I just came back from a 10-day trip to Sweden, where I stayed in the south for the first week, and on an island called Gotland for three days. I noticed a big difference in culture, the way of life, the atmosphere, and stress levels and will share what I observed here.
First off, taking a vacation was a wonderful experience. When I vacation, I don’t go to resorts, party, or drink a lot. I prefer a relaxing experience since my normal life is quite hectic and stressful. I avoided technology use quite a bit. In fact, I rarely used wifi on my phone. I posted a few pictures to Instagram, but at a slower rate than I am now (once a day). That in and of itself was very good for my mind, which is much more zen upon returning.
I visited three islands, and about 4 cities while in Sweden. I also visited a few historic sites, like castles and various museums. All the while, I compared my experience to living in the US. In the US, most cities are quite similar. There are definitely different cultures, but when you compare say Portland, Oregon, the feminazi capitol of the United States, to New York, you have many of the same things. Dive bars, pizza shops, late night coffee shops, Starbucks, McDonald’s, apartment buildings, parks here and there, trees planted on sidewalks, bike lanes, some kind of public transportation, and of course, the people. I’ve lived in both cities and the main difference between New York and Portland is that Portlander’s are laid back and compared to New Yorkers, lazy.
New York is the land of hustlers and that means more impatient people but more people who care deeply about things and are working their asses off. Somewhere in the middle is definitely ideal for me. Sweden felt like that middle in many ways. And I’m not just saying that because I was on vacation and it’s the summer. I recently went to a beach for July 4th with family in New Jersey. And it was congested and not as relaxing as the beaches I went to in Sweden. That beach in New Jersey was packed for the holiday, and the atmosphere was more exciting, but less relaxing as a result.
Think of it this way. In America, when people want to vacation, they often do things that are actually more tiring for them. Like staying up late and partying. Of course Swedes party too, but it’s the atmosphere I noticed that was different. The beach in Helsingborg, where I stayed initially, which is a coastal town and a quick train ride and ferry ride away from Copenhagen, has a packed beach. Tons of Swedes, and many Syrian refugees.
Although there were also a lot of people there, it felt more relaxing and less exciting than the beach in New Jersey. Further, people did a variety of activities. Volleyball, calisthenics, swimming, eating ice cream, hanging out at restaurants on the boardwalk, or just sitting down and relaxing. I guess you could say there is just as much variety in activity in US beaches. What you won’t see however are families doing calisthenics together outside. That was really cool to see. I wish there were more outdoor gyms like that in the US.
I saw a group of guys next to me doing flips into the sand off a ledge here as well. They had a case of Heineken’s, played some 70’s music, and just hung out. I’ve never seen American men hanging out by practicing their flips. Parkour originated in France I think and it’s related to the type of thing they were practicing. I’ve watched many YouTube videos of people doing that but still don’t have the balls to do it. (I just need to be around people doing it and learn from them).
Let’s break this down into a few different areas. I will discuss socialism, and then quality of life, and share pictures along the way.
How Socialism Affects Life in Sweden
Although Sweden doesn’t like to think of itself as socialist, compared to America, it does seem that way. You’re not allowed to fail as easily as in the US. Here, if you get laid off, you may very well end up living in your car for a while if you have one. In Sweden, your rent and groceries are covered if that happens, even if you don’t want to go back to work. So instead of playing video games in your mom’s basement when you’re broke, you can just do it in an apartment in Sweden.
Socialism means that people are more equal. Last year, there was an election, and one party’s slogan translated as “make your work worthwhile.” This is because some studies found that it’s better to just not work sometimes because of government assistance. We have government assistance in the United States too, but it’s not a great quality of life if you’re on that. We have unemployment benefits, but it’s not as good as it is in Sweden. Unemployment income in the US is temporary. That doesn’t seem to be the case in Sweden.
Because they don’t incentivize working hard and being innovative, they have to basically do the opposite. Soccer is a big sport in Sweden. But you’re not allowed to win a game until the age of 12. It’s a miracle then that the Swedish soccer team qualified for the semi-finals this year in the women’s world cup. This measure helps enforce that everyone is equal in Sweden, which is anathema in the United States.
“There’s too much socialism here” one Swede told me. He also told me that America could probably use some. There are two unwritten rules in Sweden that help them conform to socialist policies: never ask anyone how much they earn, and never ask who they voted for. It’s best to just mind your own business. Swedes aren’t known for talking to strangers. People in the US rarely do it, but it does happen quite often.
Also due to socialism, you can earn a living at a grocery store for the rest of your life. In America if you’re working at a grocery store past college, you are seen as a failure. Of course, it happens all the time, and I see plenty of older people working at grocery stores, but it’s not seen as a good thing whereas in Sweden it’s totally normal.
Why is this so? One reason might be because if you earn more than $5k equivalent USD per month, you get taxed so much it’s barely even worth it. For example, if you earn $7k per month, you’ll end up with $4k after taxes. But if you earn $4k per month, you’ll end up with $3k after taxes. This is coming from a native Swede. I don’t have the actual statistics to verify this right now. So that $1k extra per month is great, but how much harder do you have to work to get it? That’s the question here.
One benefit of socialism in Sweden however is less gentrification. Not just less, none. In the US there are posh areas and really bad poor areas. The difference in quality of life could not be more apparent. And you can see this better than anywhere else in San Francisco. Once a beautiful city, it’s now full of human feces because homeless people have no where to go.
In all places of Sweden, suburbs and the city flowed really nicely. Every area was clean and easy to navigate. No road was better than another road. At least, the difference wasn’t as extreme as it is in the US. So this makes me think that paying high taxes could have some benefits. The bike lanes in Helsingborg, where I stayed for a few days, was safer than those in New York and Minneapolis, where they overlap with car lanes. Cars can merge into a bike lane to make a turn for example. In Helsingborg, this is impossible. 15 fatalities have occurred this year in New York because bikers did not look where they were going and got run over. Obviously New York is almost as populated as all of Sweden, but it’s something to think about.
America has some beautiful spots, but it seems as if it’s more common to see natural beauty in Sweden. It’s hard to explain, but nature just feels more connected to normal living. In America there’s a big difference between country living and city living. The contrast is very stark. I can’t say it’s as stark in Sweden. Although farm life is still out in the country, it doesn’t feel as far away.
And sheep are everywhere, and you can touch them. In the US, people have sticks up their asses so they’ll tell you “don’t feed the animals!” I went to a place called Mölle where I went hiking and also climbed some rocks at the beach, went inside a cave, and passed by some sheep just sitting together, without a fence around them (shown below).
You’d never see this here. Not at a popular destination like this where people love to go hiking. There were some bulls too a stone’s throw away but they were fenced. But these sheep are all female so that may be why they weren’t fenced. Trust me, if this was the US, someone would complain and file a lawsuit for no reason (Americans are whiny). Maybe it’s not like that over in Sweden.
Now, New York has a lot of beautiful historic buildings. Sweden and the States both have that in common. But American cities just aren’t as beautiful as the cities I went to: Helsingborg, and Visby. Both are coastal towns, so they may be a bit of an exception. But I’ve been to a few coastal town in the US. Bar Harbor, Provincetown, all along Cape Cod, and also the beaches of Nantucket. Astoria, Oregon as well, and San Diego.
What I liked more about the scenery of the cities I visited in Sweden are the colors of the houses. I know, it’s such a simple thing, but you see more variety. In the US, suburbs look pretty similar. There isn’t as much variety in the construction of the houses. In Sweden, there is a mix of stone, brick, and wood houses. Mostly the latter two. And the walls can be painted in a variety of colors. White, blue, red, yellow, etc.
There are two more really scenic things to see in Sweden. Castles and cobblestone streets. I love cobblestone streets and was looking forward to seeing them. Well, I should say I was hoping I would see them. They’re everywhere. You’ll find castles throughout the Scandinavian countries and all over Sweden as well. Below is a citadel that captured refugges and imprisoned them.
You don’t find buildings this old as often in the US, since it’s a newer country. The Scandinavian counties have a culture that has developed for over 1000 years. This is why preserving culture in Europe is more important than preserving culture in America. In America, there is no one unified culture. In Sweden, there is.
For example, whether you’re in southern Sweden or northern Sweden, you will often take time out of your day to just chill. This is called fika, and it involves a snack, like a cookie, or a small meal like a sandwich and a coffee. America doesn’t have this. We use coffee to stay stimulated. I’m already started to feel that way on my third day back here after my trip.
Sweden’s population is 3.3% as large as the US’s. This means fewer people, but it never feels empty. You won’t see skyscrapers very often, as you do here in New York. But you will see more sheep, castles, cobblestone streets, and colorful houses. The organization of cities is much better and is therefore more fun in general. Things feel less crowded but there is just as much to do.
The downside? High taxes and not as much individual freedom. And that is a conversation worth having much more of, especially as we come closer to the 2020 election and discuss several socialist concepts that some candidates wish to implement if elected president.
Lastly, the immigrant situation isn’t as bad as people say. The reason Sweden became dubbed the rape capitol of Europe is because they changed the definition of rape. A conservative even admitted this to me. Although the crime rates in Malmö need to be discussed further, for now I have no further comment, except that yes, not everyone is happy with it. But so far it doesn’t seem as bad as people say.
However, it may get worse, as there truly are a lot of refugees walking around. I do think many are quite Westernized and interested in assimilating. But it’s a social experiment for a country that before this mass wave of immigration was entirely one culture.