I fancy the pants off Sweden

Hello dear friends, readers and stalkers. Welcome back to the most exciting internet blog of the year so far. I’ve been away so long I hear you cry. For that I can only apologise. Fun and travels got in the way and the more time that went past the more reluctant I was to write another post as I felt there would be too much to talk about and so I let another day go past etc etc. So I decided now, on an early morning train from Malmo (I dont know how to do any of the accents on my keyboard so apologies to any Swedish people reading, which I highly doubt but you never know…) to Gothenburg was the right time. Nothing like a caffeine fuelled internet rant to start the day. Anyway, the point. The point of today’s blog is to explain why I am in love with Sweden and want to have its babies. I think it helps that I’ve been lucky enough to have sunny weather and close to 20 degree temperature for the last ten days (although of course its set to change now I have friends flying over for my birthday….) but there are loads of other reasons which I shall try and outline now as well as providing some amusing anecdotes from the three cities I’ve visited so far: Orebro, Stockholm and Malmo. Sound good? Great. Lets go.

Trains- I’ve already banged on about my love for trains on another post so i wont bore you with that again. However what I haven’t discussed is how amazing Swedish trains are. They have free Wifi good enough to stream music and even Netflix. There’s loads of leg room, comfy chairs, proper space for your luggage and a carriage that doubles up as a cafe. PLUS when you buy a 2 pound coffee you can REFILL IT FOR FREE. Which explains the caffeine induced capitals right now. Seriously though its going to be hard to go back to South West trains after this. Slow wifi and sticky seats just aren’t gonna cut it anymore.

Culture- Sweden prides itself on its culture from world-class museums to photography and street art.  This is evidenced by the fact that the royal family do not feature on Swedish bank notes but famous Swedish authors and artists do instead. HOW COOL IS THAT?? Also my feet can testify to the fact that I walked around many of the museums and I have to say I was very impressed. They were often either free or inexpensive (the most was 25 pounds for the ABBA museum in Stockholm but this was totally worth it for all the karaoke and photo opportunities….) Orebro’s city museum had a cool exhibit on the unsustainability of the clothing industry and how energy intensive it is to make just one t shirt of pair of jeans. In Malmo, I paid just two pounds to go into the city’s castle museum. Little did I know that it would contain an art gallery, aquarium, natural history exhibition AND history about the castle. There was also a great exhibit on the Roma people curated by and for the Roma people to confront people’s stereotypes about them. I must admit I was always prejudiced about people we commonly call ‘gypsies’ or ‘travellers’, however walking around and reading about the Roma culture and history and their poor treatment from Napoleon to the Second World War changed my thinking. All this from a two pound museum entry. The purpose of Swedish museums seems not only to educate and celebrate Swedish culture and history but also to confront this history and our own thinking. Its great. They pledge openness and acceptance and this seems to begin from a young age. I saw many school groups during my museum visits including a mother and baby group in the Malmo museum of Modern art. Babies who were only a few months old were looking at the art as their mothers got a tour from one of the curators. Now whether any of the babies would actually be taking any of the surroundings in, let alone remember them is doubtful but the importance of art, self expression and thinking about the world around you being emphasised from a young age is applaudable. Also it shows that mothers are still thought of as fully functioning, thinking adults who want to and should be allowed to go out and appreciate art rather than being chained to their home and children forever (more on Sweden’s amazing approach to gender equality in a minute!!) Also walking through each of these cities you cannot go far without seeing bronze statues, a graffiti mural or a poster advertising a new festival or concert. Art and culture seems to be at the heart of Swedish society. It promotes togetherness and a strong sense of community. Young and old, rich or poor are encouraged to either appreciate or make art themselves and I have never seen as diverse an audience in a museum as I have so far in Sweden. In the UK, this idea that art can be used to comment on society and bring people together seems to be missing and it is seen as something to be enjoyed or appreciated only by the elite thus creating mass divides and preventing the sense of togetherness I have found in Sweden.

Parks- Okay that was a long one. Where are we now? Okay parks. I know a lot of European cities have parks and they’re especially abundant in London however they’re not like this. There are sixteen (!!) in Malmo, each with a different feel. Pildammsparken has a lake and is usually filled with runners relieving some stress from work or childcare, Slottsparken has tulips and a windmill and is based around the castle while Oresundeparken is on the beach (that’s right Malmo also has a beach…) Orebro’s park was voted one of the prettiest in Europe, and boasts an open air museum and a little train for children. Stockholm also has many, the most famous being Djurgarden, on ‘museum island’ (THAT’S RIGHT A WHOLE ISLAND JUST FOR MUSEUMS) and also has a theme park. In the middle of a capital city. Why not? So why all the parks? Because being outside is at the centre of Swedish life, just like it is at the centre of Norwegian life. They are well maintained and kept clean suggesting how much people respect and value them. The parks were full of children, helped by the fact that each one I saw seemed to have a different themed playground. There were also older people enjoying games of boules and couples having picnics. Now I know this happens in parks across the world and I’m not suggesting a lot of people weren’t also just at home watching Netflix but the parks were always full when I visited even on weekdays. Sweden’s natural landscape is breathtaking. That’s just a fact. The Swedes are lucky to have so many lakes and fjords and woods but it was their choice to actively build their country around this and make it the centre of national pride. They want to be outside as much as they can and preserve the environment for future generations. Hence why…

Attitudes to the environment- Sweden has a refreshing attitude to climate change and protecting the natural environment. I’ve lost count of how many green supermarkets I’ve seen, selling a lot of vegan and gluten free (YAS) products as well as meat from sustainable farms. (Don’t worry junk food lovers, there’s also many Burger Kings and kebab shops for you enjoy). It is cool however to see environmental issues taken so seriously. I am rarely offered a plastic bag in a shop, recycling is a norm that’s taken for granted and I’ve almost been run over seven times by people on bikes. Also, back to my unhealthy obsession with museums, the natural history exhibit in Malmo was based around how we need to change our approach to energy, food, water, clothes, housing and travel. This wasn’t something tacked on the end of one of the displays but the core message throughout for both children and adults. Again, the importance of education is appreciated and utilised.

Gender equality- As a feminist Sweden sings to me. It has the lowest wage gap in the world and the most female CEOS but still admits that it has further to go. Parents (men and women) are given 480 days paid leave from work when a child is born or adopted, and they can use this any time up until a child is eight years old. This is amazing. This means that youre as likely to see a man in the park with a child on a Thursday afternoon as a woman. Initially, the sight of a man pushing a buggy surprised me and looked (even to me as a big advocate of gender equality) out of place. However now I am used to and LOVE the sight of the nicknamed ‘Latte-Papas’, men who use their paid leave to care for their child, catch up with other stay at home dads and get some coffee. Gender seems less of an issue elsewhere too. I have seen female builders and tram drivers and female art is highly celebrated. Every museum I visited in Stockholm’s main exhibit was based on the work of a woman with a pair of artists, Cooper & Gorfer, displaying their work ‘ I Know Not These My Hands’ on women’s lives and stories in the famous photography gallery Fotografiska. You can fulfil your potential whatever gender you are in Sweden and the rest of the world needs to take note and catch up.

Lifestyle- Last but not least, I love how the Swedes live. They stop for fika (or coffee and cake) at 10am and 3pm everyday to catch up with friends and take a break from work. The coffee intake is INSANE and I must admit I’ve become addicted in the short time I’ve been here. I will always remember my first fika in the Sofo area of Stockholm with a girl from university I randomly bumped into on a walking tour. Local workers were sat gossiping around us and it seemed miles away from the rushed coffee taken at a desk to beat the mid afternoon slump back home. My hostel in Stockholm also abided by some other Stockholm customs. They served meatballs (sadly with bread in them but they looked amazing, freshly made on site), asked you to not wear shoes indoors (to help you relax better and to protect the home) and had a sauna, which I may or may not have snuck into after a 3am escapade in a fountain. But that story is for another place. And time.

I didn’t even have time (lucky for you as this if flipping long already) to mention the beautiful men, the cute houses and effortlessly cool fashion and homeware. There’s a reason that Sweden is one of the best and happiest places to live in the world. It is open, treasures the outdoors, art and community and is as close to gender equality as any society on earth has ever been. If it wasn’t so cold 99 per cent of the time, I could get to grips with the language and the wine was much much much cheaper, I think I could maybe definitely live here. Until then I will continue to sing its praises and try and shoehorn it into every conversation. Look forward to that friends…..

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