Friday, April 02, 2004

It's so easy to forget that Sweden is a socialist country. Like the rest of Europe, it's gone through its round of privatizations, American television is ubiquitous, everyone dresses so stylishly (if a bit uniformly). The country just doesn't have that dowdy socialist one-size-fits-all feeling.

Except when it comes to apartments.

The housing system in Stockholm is Byzantine and people are always on the lookout for the perfect apartment to rent or swap or somehow get through various devious methods. It's almost a pathology.

At the same time, Swedes have a particularly strong and distinctly un-American sense that there is such a thing as too big. Especially when it comes to apartments. Basically, everyone should just get his or her fair share, which is small-ish by American standards.

What I'm getting at here is that I now have an apartment that is shamefully big, way more than my share. I equivocate when people ask how big it is, which they invariably do because they seem to be obsessed with the question.

I tell them it's bigger than the old one.

"How big?" they ask.

Big, I say. And then they press some more and then I have to tell them and then I see the judgement in their eyes and then I get all flustered and try to make it sound as if the place is less than it is somehow. I hate this feeling.

This situation would never happen in the States, where people have a certain admiration for big and more and better.

Interestingly, I have probably gone socialist enough that I'm not sure whether I think that this is good or bad, that the sky is the limit in the States, no holds barred. But I obviously haven't gone so socialist that it stopped me from buying this unfairly glorious apartment.

The Swedish word for the day is jämkning, which is the tax adjustment one makes when one gets a tax break for having a loan on a house or apartment.

- by Francis S.

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