a unique perspective on this crazy world

Posts tagged ‘Nordiska Museet’

apparently misery DOES love company

This all started when I was browsing in the shops seeing if Swedish fashion would entice me to part with some more kroner.  But the palette made me feel kind of depressed.  It seemed to resemble the weather outside.  I wondered what came first…  and if, between the challenging weather patterns and all this black and grey clothing, the Swedes were depressed.

But I just thought it was more of my silly black humour.  I didn’t buy anything though.  It was all too shapeless and dark.  I guess Swedish women are so gorgeous they can wear a potato sack and look good.  Most of the clothing seemed to be working on that model.  Along with an awful lot of parkas!  If you need a black parka, this is your paradise 😉

I tried to like Acne – but it just looked mostly weird and I didn’t think it would look terribly flattering on me.  I am more a Dolce and Gabbana kind of girl.  I like it when French guys young enough to be my son come up to me and shyly tell me in broken English that they like my dress.  I didn’t think Acne was gonna get me that kind of attention…  I realize I don’t look very hip.  But it seems that looking sexy means I meet a lot more strangers – and my travel stories are better 😉

After my Swedish shopping experience I was reading a novel on the plane home called Delicacy by David Foenkinos.  It’s definitely worth reading.  But he’s French and I thought he was really picking on the Swedes with the Markus character.  And there was this big emphasis on the Swedes being suicidal.

I am a woman who enjoy facts more than chocolate so I had to get some info before I wrote about the depressing clothing in my blog.  Apparently, the Swedes ARE famous for being suicidal.  But the average Swede… pretty happy.  It would appear that really cool happy places make the unhappy people more unhappy.  Not enough other people around to commiserate with apparently.

So it would appear Sweden is a kind of Disneyland.  So, if you are more a Sartre Nothingness kind of person, you should likely hole up somewhere like the Democratic Republic  of Congo.  Lots of miserable people there to make you feel better about your lot.

Or you might just try not caring so much what other people think…

Personally I would be really happy in Sweden 🙂  But then I am pretty happy everywhere.  You make your own happiness – and a lot of your luck.

I was definitely happy when I was observing – or learning about – Swedish design.  They may dress like shapeless goths – but they like their interiors full of colour, shape and function.

I won’t bore you with all the details of everything I learned about Swedish design.  One of the coolest things I saw was the dollhouses at the Nordiska Museet.  What was especially fascinating is that they weren’t all for kids… and normally children were not allowed to play with them, just to observe.  But some of the early ones were to show people how to apply interior design in their homes.  An early version of the Home and Garden cable channel 😉

Another highlight for me was tacking on the Architecture Museum to my Moderna Museet tour.  Not only an entire history of Swedish architecture but some of the key architectural wonders happening all over the world at the same time.

One of the most interesting things I learned about was the One Million Dwellings Programme, an ambitious housing project implemented in Sweden between 1965 and 1974 by the governing Swedish Social Democratic Party to make sure everyone could have a home at a reasonable price. The aim was to build a million new dwellings in a 10-year period.  At the same time, a large proportion of the older housing stock was demolished.

In the end, about 1,006,000 new dwellings were built, which accounts for 25% of Sweden’s housing. There was criticism that the new apartments were ugly but they were modern and well-designed and generally the people who got to live in them were thrilled.  Yet another example of rational thought by the Swedes as to how to make the general society a better place.

The other interesting fact that I learned – both in Stockholm and in London – was the impact of the first World’s Fair at the Crystal Palace (London) in 1851.  I’ve been to the Crystal Palace – and to the shells of a few other World’s Fairs over my travels.  There were some interesting aspects to most visits but the importance of the concept was lost in the abandoned look of the sites.

But this is why it’s good to keep travelling… and learning stuff.  In Sweden, design is life it seems and the very first World’s Fair had a huge impact on Swedish society.  And the world in general.  Back in those days when google wasn’t a verb and the internet had not yet been invented – by either Al Gore or Tim Berners-Lee – information didn’t travel very far so the World’s Fair was a revelation… and all those interior designers selling themselves on reality TV should be eternally grateful to the Brits for kick-starting their careers generations before they were even born 🙂

In 1930, Sweden hosted the Stockholm Exhibition and introduced the world to Swedish functionalism.  Ingvar Kamprad was only 4 so I doubt he attended but the rest of the world who didn’t attend would learn about Swedish functionalism via the little company he started in 1943.  He called it IKEA…

So… it would appear the Swedes are mostly really happy, they like to dress in dark colours and they have a sense of style that is world-famous.  All the Swedes I met seemed pretty sunny… and the sun does pop out from time to time and – thanks to that Nordic light – when it does, it’s spectacular.

building a national identity

The Nordic people are noted for being a bit frosty.  Especially by their southern neighbours.  They are my people.  Apparently in high school I intimidated people.  It wasn’t intentional.  I just didn’t have much sense of play.  So I am grateful to my country’s celebrated multiculturalism that I met people from other ethnic backgrounds who taught me how to lighten up 😉  For any of you reading this regularly, you will already know my love for the Dutch who somehow seem to manage to combine warmth, efficiency and dry wit.  And, while I still love Paris and New York, I have the most fun in Amsterdam so it may have beat them out as my favourite city.

But today we are talking about the Swedes.  Since my grandfather died when my dad was ten, the first Swedish man I met was some random Björn or Mattias.  He was cute and blond, sure, but that is not why he was memorable.  At the time I was about 20 and back in those days, people didn’t talk about sex in public in North America.  They didn’t have ads for tampons on TV.  We were repressed and uptight about all that stuff.  And lots of young women were very conservative in their social mores.

But we were also brought up well so people could say whatever and we just smiled politely and didn’t express any shock outwardly.  Hey, we started as a British colony 😉  So I was chatting with random Swedish guy and another girl in the lounge at the university residence where we were staying during our summer jobs.  And random Swedish guy casually mentioned how his grandmother had been cool with him bringing his girlfriend to her house and having sleepovers with the girlfriend when he was 15.  And not just sleeping 🙂

(According to my guidebook, at 15 you become byxmyndig, loosely translated as “in charge of your pants” – the things you learn from travel :))

Random Swedish guy seemed very comfortable with the concept of sex.  Apparently in Sweden it wasn’t the big deal it was in North America (and in many quarters, still is).  It was likely the first time I heard anyone talk about sex without twittering.  Talking about it as though it was the same as talking about the weather.  It was definitely a revelation.  And obviously random Swedish guy had an impact on my perceptions of the world.

But what I remember most was talking to the other girl later when random Swedish guy wasn’t around.  She had been shocked!  I hadn’t even realized because we had been taught to not act shocked so you would never know from the way the person acted in the situation.  I believe that’s called “good manners.”  It was fun to giggle about it since we didn’t have to act cool in front of the Swedish dude right then.  But I was less shocked.  And thought the Swedes might be on to something.  WHY WERE North Americans SO uptight about sex – but so casual about violence…

I met a couple more Swedish guys over the years.  That was part of the reason for my trip to Stockholm.  To see if they were representative.  My conclusion…  I think so…  It was only a short visit so not exactly a scientific study…

I went to at least one historical or cultural spot every day to learn more about the Swedes.  I had only had a few minutes to leaf through my guidebook before I arrived but I had read enough to be intrigued.  Another reason for the choice of Stockholm was a conversation I had recently at a networking event with a banker who had worked in Stockholm for a number of years.  He was the one that alerted me to the impressive nature of Sweden.

And it is an impressive place.  It’s clean.  It’s green.  It’s pretty equal by world standards.  There is a strong social safety net.  There is very little crime.  People are articulate.  For a small country, they really make their mark on the world via business, sport, design…

There are flags everywhere.  And people seem to have a strong sense of identity.  As a Canadian, I was fascinated.  We are famous – at least within our own borders – for being on an eternal quest for our sense of identity.  Something a little more than, “we are not Americans.” 🙂

My father was one of the few Canadians I’ve known who really believed in the country and had the kind of patriotic attitude I saw in Sweden.  Could it have come from his Swedish father?

Now that I know a little Swedish history, I would think likely not.  But maybe…  There is no question the Swedes have an identity.  But the museums and my conversations with Swedes suggested that it is a fairly new thing.

And – like everything in history, especially in Europe – it’s complicated.  Apparently Sweden was pretty poor and agrarian until the Second World War.  Most Swedes didn’t seem to want to acknowledge the role Germany – and their “neutral” position during the war – played in their prosperity.  But without the Nazis, there might not have been IKEA…

I was more interested in the sociology of Sweden than in ancient politics.  What was fascinating is that there were some famous Swedes who decided they needed a national identity and strove to define and promote it.  Part of this was establishing the Nordiska Museet – a place to showcase Swedish culture and identity.  For tourists.  But, more interestingly, for locals.

Apparently part of its mandate was to provide people with information about what it meant to be Swedish – to build a national identity.  Because, as I learned in the fabulous 1,000 years of Swedish history in under an hour at the Historiska Museet, the Sweden of today is a really recent invention.  There were the Vikings, some evil (and more benevolent) kings, a pampered nobility, alliances with the other Nordic countries (why Nordiska, not Swedish), invasions and bloody fights with neighboring countries, an interesting positioning during the Second World War…

What I loved the most about the Swedish museums is that they didn’t just toss random facts at you.  They clearly stated that culture and history are complicated and perspective is key.  They actually asked questions in the exhibits and encouraged you to think about any “facts” presented.

That was the thing that I liked the most about Sweden.  The culture encouraged thinking and planning (very Nordic of them ;).  Once the dust settled and prosperity kicked in, they decided to define who they were – and wanted to be.  And communicate that message to the nation.  I think all the recent immigration has made that message more complicated to reconcile but what impressed me the most about my visit to Sweden was the sense that intelligent thought and debate was encouraged – and part of the national identity.

I think that’s why Sweden has likely been so successful in the complicated modern world.  So, save your pennies and go check it out.  And chat up some Swedes.  They like to talk about ice hockey.  Vikings.  Or sex 😉

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