Inevitably, the subject turns to sex and marriage. I'll never forget asking one group what they thought of marriage in a country where most educated young people (and half go to university) don't get married or bear children until they are well over 30. A young woman gave me a thoughtful answer and so I asked her, "What are you looking for in a husband?" Without batting an eye or pausing for thought, she answered: "Three things. One, he must be good in bed. Two, he must be a good father. Three, when we divorce, he mustn't be bitter."
At the moment Reinfeldt is leading the four conservative parties who form the government to reform some of the deeply held attitudes of Swedish society. "What we are is anti-conformity. We have opened up the schools and health services to competition and worked to end the many monopolies in our society." The propensity towards conformity bugs both Reinfeldt and many of the foreigners who work or study here. When I said that I find the Swedes are the Japanese of Europe, he nodded his head in agreement.
Apart from a well-travelled elite, the majority of people look down on those who buck the Swedish lifestyle trend—those who are a day late at the end of every month with paying their bills, those who cross the street before the light turns green even if no traffic is coming, those who miss a meeting of the committee of tenants that supervise their block of flats, those who don't do immediately what the committee has told them to do. (The penalties are severe—as I found out. You can be thrown onto the street for disobeying, even though you own your flat). Swedes just about can bring themselves to vote for different parties. But when it comes to big issues they usually follow the Stockholm elite's concensus. Very rarely is there a furious debate in parliament or the courtroom. People prefer to agree than disagree.
Swedes tell you that there is pressure in society not to raise your head too far above the parapet. One shouldn't push too hard to get ahead, to ask too demandingly for a salary increase, to engage in conspicuous consumption, to build too big a house or to own too posh a car or dress in a fancy or even stylish way. The very well cut business suit or skirt and jacket, much less the bejewelled theatre, concert or partygoer are not welcomed.
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