflections as the basis for a humorous exploration of Germans’ often-idealized view of Sweden.

The Local: You’ve lived in Sweden for six years now. What were the stereotypes you had in mind before moving to Stockholm?

Gunnar Herrmann: Since I have relatives here and spent a year studying in Lund, I knew the country pretty well. So I didn’t have a picture of [children’s author Astrid Lindgren’s] Bullerby in my head, that’s for sure.

Knowing Ikea, you associate Sweden with simplicity and practicality. And then you come here and realize that it may be something more complicated than putting together a Billy bookshelf.

TL: And now, what do you value most in Sweden?

GH: The wonderful nature, of course. And Sweden is a safe country. And because I have two small children, I definitely value the child friendliness and child care.

In most coffee shops, there are baby changing areas. The kindergartens are fantastic. In Bavaria, where I come from, that’s not always the case.

TL: In your new book, you alternate writing chapters with your wife. Do men and women see Sweden with different eyes?

GH: I think there is no general difference in the way men and women look upon Sweden. Although my wife works, she is the one who takes care of our children the most. So we get to know different sectors of society.

My view of Swedish society is through my work, especially the official parliamentary parts of Sweden and the government ministries.

My wife however, goes to the parent evenings in school or organizes children’s birthdays with the other parents. She may even get to know Sweden in a more intimate way.

TL: What gets on your nerves about Sweden?

GH: Sometimes the food. I find it somewhat monotonous. And Sweden is sometimes very bureaucratic. It’s all very well organized and everything follows clear rules.

Therefore, it is often very inflexible and exceptions are rare. That’s something I could go crazy about sometimes.

TL: Speaking of crazy: Valborg and Midsummer are two rather mad Swedish festivities. Do you celebrate these parties too?

GH: Definitely, together with my relatives. But just as we celebrate the Swedish traditions, we also celebrate Germany’s traditions too. Many events can be transferred easily, because the cultures are so compatible. There are Midsummer celebrations in Bavaria, too – they look just different.

TL: Is participating in these festivities the best way to integrate into Sweden?

GH: I think Swedes have a small circle of acquaintances, but very close friends. Getting into a clique can be tough sometimes.

But at parties or in clubs, Swedes always like you to join in. You just have to be open and engaging.

TL: You have now written two very humorous books about your time in Sweden. Do you think it’s easy to write about Sweden in such a manner?

GH: Yes, because Sweden is very well known in Germany for being like this. Many Germans have a connection with Sweden, either by Pippi Longstocking, Ikea or just through their holidays.

And then there are certain images or stereotypes they have, coming from movies, books, or vacations. But they are not all true. And if you play around with these stereotypes, a certain humour often follows.

Susann Eberlein

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Novelist Stridsberg becomes first Swede to be nominated for Man Booker Prize

The nominees for the Man Booker International Prize were announced on Wednesday and for the first time ever the list included a Swedish author.

Novelist Stridsberg becomes first Swede to be nominated for Man Booker Prize
Novelist Sara Stridsberg. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT
Sara Stridsberg is one of 13 authors on this year’s longlist for the literary award. 
The Swedish author is nominated for ‘The Faculty of Dreams’, the English translation of her 2006 novel 'Drömfakulteten'. The translation was done by Deborah Bragan-Turner and is scheduled for widespread release on March 21st
The novel is a fictionalized account of the life of American feminist Valerie Solanas, who is best known for shooting Andy Warhol. The book was awarded the 2007 Nordic Council Literature Prize.  
In announcing this year’s competitors for “the finest works of translated fiction from around the world,” Bettany Hughes, the chair of the judging panel, said that the 13 books on the longlist “enrich our idea of what fiction can do”. 
“This was a year when writers plundered the archive, personal and political. That drive is represented in our longlist, but so too are surreal Chinese train journeys, absurdist approaches to war and suicide, and the traumas of spirit and flesh,” she said. 
The Man Booker International Prize is the global complement to the Man Booker Prize, which is awarded each year to the best English-language novel as deemed by a jury commissioned by the Booker Prize Foundation. The international edition of the prize has been around since 2005 and was originally awarded every second year to an author whose work is published in English. In 2016, the awarding of the prize was changed to an annual event and since then it has focused solely on works of fiction that have been translated into English and published in the UK and Ireland. 
The 13 books will be cut down to a shortlist of six books on April 9th and the eventual winner will receive £50,000. 
Stridsberg was one of several members to quit the Swedish Academy over a sexual harassment scandal that rocked the Swedish cultural world.