Here are some interesting points about Sweden, from which I have just returned after a short holiday:-
1. When I told the hotel staff that they were all a bunch of muppets, they said "No, that’s just the Swedish Chef." Ha!
2. More seriously, the cliche that Swedes are all tall, blond(e) and willowy, with healthy tans developed from their love of sunbathing and nude volleyball is, as far as I can judge, largely true. Well, a lot of them are tall, blond(e) and thin, although I admit that as I didn’t actually witness any nude volleyball the tanned ones may just be visiting tanning parlours a lot. I’ve never felt quite so dark haired, short and overweight in my entire life, and as I’m 5"9 I wouldn’t regard myself as particularly short (the other two I’ll cop to).
3. There are lots of forests and lakes, all the better as a backdrop for sunbathing and nude volleyball.
4. Sweden has a long and interesting history up until about the end of the Napoleonic Wars, when they appear to have taken an executive decision to opt out of the whole warfare/empire building route pursued by many other European countries. Whilst this has spared them the fascinating experience of being invaded, occupied, bombed, threatened with mass starvation, embroiled in post-colonial warfare and, after all that, subject to criticism by The Guardian for their human rights record that other European countries have undergone, it must provide something of a dilemma for museum curators. The Swedish Army museum, in Stockholm, which I visited, devotes one floor to pre-1900 i.e. the Vikings, Gustavus Adolphus and Charles XII, who whatever else you may think of them, did lots of war. However, it also devotes one floor to post-1900, during which the Army’s main active service has been on UN peacekeeping missions. The most exciting reconstruction they can manage for that period is of an Army barracks room from what looks like the 50s-60s. Apparently, this arouses great nostalgia in their middle aged male visitors who remember their conscript days, although my experience is that Heartbeat, which is not commemorated in the Imperial War Museum, had a similar effect on many older Britons.
5. At about the same time as their history got dull, the Swedes installed a new (French) royal family, the Bernadottes. The two may not be unconnected, since, in spite of recent attempts to be controversial by letting the heir to the throne marry her fitness trainer, the dynasty has never quite managed the levels of soap opera excitement which seem almost routine with the Hanoverians/Saxe-Coburgs/Windsors during the same period. No-one has divorced their internationally famous wife, who then went on to die in circumstances which remain the subject of conspiracy theories, and married their ex-lover, for instance, or abdicated and run off with Wallis Simpson or made rude remarks about foreign countries whilst visiting those countries. To give the Swedish royals their due, though, they do freely admit being descended from Marshal Bernadotte, which is something I would rather avoid if it was me.
6. Most things in Sweden don’t seem to (a) open before 10 am or (b) stay open after 5 or 6 pm (some museums seem to operate even shorter hours). This is undoubtedly great from the point of view of allowing the employees a good work-life balance. However, as a tourist, sitting around waiting for shops or visitor attractions to open, or realising they’ve now closed, you do occasionally wonder how Sweden managed to become one of the wealthiest nations in Europe whilst being so apparently reluctant to allow you the opportunity to give them your money.
7. All becomes clear, however, when you look at your bill in a restaurant and realise how much of it consists of tax and service charge – basically, the whole of the famous Swedish welfare system, and their economy, depends on your chicken fried rice. They can’t sell you anything else but restaurant meals since the shops aren’t open at the right times to do it, so all they can do is tax that meal to the max. This also explains why no-one in Stockholm who doesn’t work in the catering or hospitality trade seems to be working. Those poor devils are entirely dependent on your tourist dollar – so go to Sweden now, before they have to have some kind of international appeal and you get guilt-tripped into donating anyway.