Sunday, January 13, 2002

Time for another longer Swedish lesson.

#4. The Hierarchy of Nordic Countries (from a Swedish point of view). Swedes seem to have some definite views about the countries around them. Or rather, the husband does. I like to think that in this respect, he reflects typical Stockholm thinking. Warning: If you are a citizen of one of the Nordic countries, you may find the following offensive and want to hit me with a large stick. These are not, I repeat, not my own opinions. I have no opinions on this topic.

Denmark belongs on the top of the hierarchy, well, along with Sweden of course. It's part of the European continent, as opposed to the Nordic peninsula, which makes it a cooler, hipper place with a (possibly) better culture than Sweden. Of course, it is half the size of Sweden so it loses some points there for being smaller. Swedes also generally have trouble understanding Danish - it sounds rather like someone talking Swedish and gargling at the same time, in my opinion - but embarrassingly enough, Danes almost always understand Swedes. So, Denmark both gains and loses points on the language issue.

Norway could be considered the boring country cousin of Sweden. They have oil and lots of money, yeah, and the scenery is pretty, but they're hopelessly provincial and hey, they were part of Sweden until 1905 (to be fair, they were only part of Sweden for about 100 years or so; Norway, Denmark and Sweden have a long history of taking over bits and pieces of each other so Norway has been part of Sweden on other occasions as well). They're dowdy but okay, sort of. Definitely beneath Sweden on the Nordic hierarchy.

Finland is the barbaric little brother of Sweden. Looked down on because of its lack of manners and tendency to carry concealed knives, Swedes nonetheless have a grudging secret admiration for the Finns because they are tough. And of course, Finland was part of Sweden for a lot longer than Norway was part of Sweden, so despite some longstanding resentments (Finns traditionally learn Swedish as a second language and the upper classes in the west of Finland speak Swedish as a first language) and some big cultural differences (Finland is not a Scandinavian country, for instance; the language is related to Estonian and Hungarian, outside the Indo-European language group in fact), Sweden and Finland have a most interesting love-hate relationship. Some Swedes would say Finland is on the bottom of the Nordic hierarchy, despite its having more famous architects, artists and classical composers than Sweden.

Iceland is just plain weird, an anomoly. Iceland seems to be a last remnant of the Vikings, a kind of parallel Nordic world with cute little hairy horses and Björk. Iceland sits alone on the side in the Nordic hierarchy, unclassifiable.

Sweden is really the alpha dog, although no one in Sweden would say this out loud.

I wonder what people in the other Nordic countries think, and do they resent Sweden for thinking of itself as the U.S. of the north? Or do they really not give a shit what Sweden thinks...

The Swedish word for the day is kartan. It means the map.

- by Francis S.

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