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My kind of place

September 30, 2010

The other day J was on a discussion forum for a Swedish games company, Paradox Interactive. Paradox’s field is big, ludicrously complicated, historical strategy games: Europa Universalis and Hearts of Iron are probably their best-known titles. Anyway. He was on this forum, reading a thread where some people were discussing a particular Victoria II bug with a member of the dev team who was on the creative, rather than the technical, side of things. And at one point it came up that this guy wasn’t actually allowed to program for this particular project – union rules. And at that point the thread turned into a string of flabbergasted English and American posters going “Wait, programmers have a union in Sweden?”

J told me about this, and I was like “Yeah, Sweden is awesome,” and cited the two things I knew about Sweden’s political/economic system: they have an astounding welfare system and it’s bloody expensive to live there. And then I reminisced a bit about holidays in Norway and Denmark as a kid, and how wonderful the Norwegian scenery was – whether it was the cliffs over Lysefjorden, or the sun going down over the jellyfish-laden sea.* Or Sonderborg Castle in Denmark – we saw five wedding parties there, just on the one afternoon. Strange blancmange-y desserts in tetrahedral packets. The glacier we visited where I (all of eight years old) drank straight out of a runoff stream to prove it was clean, and it was.

Suffice it to say, I have very fond memories of Scandinavia.

We looked up Sweden (and later, Norway) on Wikipedia, and followed a few links. The more I read about them, the better places they seem. The fond memories, formed as a kid and therefore rooted very much in physical impressions of the place – the cold but very crisp air, the blue skies, the golden raspberries that I’ve never been able to track down anywhere else – have now been supplemented with the sense that these are not just beautiful and strange places; these are places I could live.

Swedish law recognised fully gender-neutral marriage in 2009; gender-neutral domestic partnerships exist alongside. The tax rate is 30%, going to 50-55% on income over 320,000SEK (~£30,000) and that huge helping of tax money goes straight back into the system. Education is free. School dinners (including salad! I don’t think I ever saw a salad leaf at my school) are free, for all children. Paid parental leave runs at between 9 and 12 months, and can be divided as the parents please.

Eighty percent of workers are unionised and the unions are strong enough that there has never been the need to legislate a minimum wage. Unions elect representatives to the board of any company employing more than 25 people.

The birth rate is low – 1.67 children per adult woman – and the infant mortality rate minuscule. The state pays 98% of all healthcare costs, and there is a cap of 800SEK (~£80) on how much any one patient may pay in a year. Sick leave is always paid, either by the employer or by the state.

They don’t have nukes. They don’t want nukes. The army is small (60,000-ish), integrated, and all-voluntary.

Wikipedia can’t tell you everything, of course (and, if government employees have been at it, probably won’t), and the only conclusive litmus test as to whether you’d actually want to live in a country is to go and live there. But I have to say, if I took over the planet, my benevolent dictatorship would look a lot like this. That Sweden can manage it with the most democratic system in the world is a rather good counterpoint to the people who claim that liberalism is essentially a pipe-dream, unachievable in a real state.

I wonder how they’re doing for medievalists over there?


*Seriously. There are zillions of the things – very lacy, floaty orange ones, which look intimidating but are apparently safe, and weird spacey clear ones with ultraviolet-glowing rings, which don’t look like they’d have anything to hurt you with, but can apparently make you pretty ill.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Paul Skinner permalink
    September 30, 2010 4:37 pm

    Having a brother who lives in Norway shines certain lights on the system and how well it works. As a system it works well and yes, lots of healthcare is free, schools are free etc. etc. What it does lead to is people who don’t question any government decision* and I find that slightly depressing. It gives me the feeling that it’s a great country but thoroughly lacking any soul, just a bunch of people going about their daily lives not really thinking about anything important outside their own lives.

    That, and there’s really no good music scene, and their beer is dire and £6.50 a “pint” (and I can’t stress that enough – dire). Overall, I could not live there.

    I have no information on Sweden.

    *this may not be as true as it was pre-recession, but still fairly true

  2. September 30, 2010 5:57 pm

    Pretty much the one bad thing I’ve heard lately about Sweden is that they have a surprisingly strong far right,* which sadly won a lot of seats at the last election.

    * I say “surprising”; really, it’s hardly fair to assume any country is a homogenous blob of people. I think in general, the Scandinavian cities tend to be very liberal places, but they also have massive areas of rural wilderness which are going to be more isolationist/conservative.

  3. September 30, 2010 7:30 pm

    Sweden’s appealed to me too for a long time. Never been there, so my information, like yours, comes from the internet, and additionally from having once known a Swedish girl. I asked her once, “Do Swedish people complain about taxes?” And she replied, “Do English people complain about the weather? It’s the same kind of thing.”

    Norway, of course, is my fatherland, or rather, my paternal-grandmother-land.

    I’ve considered both as possible places to live, but neither has a particular need for English teachers, as the standard of English there is very high, whereas here in Catalonia, hardly anybody speaks English. The only one I’ve encountered who speaks it to a conversational level won’t do so, because he teaches the Spanish class I’m in, and wants us to learn. It’s exhilarating and good for my Castilian (my Catalan barely exists, but all Catalans are bilingual: possibly an explanation for why they can’t be arsed learning English on top), but it’s also a bit scary: I know full well that even if I’m in the midst of a sudden heart attack, I will still have to tell the doctor where it hurts in Castilian. At least corazón is an easy word to remember, eh?

  4. September 30, 2010 9:32 pm

    @Paul: Eh, I’d say that a majority of people in most countries don’t pay too much attention to anything outside their own lives. There’s also the unfortunate circumstance whereby apathy is a by-product of both bad govt and good govt – if bad, people decide they can’t change anything and cease to care, and if good, people don’t think they need to change anything and cease to care.

    As for the practical niggles – I’m not much of a one for the live music scene (the occasional venture to the local goth club is about the sum of my musical exposure, and as Scandiwegia is a net exporter of metal bands I’d imagine the goth scene is okay) and even when I wasn’t teetotal for medical reasons beer was not my thing. Heh.

    @atomicspin: It’d go with what Paul suggested about the recession – people wake up, start questioning the powers that be, and for some of them that dissatisfaction manifests as far-rightness. Given that Britain, France, and the US have all had mildly alarming far-rightists in positions of (varying) power, it’s not altogether surprising that Sweden does too. Unless they show signs of taking over, I’d put it down to people becoming insular in hard times, and wait it out.

    @Seamus: Learning Swedish (or Norwegian, as appropriate) would be far and away the most daunting part of a move. I think the Scandinavian languages are much closer to English than the romance ones, though, so you’ve no doubt having a substantially trickier time . . . How are things in Barca, anyway? Sounds like you’re having fun, even if it’s the scary kind of fun.

  5. October 3, 2010 12:19 am

    I’m writing this from Amsterdam. Before here, Berlin. 2 places I’d have considered living. But actually spending time here, on my own, has made me realise how much I love London. I’m still trying to put my finger on why, but here are some current thoughts:

    1. Friends, familiarity etc. Cannot deny.
    2. Money. I’m fortunate enough to currently have plenty, live in Zone 1 and get to go where I want. I can see the attraction of places like Berlin, where you can have a very similar lifestyle for a fraction of the cost, but that doesn’t (at the moment) apply for me.
    3. I don’t like it perfect. The nightlife here in Amsterdam is nice. On paper, perfect. Everything’s much later, things don’t close, people are more relaxed. I thought I’d love it, but failed to get into it. I’m used to the intensity of hundreds of people playing for the allotted few hours as hard as they have worked for the last 5 days. It’s not perfect, in face it’s deeply flawed, but it does have it’s fun side affects that I’m used to and have grown to love, and that happens a lot in London.
    4. I don’t think I’m going to get bored of London for a long time to come.

    But then I may just not be the international type.


  1. Happy. « This Wicked Day

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