August 26, 2005

On Sweden

Tim has asked me what everyone over here thinks of Americans. There is no simple answer. As an American who has lived in Sweden for the last 10 years, I have heard a lot of criticism of my homeland. (One annoying habit of the Swedes is that they are specialists at a kind of hypocritical criticism of other country's faults). One time about a year ago I got mad after reading a newspaper article that contained stereotypical anti-American-prejudiced hogwash, and wrote the following draft of a letter to the editor which I never sent.

Swedes in glass torsos shouldn't throw rocks at Americans for being greedy, uncaring capitalists, since Swedes have done a pretty good job competing in the global marketplace. According to the people who watch such things, the richest person in the world today is a Swede.

Just as all Swedes are not sitting in red cabins in Smaaland carving horses, far from all Americans live up to Swedes' preconceptions of us. America is a large country (if it were a State, Sweden would only be allowed 23 congressional representatives, out of a total of 432), and no matter what you set out to prove, you can find a good example of it in the land of the free and the home of the brave. In that way, the US is a kind of psychological Rorschach test, and a person's opinion about it often says more about them than about the US.

Many Swedes are ignorant about the land of opportunity, and many believe the craziest things about my homeland. A good example is provided by the youths in your article-- although its an OK start, America is about so much more than drinking cola and listening to Bruce Springsteen. Some examples that may surprise you: the 19th Amendment to the US constitution guaranteed women's right to vote a year before they were awarded that right in Sweden. The United States contains many regions, and my own state (Minnesota) banned the death penalty in 1906, 15 years before Sweden. Per capita, more Americans volunteer for good causes and more give money to charity than do Swedes. I would argue that's because Americans believe you need to take a personal role in making the world a better place. As opposed to Sweden, America has antitrust legislation with teeth, a beautiful national park system more than a hundred years old, and 17 of the world's top 20 universities.


At August 27, 2005 7:01 PM , Anonymous Tim said...

well said. you should have sent it in. I bet you will have other chances. I'm reading a book - alternative history - where muslims live in Sweden and they call it Skandistan.


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