Sweden was rated the world's fifth best country overall, according to rankings released by US News & World Report at the prestigious World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday.
The rankings of the 60 countries were based on a survey of 16,000 people worldwide who were asked to associate each country with certain attributes. The responses were then broken down into various categories, including adventure, power, entrepreneurship and quality of life.
Germany was ranked the best country overall, followed by Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States in the survey, which was based on countries' worldwide reputation – i.e. how they are seen by others rather than what they are actually like (although the two often overlap).
“How a nation is perceived outside its borders is critical to its success,” Sir Martin Sorrell, one of the names behind the survey, explained the rankings.
The Local takes a closer look at the categories in which Sweden outperformed its competitors, and some areas in which the Scandinavian nation did less well.
First, on the plus side…
1. Sweden's awesome for families
With childcare capped by the state at around 1,300 kronor ($150) a month for the first child and generous parental leave of 16 months for mums and dads to split between themselves, Sweden is often painted as a family paradise. Last year The Local interviewed three expat families who told us why they had chosen to move to Scandinavia with their children.
Best countries to raise kids
A family sharing quality time in Sweden. Photo: Ann-Sofi Rosenkvist/imagebank.sweden.se
2. Sweden is great for green living
It's not just Sweden's rolling hills, green forests and blue waters that earns it the top spot as best country for green living, but also its focus on environmental issues. Perhaps the world read about Stockholm's one-day ban on cars in the centre of the capital, Sweden's attempt to become the world's first fossil-fuel nation by 2030 or The Local's visit to Gothenburg to learn more about the city's super-techy 'silent buses'. In fact, Sweden is even so green that the King himself recently called for a global ban on bathtubs.
Best countries for green living
Swedes on their bikes. Photo: Ann-Sofi Rosenkvist/imagebank.sweden.se
3. Sweden's a guiding light on the global stage
Sweden likes to see itself as the world's conscience, and as it turns out, that is exactly how the world views it – at least according to the Best Countries rankings. “Sweden has a global reputation for promoting social justice and progressive causes both within and outside its borders,” read the survey, listing its feminist foreign policy and work for gay rights. It also highlighted its gender equal parental leave and generous humanitarian aid.
Best countries for citizens
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Photo: AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews
And now, on the minus side…
1. Swedish food? No thanks
This is where Sweden scored the poorest, ending up in 36th place and not even making the top half. Perhaps not surprising considering that it was competing with super-extremely-heritage-rich countries such as Italy, which claimed the top spot, Spain, Greece and France. It only received a score of 1.9 out of 10 and an abysmal 0.1 in the sub-category 'has great food'. Perhaps news of Sweden's rise on the culinary scene hasn't yet reached the outside world? Or maybe they've just never tried 'kanelbullar' or 'semlor'.
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Typically Swedish cinnamon rolls. Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström/imagebank.sweden.se
2. Who's the most powerful? Not Sweden
Claiming 18th spot, Sweden did not do very well in this category, which is headed by countries that “project their influence on the world stage” such as the US, Russia and China. It scored particularly badly in the sub-category 'strong military', which would probably be backed by those Swedes keen on the nation joining Nato or those wanting to bring back military conscription.
However, it performed marginally better when it came to soft power, getting 3.2 out of 10 in the 'economically influential' category, possibly following the international media attention its Central Bank (the Riksbank) has received after keeping its interest rate at record negative levels for almost a year.
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1. United States
A Swedish military ship. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT
3. Adventure? Nope, just 'lagom'
Sweden came miles behind winners Brazil, Italy and Spain in this category – perhaps slightly unfairly. While being praised for its scenic landscape, respondents did not enjoy its cold Nordic climate, thought it was not a very fun country and gave it a rather poor 1.7 in the 'sexy' sub-category. However, it got a surprising score of 7 for 'friendly' which seems to run contrary to previous surveys ranking Sweden as the worst country for making friends.
Best countries for adventures
Sweden, scenic but boring. Apparently. Photo: Niclas Vestefjell/imagebank.sweden.se