Sunday, September 27, 2009

More on Sweden

More on Sweden.

One of the main reasons I mentioned Esaias Tegner, was the fact that Wikipedia had him attributing Sweden's population increase in the 18th and 19th centuries as due to, "the peace, the (smallpox) vaccine, and the potatoes."  In one hundred years the population doubled.  Apparently, this taxed Sweden's capacity to feed and service such growth, so over a million people moved to America, in the last hundred years.  Ten percent in the 1880's.  God, that just doesn't seem possible.  I used to hear that more Polish people used to live in Chicago, than in Warsaw, Poland.  I learned this from a taxi driver in Chicago, visiting there with my parents.  Wikipedia says that more Swedish people lived in Chicago in the early 20th century, than in Gothenburg, Sweden's second largest city.  Of course, most of the Swedes populated Minnesota (which nobody is confused about, since Minnesota enjoys surely the most sensible populace in in Middle West, USA.  Go there some time.

How lovely that the farmers of Sweden were never part of Feudalism.  How is that possible?  Something in the Swedish character.  So, farmers have always had more power there, then in many other places.  The Centre Party, in Sweden. began as the Agrarian party. As to whether they fight for causes I believe in, I couldn't say.  But they have a strange history, when you consider peasant folk elsewhere.

It was surprising to me that Swede's did not learn of their countries true ties to America, and the American nuclear arsenal, until 1994.  But every country has secrets.  I can't believe to this day, the attitude that many people have toward Administration's in America's recent past (Reagan, the Bush's and Clinton), who blatantly violated the Spirit of my countries people.  You can accuse.  You can defend.  But at the end of the day:  what is it you believe in?  Taking over governments?  Protecting the rich?  Giving no choice to a people?  That's not America, always.  But it sure as hell is America, sometimes.  The people lead.  And the truth, might be powerful.  But we won't look.  But for the rockets red glare.

During the Cold War, Sweden was so surrounded by states under Russian influence that it astounds me to imagine what it must have been like.  Germany, Poland, Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.  None of those countries. really remind me of Sweden. But all have been occluded by the Iron Curtain.  Very curious.

I'm fascinated by the names of Sweden's version of "states" like Indiana, where I live, and which I mention constantly.  Sweden's provinces serve no political purpose.  I sometimes wish the same could be said about the US.  But that's not likely to happen.  Just read the beautiful place names of Sweden's "landscapes", it's landskap:  Bohuslan, Dalarna, Blekinge, Gotland, Dalsland, Halland, Gastrikland, Harjedalen, Halsingland, Lapland, Jamtland, Norrbotten, Medelpad, Skane, Narke, Sodermanland, Smaland, Uppland (the name, more or less, of one of our local breweries, in Bloomington), Varmland, Vastmanland, Vastergotland, Vasterbotten, Oland, Angermanland, Ostergotland.   Jeez, there are a few AngerManLand's in the USA.  Lot's of anger men.

Beautiful names, and great meaning to millions of people.  It throws light into my imagination, to just think about the warmth that identity brings human beings.  I love my Indiana, as some love their Oland.

I was surprised at how warm Sweden is for its latitude.  And Stockholm's daylight lasts more than 18 hours in late June!  Jesus.  I guess curtains are pretty good business in Stockhom.  Six hours of daylight in December.  "I'm sleeping in," must surely mean, you welcome the dark.  In Indiana, we complain about 10 hours of daylight.  Six hours of light....

Apparently nighttime in Stockholm is always between half and .33% as cold as the day.  Here in Indiana, the night is frequently, only a tiny bit colder than the day.  Certainly only rarely is the difference fifty percent.

Sweden is a very interesting place.  I plan to actually read a book in the near future about it.  So I hope my overview of what I gleaned on the web, celebrates it enough for now.


Jenny said...


Oh, I enjoyed reading this so much. A lot of the things you have written here are complete news to me. Yes, the Minnesota Swedes are probably sensible, but, perhaps, not the jolliest crowd, I reckon.

I read in a post of yours that you have German ancestors. I have ancestors from Belgium and Northern France who mixed with Swedes, which explains why I am a brunette, unlike Ande who is a typical Swedish blond (but I am not refering to the blond stereotype notion here).

I am fascinated with the names of the American states as well. Indiana is a thought provoking name indeed. I was born in a small coastal town in the southern part of northern Sweden. The winds from the Baltic Sea were so piercingly rough that it would be impossible to survive there without the ability to laugh, which might explain my weird sense of humour. I have lived in Uppsala since I was 12 (but during that time I also lived in Stockholm for a while and for a short time in Brighton, UK). Fortunately, Uppsala has a milder climate. This town is only 40 minutes by train from Stockholm.

Oh yeah, it is so bright during the summer here that you really need extra thick curtains, otherwise the sun will wake you up every “morning” and it is impossible to actually fall asleep. Up north the days are even shorter than 6 hours during wintertime and, amazingly enough, the sun never sets around Midsummer.

Thank you for showing an interest in Sweden. The melting pot that USA is has such a fascinating history too, of course. I am also a curious minded person and you have made me interested in Bloomington and Indiana, so I will spend time googling. I have already had the pleasure to read a bit about Bloomington on Wikipedia and it seems like an awesome place.

Andy Coffey said...


There is a wonderful public radio program (we colloquially refer to public radio, at least in the midwest, as NPR, National Public Radio. But NPR, is in fact only one "non profit" in the US, producing public radio.) on Minnesota Public Radio, here in the US, called Prarie Home Companion. It is produced, and written by Garrisson Keillor, who has made a living making people laugh, poking fun of conservatives, right wingers, and regional American character, for almost thirty years. Mr. Keillor has a great website, so you can listen immediately to the program. I wish I could see your face, though. I'm not sure what the show would sound like to a Swede. It's real corny. But the reason I mention it, is that part of the show is called "Lake Wobegon," where Garrison tells stories for about twenty minutes in the second hour of his show. The "Lake Wobegon" stories center around the town of "Lake Wobegon" and it's people. A group I have come to know for over two decades. Many folks have enormous affection for the town of Lake Wobegon, even though it isn't real. And the place is suffused with an uptight, Norwegion, order. Which, Garrison Keillor makes ample use of, when he makes you laugh your ass off. It's impossible for me to know what Norwegions and Swedes are really like, since all the ones I've ever met were outgoing and unique. But then again, not everybody travels to the US, and not everyone, of course, is young.
I sort of wondered about the Blond stereotype and it's relationship to entnicity in your country. I'm a blond myself, but my Dad has dark hair, my mom, I am pretty sure is blond, and my sisters and brother share a mix of colors. My grandparents came from, as you remembered, Germany, but also, Ireland, France, and Poland. My Polish Grandfather passed away early this year, and his wife, my Grandma, continues to live, in Northern Indiana where my parents were raised. She is of French extraction. The man I was named after, my Grandpa Coffey, George Alma Coffey (my parents changed Alma to Andrew, or Andy) was Irish, and he died shortly before I was born. But I am told we have some things in common, so sometimes I look in the mirror, and say, "Boo!" And my Grandmother, who I mentioned in the Dancing Scrooge post, was German. I think I gave you a clue as to my feelings, in the post, about that lovely woman. I am blessed with a richness in family that is truly humbling. They are everything to me, and it is to their arms and kindness I return, to relearn how to live, when I sometimes, like everyone, forget.
Indiana was considered a place for Indians to live, originally, "Indiana Territory," until it was opened with those chrome teeth you wrote so beautifully about. There are Miami Indians, who morphologically look a great deal like white people, in Northern Indiana. They have no true land of their own. Interestingly, the Creation Myth of the Miami, takes place in a lake in Northern Indiana. Kind of amusing to think all people came from that lake, even you Jenny. Huh?

Jenny said...

The blond stereotype’s relationship in Sweden. The majority of people are more or less blond and blue-eyed here, so no one really bothers about that stereotype up here, I guess. Sometimes people joke about it in a self ironic kind of way. It is considered exotic to be brown-eyed in Sweden; but that has changed a bit now since we have many immigrants from the Middle East, the Balkan and South America.

Yet I know that blond women sometimes have unpleasant experiences when they are abroad, in many parts of the world; they are not taken seriously or treated as the intelligent people they obviously are. Very unfair. A light-haired friend of mine lived in England for a while and she dyed her hair red and what a change! She was immediately met with more respect. A pity that prejudices are so deeply rooted.

Andy Coffey said...


Yeah, the prejudice is pretty deep. Though it bears thinking that at least your friend knew the dummies from the thoughtful folks in the world. I've never been able to tell them apart without a certain degree of commitment. I'm guessing your friend knew right away. But then, maybe that's a form a knowledge none of us should be burdened by.
It's been amazing in America to watch the prejudice toward blacks and hispanics slowly fading. It's still strong, but definitely on it's deathbed.
When I'm feeling mean, and someone I know says something about how nothing can be done about prejudice (completely contrary to the last fifty years of history) I sometimes just point out, "wouldn't things be less prejudiced if you were dead?"
Works like a charm. And sometimes, that's how change happens. Viva the blond!

Ande said...

Oh, hello Jenny and Andy, what an interesting conversation you have going.
Andy, I looked up lots of pictures of Indiana on the net, and I can see why you love it.

I think you are into something really important when you write about Sweden's secret defense pact with the US during the cold war. As you say, Sweden were surrounded by communist states. I remember the hefty demonstrations I took part in when I was a child (my parents where lefties). This show of unity sort of faded in the late eighties, finally to disappear together with the Soviet Union in the 90s. And yeah, most Swedes had relatives and close links to the US. I remember my grandmother telling me stories (as a child) from the many times she visited the US, (mostly Minnesota, of course), and she really loved it there. Some very blond relatives from Wisconsin came to visit us sometimes. They were really fun. When thinking about my parents, I kind of think that much of the Marxist movement in Sweden was maybe a kind of baby boomer revolt against their parents?

Many of my grandmothers friends and close relatives went to the US in about 1910, and never went back; why should they? The Europe they knew at that time probably felt like a door closed in their faces and the US the future.

Andy Coffey said...


I'm glad you liked our conversation. I am thrilled you looked upon Indiana, The Ohio River Valley, as we say it in the midwest. We Hoosiers (don't ask, it's a nickname. And nobody knows where it came from.) are a pretty lucky bunch. Thanks for looking us up. And if you can, it's enormous fun to look at Bloomington, in Google Earth, Maps and Street View. I'll give you my address some time and you can literally walk down my street with me to the coffee shop, then the Biology Library.
It would really have been something to feel yourself a neutral state between two Nuclear Arsenals. It's painful to the values of a Democratic Republic to go about things in secret, hiding decisions from a populace. But it seems a common problem in nations all over the world that the way our political structure was constructed, was a slow and steady process (and Sweden's even more so.) So, when the twentieth century happened, and within four decades of the first airplane flight, we were vaporizing people by the tens of thousands in war, you can see how mere principles of Governing, developed over a few hundred years, didn't seem adequate in a face off with global thermonuclear war. I personally, am still waiting for something very bad to happen to westerners as regards a nuclear weapon. In many ways it is strange that we have not seen our own people vaporize. I think you will agree, that we don't always regard the death of our loved ones, in the same way, as the death of the "enemy." It's scary what might teach us better.
It's lovely, none the less to imagine your parents demonstrating. Mine are more or less liberal, but not likely to be thought of as having demonstrated.
The end of the cold war caused so many claims on people all over the world to change.
I love the stories your grandmother told you. There are plenty of blonds all over the place in the midwest. It can sometimes seem a little crazy. Then again, I am one of them, or rather, I was when I had bright yellow hair. No longer.
I love your comment on the reaction of one generation to another. The interaction of politics with a countries various "groups" of different generations, and ages, is something I only recently began to think about. The hippies arose, I believe, due not only to the Vietnam War, but also because they were told, as a huge group of young Americans, that their ideas mattered. That was a somewhat new concept in the first half the the twentieth century. For what it's worth, college kids in the US today, still think their ideas matter, they just check with their parents first! A little different then the '60's.
I like your ideas about generations.
In 1910 Wisconsin and Minnesota would have seemed to a person from a country with relatively high land prices for arable (farmable) land, as a kind of Wal-Mart in the agrarian sense. This is not to say that those people did not suffer and work their asses off. But of course, we're talking Scandanavian's here: there was nothing they wanted more than to work: and prosper. In a sense, in Wisconsin and MInnesota, for once the cliche that the grass is greener, was really true. Or at the very least, there was simply a hell of a lot more grass.
I'd be fascinated to look at the average family size in the Northern Middle West USA, for people from Sweden in the early twentieth century, compared to the average family size in Sweden at the same time. Sometimes it comes down to who you can feed (along with a lot of other stuff.)
One things for sure: Wisconsin and Minnesota reminded Scandinavian's of home. And at the end of the day, that's why they lived there, period.