Dispatch #39 – Emigration

A bit of a dandy, a bit of a cavalier and a lot of a charmer, rogue British official The Dippylomat. Esq. investigates…

The Best Things about America are Swedish:

Jingle bells, jingle jitters, jingle all the way…all the blasted way. I am in a taxi, en route to an airport and with a growing sense of unease; a stale, lifeless, scentless Christmas pine tree air freshener dangles from the mirror – its existence coincidental rather than seasonal. It aptly reflects my merry-less mood.

DippySantaWhere else might one be flying at this time of year other than Lapland – where Sweden is at its coldest, darkest and Swedest. A Yuletide journey to document the supposed true whereabouts of Santa’s Grotto, I am left to assume. It would seem any snow swept country within several whale fin flips of the Arctic Circle can lay claim to the cash-register ringing residency of Father Christmas, and I could not give a reindeer’s horned hoot about any of them.

But duty beckons, orders are orders, so with an impending sense of a foregone conclusion, I collect my Dispatch Duty Details.

Minnesota. I am going to the United States’ state of Minnesota. This was not what I was expecting, but it sure beats the hell out of trying to get coherent sense from a Swedish town drunk who serves his only purpose when he is bribed into a Santa suit and his whiskey-ruddied face is adorned with an acrylic white tangle of beard.

Google1I would have thought I was being reassigned, but there is a return ticket. It took just four taps of my keyboard for all to come clear. The State, it would appear, is the centre of American-Scandinavian activities, and blow me, haven’t those Swedes just made their presence felt Stateside. And not just in the thunderous realm of the American football stadium with its ‘Viktor the Viking’ mascot and squad of cynically stereotypical pom pom waving blonde Swedish-descended cheerleaders. The nuances of culture are far more deep rooted and subtle than is at first apparent.

cheeryThe Swede’s initial New World foray was to colonise parts of North American in 1638 with the founding of New Sweden. But, true to form, their empirical efforts were a little lacklustre and easily thwarted; it wasn’t long before the Dutch trampled all over them – a fleeting ambition, and one which was quickly quashed.

But the next Swedish wave to hit the Atlantic seaboard was less about exploring and enterprise and more about escaping – and it was less of a wave and more of a tsunami. An estimated 1.2 million fled their homeland between 1885-1915 – that was one in five of the rapidly dwindling population. The reasons were all very run-of-the-redundant-mill: famine, religious oppression, not liking herring etc. Either way, the gush of emigration led to policy panic; as Sweden regained its economic stability it introduced welfare reforms in a bid to make the motherland equally as attractive as the bountiful plains of America’s mid- west. By 1920 the stream trickled and stopped and the foundations of the welfare state which made Sweden the envy of the world during the 20th Century were laid.

clever1Unsurprisingly, the fresh off the boaters headed to what they considered familiar farmable territory. With a familiar climate and familiar forests of pine trees to quell any unnecessary homesickness, they sunk silently into society.

Silently, but certainly not without trace; Sweden has reigned supreme in the pages of modern history as one of the leaders in democracy, equality, health and science. And which US state might you presume now boasts similar traits? Minnesota, but of course.

The state has one of the most literate, healthiest and politically motivated populations in America; it is currently the third healthiest state behind Hawaii and Vermont and the third most literate region behind Washington and Seattle. In fact, just like Sweden, it flits around the the tops of the charts you would most desire your state to be flitting around the top of.

So is it just a coincidence that Minnesota is genealogically linked to Sweden? Only as coincidental as a Christmas pine tree air freshener swinging in a taxi during the month of December. The answer, of course, is a resounding, pom pom-waving, book-reading and marathon-running, NO!

Toodle pip,

~The Dippylomat, Esq.

There is more to the The Northern Plights that meets the monocle, for more DippyloInsights may I humbly invite you to my Facebook page.

Posted in history, Malmö, migration, Minnesota, Nature, Stockholm, Sweden, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Dispatch #38 – Russia

A bit of a dandy, a bit of a cavalier and a lot of a charmer, rogue British official The Dippylomat. Esq. investigates…

A cold stare, seemingly cryogenically frozen, unrelenting, unflinching, in fact the only thing her face was not ‘un’ doing was ‘un’derstanding why she should let ME into HER country, but bureaucracy is bureaucracy and a valid passport is a valid passport, so with a reluctant, venomous glance and directional head flick, she permitted me into the viper’s nest.

The viper’s nest in question being Saint Petersburg, the second largest city in Russia and a city with a surprisingly Swedish tale to tell.

russian-bearWhile it might be the case that Sweden has had frequent fisticuffs with the Great Bear nation, and of course the Cold War was always going to feel a smidge colder when your permafrost borders lie just a hop, a skip and a goose step away from one another, but the Swedes also do have more than a passing penchant for politics with a leftwards Leninish persuasion. A political crush is one thing, but could it really be that after a torrid affair Sweden impregnated a land which subsequently gave birth to the bully boy Russia?

This is why my Dippylomatic Duties drag me to Saint Petersburg – the hot bed where this sordid liaison might well have been consummated.

It all started, unsurprisingly, in slightly less civilised times; Swedish vikings had been traipsing all over the Eastern nations like it was their back garden for centuries – in fact it is true to say that what the Danish and Norwegian vikings achieved in the West pales into utter insignificance compared to what the Swedes got up to in the East.

SHIPAfter bobbing across the Baltic Sea they poured through pre-Prussian lands, setting up base camps along the way. A notoriously hardy bunch they managed by hook, crook and double-edged axe to establish a trade route which led all the way to Istanbul and Baghdad.

As they paddled their way downstream the locals gave them a name, ‘the Rus‘, meaning ‘rowing people’ or ‘the people who row’. The word Rus appears with increasing frequency as the centuries rolled on; numerous entries in Russian, Slavic and Islamic historic texts are very much Rus-this or Rus-that…it just gets Rus-ier and Rus-ier until it eventually becomes…Russia.

Now, what of Saint Petersburg? Here’s a city which has had a fair few names changes over the years – Petrograd, Leningrad – but it started its days as Nyenskans – a small fort set up by colonial Swedes in 1611. The Russians were never overly fond of the Swedes playing ‘Empire’ and took pot shots at them pretty much from the get-go, but they were never a great threat, not great enough anyway, not until Tsar Peter…The Great.

DippyRiotIn 1703, during the Great Northern War, Peter (who probably was not considered that great at this point in history) thwarted the Swedes. For logistical seafaring reasons he relocated five kilometers upriver and just weeks after the conquest, he laid the first stones of what is now Saint Petersburg.

Only he didn’t.

Lay the first stones, that is. Of course not, but who should Peter the (increasingly) Great get to build the staggering stately buildings which still today line the streets and canals? Well, he did have an awful lot of Swedish prisoners of war at his despot disposal. And so it came to be, along with Russian serfs, the Swedes were put to task with the heavy lifting duties it requires to build such a grand and imposing city – countless died in the process.

And there you have it, the Swedes may have very well embroiled themselves into Russian history, but before they were evicted, they were given a harsh lesson in good ol’ Russian hard labour.

Toodle pip,

~The Dippylomat, Esq.

There is more to the The Northern Plights that meets the monocle, for more DippyloInsights may I humbly invite you to my Facebook page.

Posted in Finland, Gothenburg, history, immigration, Malmö, Minnesota, Norway, Stockholm, Sweden, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Dispatch #37 – Philanthropy

I AM a representative of the former British Empire and the current Commonwealth of Nations; I am the descendant of Victorian Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and the son of an RAF pilot. I did not graduate with First Class honours from Cambridge University and since then have not entered the Foreign Office’s prestigious diplomatic corps.

The Northern Plights’ documents my assessment of Sweden for the possibility of any future conquests which the British Government’s War Cabinet is not considering.

My weekends arrive with a hollow thud, the vacuums between the Friday clock off and the Monday clock on resonate with my reluctant sighs and are filled with the echoes of my relentless finger drumming – I am not the kind of chap who finds idling idyllic.

blog_tweedOn the Saturdays I afford myself the luxury of slipping into something a little less comfortable before a Tweed-clad saunter into town to fill my bicycle basket with the forthcoming week’s rations. Saturday after Saturday and saunter after saunter, the humdrum ration routine went unchanged, until…

It was upon my approach to a central plaza that I first noticed something awry; among the pastel-coloured, tight-fitting jeans and assorted H&M androgynous leisure wear tops there was a fleck, just a fleck, but a fleck all the same…a fleck of hope, a fleck of Tweed.

Curiosity well and truly spiked I cycled closer; the fleck became a flood and the flood became a sea, all of a sudden I was surrounded by waves of people who looked like…looked like me. Looked like me but did not sound like me, I hasten to add. It turned out that I had chanced upon an event where Swedes Tweeded-up and went for a bit of a jolly on their bicycles. The Tweed Ride, as it was referred to, was to help raise money for those in less fortunate countries. Before I knew it I was considered part of the throng and, what with the novelty of my plummy English accent, asked to lead the charge.

CYCLE2How very philanthropic of them, I pondered to myself while cycling and nodding and greeting every bamboozled bystander, these fuddily dressed fund-raisers were, after all, coming to the aid of poorer countries, many of which are poor as the result of other countries past-colonial ambitions. And, as a modicum of investigation was to later inform me, it was not just individual Tweeded twits like myself who pitch in, the Swedish nation as a whole seems to be quite the charitable collective.

In fact in recent history, Sweden has (proportionately) topped the charity charts when it comes to giving overseas aid – not a bad claim when you consider that unlike the United Kingdom and the United States, Sweden has not actually caused fair swathes of global strife.

For three years in a row Sweden was considered the country which dug the deepest in its Tweed (or otherwise) pockets. From 2012-2013 it donated 0.99 per cent of its Gross National Income, shunted to No.2 donor only by Luxembourg, which donated 1.0 per cent of its GNI. Countries which perhaps should have felt slightly more guilt-tripped into helping others like the US and the UK gave 0.19 per cent and 0.56 per cent respectively.

breaking-newsBut the Swedes not only give in abundance, they also receive in abundance. Now, you must excuse my sudden outburst of newsbreakery, but you are catching Sweden at possibly its altruistic apex.The current Syrian crisis has created the biggest refugee crisis since World War II and among the EU countries it is ONLY Sweden which is offering permanent residency for those fleeing the conflict.

During the last eight weeks 4,500 Syrians have sought residency here, with a further 7,500 already here on a temporary permit now being allowed to stay  permanently with the additional promise of an opportunity to save family members from their shelled homeland. For the Swedes, charity really does begin at home.

TWEEDWORLDSo, while that fleck of Tweed may have given me hope in a country so normally bereft of weekend whimsy, it may have also given an awful lot more hope to countries bereft of any whimsy and water.

~The Dippylomat, Esq.

For more DippyloInsights may I humbly invite you to my Facebook page.

Posted in Culture, Cycling, Economics, Fashion, Gothenburg, Hodge Podge, immigration, India, migration, Minnesota, Sweden | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Dispatch #36 – D-Day

I AM a representative of the former British Empire and the current Commonwealth of Nations; I am the descendant of Victorian Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and the son of an RAF pilot. I did not graduate with First Class honours from Cambridge University and since then have not entered the Foreign Office’s prestigious diplomatic corps.

The Northern Plights’ documents my assessment of Sweden for the possibility of any future conquests which the British Government’s War Cabinet is not considering.

Oh curses, I am going to be late. I’ve not had this suit laundered since Remembrance Day and it looks like I wore it to wade through a bath of corgis. I am not even sure of where I am going, but all will be tickety boo, I’ll just follow the masses, the masses of solemn, stoney faced Swedes, wearing their Sunday Best and silently shuffling towards the sounds of tolling bells.

But there are no masses, there is no solemness, no stoniness, no shuffling and no tolling bells; no one is even wearing their Sunday Best, they are, just like this time last week, wearing their Wednesday Worst. I double check my diary, yes, it is October 3rd.

Even the newscaster seems to have omitted the relevancy of this day from the top story agenda. I may not be entirely au fait with the sing-song Swedish vernacular – only a Swedish anchorman can make a bombed body count sound like a Nordic nursery rhyme – but no, I would have spotted it, I would have spotted it by the grainy, sepia, stuttering film footage which would have certainly served as a backdrop.

Today is just a reminder that the Gregorian calendar is peppered with dates loaded with sobering spectres of the past.Take 9/11 for example, who can fend off the gravitas of that anniversary, the day that wretch William Wallace and his cohorts slain thousands of English infantry at the Battle of Stirling Bridge on the 11th September, 1297?

duckbombAnd now today, is it really only me that remembers the significance of October 3rd – the anniversary of The Day the Second World War Came To Sweden.

Peace-loving Sweden opted, of course, for neutrality; but, let this Dippylomat tell you what passes for neutrality in Sweden, may not necessarily fit with your perceived definition of neutrality, that being ‘staying well out of it’.

Reigning king Gustaf V knew exactly where his loyalties lay…with the Nazis – the silly old sausage. So sympathetic and socially entwined was he that pre-war days were all sherry and sodomy with the SS, with continued support during the war with private letters to Hitler congratulating him on his victories.

But the toothless sentiments of senile old racists aside, what exactly did those Swedes do AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAunder the guise of ‘neutrality’? Well, quite frankly, some pretty spiffing work. Most notably, one might argue, they did more for the Jews than any other country. In 1943 they gave refuge to all but 450 of occupied Denmark’s Jews by ferrying them across German guarded waters – hurrah! In fact Jews from all over Europe found refuge in Sweden – hurrah, hurrah!

They were certainly pretty handy when it came to helping out our surveillance peeps – wonderful! In fact they did all manner of congenial acts to help the Allied Forces fight off the scallywag Nazis, right down to the nonchalant deposition of mines in its waters.

But they didn’t always get things right, sometimes they went ‘far right‘. Take for example 1941’s Midsummer Crisis when German troops stranded in Norway needed to get a bit of a wriggle on and head tank-laden to the eastern front in Finland – the most direct route being via Sweden; the Swedes should have told them to take the ‘long way around’, but instead let them travel roughshod over neutral land, thus helping the Nazi campaign – tut tut.

Such trite matters pale into insignificance when one considers how Sweden aided and abetted Germany’s war machine with the sale of 10 million tonnes of iron ore every year to Nazi weapon factories. Far cleverer people than, dare I say I, argue that if Sweden had ceased this trade then World War II might have lasted just six months – my, my Sweden, how do you live with that?

And the sour cherry on the bitter cake has surely got to be The Extradition of the Balts, when starting in 1945 the Swedish government took the decision to hand over – in the main – Latvian refugees and soldiers, who had fought the Russians tooth and nail, back to the Soviet Union to help ‘populate its gulags’. A somewhat embarrassing stain on the pages of Swedish history books, a number of those facing extradition simply chose to pop their own clogs in a bid to avoid a lifetime of borscht and beatings.

And that, my dears, is why no one really cares to remember the anniversary of the date ADUCKthat the first, and possibly only, bomb fell on the Swedish city of Malmö. No one died during the micro-blitz, the bomb landed in a park just yards away from a duck pond.

Sweden’s D-Day, the ‘D’ is for duck.

~The Dippylomat, Esq.

For more DippyloInsights may I humbly invite you to my Facebook page.

Adolf_Hitler_Caricature

Posted in Denmark, Finland, history, migration, Minnesota | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Dispatch #35 – Abroad

I AM a representative of the former British Empire and the current Commonwealth of Nations; I am the descendant of Victorian Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and the son of an RAF pilot. I did not graduate with First Class honours from Cambridge University and since then have not entered the Foreign Office’s prestigious diplomatic corps.

The Northern Plights’ documents my assessment of Sweden for the possibility of any future conquests which the British Government’s War Cabinet is not considering.

I am having a smidge of a pioneer. I am in a boat hurtling towards a far flung island, perhaps the farthest flung of all islands, inconveniently sited as it is among an Indian Ocean archipelago. There is sand in my brogues, heat rash under my cummerbund and a stowaway woman who is insisting I owe her 300 baht for services rendered. I am way outside of my Michelin Starred Comfort Zone.

I am here to see something which defies both time and logic, something hidden behind the narrowed vine-entwined inlet entrance to a cave. Something I am informed has to be seen to be believed. And here I now am, standing in front of it, something which attracts both sight-seers and anthropologists alike, it’s the…it’s the most atrocious bit of artwork mankind has ever managed to spew out.

Quite who drew it and quite when they drew it remains a mystery, but the depiction of a certain  ilk of boat, used by a certain ilk of plunderer has given this grotto its name – the ‘Viking Cave’, hidden away on the Thai island of  Phi Phi.

caveship1Thai swots have concluded nothing but inconclusiveness regarding who owned the ships which inspired the scrawl, but whatever Swedish dalliances have occurred in Thailand during previous eons, one thing is for sure, the Swedes now rampage through the south east Asian peninsula with all the dignity and decorum of their savage forefathers. In fact, tourist tally totals confirm that 5 per cent of the Swedish population now travel there every year.

BEACHBut this is all a very recent phenomenon, there was a long time when the politely nationalistic Swedes cared very little for travel abroad. Where better to sun one’s self than the Tylösand beach in Sweden? Where better to ski/dislocate one’s shoulder than the mountainous resort of Sälen…in Sweden? And where better for a booze-fuelled rambunctious retreat than in Swe Denmark?

However, the Swede’s blasé approach to World War II eventually paid dividends and led to a more adventurous holidaymaker. While the rest of Europe emptied their collective coffers to repair, rebuild and, in some cases regret, in neutral Sweden it was Volvo-building-pine-tree-cutting business as usual.

Union friendly Swedes are awarded generous paid holiday quotas, combine that with extra kronor in the economy saved by not having to sweep up the bombed remnants of Stockholm and add to the mix the birth of the chartered flight and BAM! The Swede Abroad was born, but unlike previous breachers of the border – made up of waves of emigration – this time the tickets were not one way – they were coming back.

In the last half of the 20th Century they bumbled their way around Europe, but then they found it, the antithesis to Sweden – Thailand. It had been there all along, but no one had bothered to look; the Swedes finally came face to face with the polar opposite of their culture and climate, and they loved it.

In 1992, 100,00 of the 8.5 million population opted for a Thai tropical tan, a decade later this figure doubled. By 2010, a staggering five per cent of the population were jetting some 5,000 miles eastward bound. And now, in the first four months of 2013, the figure has risen by 9.2 per cent; with average stays of 19 days – the longest visits among other European countries – it is presumably just a matter of time before red meatball curry and noodles vendors appear on the streets of Nonthaburi City.

No one doubts the Scandinavian presence here now, no need for carbon dating and Indiana Jones-esque cave explorations; with many Swedes ripping up their return tickets, they certainly seem to be making themselves feel at home…or making their homes feel like Sweden:
ikea-bkk

Back in the upper reaches of the Northern hemisphere you cannot escape it, darn near every Swede you meet now has a Buddha ornament perched on a shelf, a naive drug peddling nephew festering in a Thai prison or a rash they just cannot seem to shift from ‘that’ night in Bangkok.

Toodle pip and โฮเวอร์คราฟท์ของผมเต็มไปด้วยปลาไหล

~The Dippylomat, Esq.

For more DippyloInsights may I humbly invite you to my Facebook page.

budha1

Posted in alcohol, Bangkok, climate, Culture, Denmark, Economics, Ex pats, Gothenburg, history, IKEA, migration, Minnesota, Sweden, Thailand, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Dispatch #34 – Laundry

I AM a representative of the former British Empire and the current Commonwealth of Nations; I am the descendant of Victorian Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and the son of an RAF pilot. I did not graduate with First Class honours from Cambridge University and since then have not entered the Foreign Office’s prestigious diplomatic corps.

The Northern Plights’ documents my assessment of Sweden for the possibility of any future conquests which the British Government’s War Cabinet is not considering.

She can be a cheap, nasty trollop, but I might just forgive her; a soul-destroying harlot, but who am I to suggest she has not sought redemption for her sins? Indeed, you will struggle to find many Swedes who will not be thanking Mother Nature for her delivery of this year’s sumptuous summertide. The dog days here are routinely and ruthlessly curbed, but this year, for reasons one should not dare question, we received a thorough thawing.

In order to suckle the last drop from summer’s teat I decided to take advantage of a sultry September evening – one never knows whether this will be the last wisp of warmth before we take that icy plummet into the polar winter. So off I tootle, trouser in sock, to take in the sights, sounds and the smells of sunny Sweden.shadowcyclist

As I freewheel I momentarily close my eyes and scoop in deep breaths of the pure dusky air to spark memories of the year’s sun-drizzled frivolities. The smell of summer meadows joyously tickles my memory and I am whisked back to the frollicks of a certain field, a picnic and an amusing, if not somewhat embarrassing, incident with Lady Dippylomat involving a haystack and a pitchfork; I cycle on and the woody waft of Nordic pine engulfs me, I am back, back camping under the stars in a forest clearing with just a hip flask  and a reservation at a nearby 5 Star hotel to keep me safe. What memories will flood back with the next aromatic inhale? My oh my, of course, it is the smell of the Tropics – coconut and vanilla wafting on a cooling sea breeze…

WHOA!…wait a tickety-tock, the smell of tropical shores in Sweden? I don’t think so. Come to bally well think about it, you’re not really going to smell Nordic pine or summer meadows as you ween your wheels down a cycle path lined with looming concrete-clad tower blocks.

But as every Swede knows, the smells are there, they linger in every suburban street in every Swedish city. In the same way warm patches seem to permeate the shallow end of a municipal swimming pool, so too do these faux natural smells permeate Sweden.

What the devil is that all about?

One will do one’s best to explain. It all starts with a farmer, standing outside of his ramshackle farmhouse, and ends with the abundant use of fabric conditioners. Let me abridge some contemporary history to enlighten your good selves.

BARNFor context we must consider both the Swede’s incessant desire to make things ‘fair’ and their more than passing obsession with modernity – pleasing aesthetics greatest foe. Where we might see ‘rustic’, you can be assured that a Swede will see ‘rundown’. And, in the early part of the 20th Century, ‘rundown’ was precisely what Sweden was: idyllic village life had gone to pot as the country finally woke up to industrialisation and towns were heaving at the seams as…the country finally woke up industrialisation.

To solve the crippling urban crisis, the ridiculously ambitious and arguably naive Million Programme was born. The notion was to flatten and rebuild whole swaths of old city quarters and build additional apartment blocks to house all the newly arrived yokels – ensuring everyone had access to an affordable and suitably okayish standard of living. tower blockIt was planned that in one decade 1,000,000 flats would be built, between 1965 and 1974 that figure was exceeded with a total of 1,006,000 new flats.

That’s an awful lot of flats; functional, affordable, with all the charm of a Soviet ghetto and, most pivotal to my point, with communal laundry facilities. Every single block has enough washing machines, tumble dryers and drying rooms to keep the Average Swede in fresh breeches and pantaloons.

Situated in the monolithic towers’ basements, each laundry room has a ventilation window and each laundry room is probably in use for at least 12 hours a day, every day. Billowing out fragrant, warm air like an industrial air freshener.

Those climbing Sweden’s slippery social ladder might well break ranks from the hoards and cram a washing machine and dryer into a flat not designed to accommodate such mod cons. Nothing says ‘we’ve made it’ in Sweden quite like an Eletrolux Series 4.42 vibrating and thundering through its last spin cycle while you’re trying to watch a climactic episode of Wallander.

luxury

Toodle pip my dears, how I have missed you,

~The Dippylomat, Esq.

Posted in Culture, Cycling, Gothenburg, history, Humour, laundry, migration, Society, Stockholm, Sweden, Travel | 12 Comments

The Book of Faces.

Dippy_on_fb

All you need to do is click and like!

Toodle pip och vi ses,

signature

Posted in Denmark, Gothenburg, Hodge Podge, Humour, Stockholm, Sweden, Travel, United Kingdom | Tagged , | 1 Comment