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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dispatch #33 – Etiquette.

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

It rains. It. Never. Stops. Incessant rain. I gaze out of my window, all I see is grey and wet; the gravestone-grey sky morphs into the Sovietesque grey of yesterday’s generation’s modernity. It is like a grey wet room…a depressing grey wet room, the kind of wet room a wrongly-convicted inmate may find himself being deloused in before his shackled entry into the death row cell block.

The rich shades of autumn have long since been flushed away…down a wet, grey, dank, dark drain. The embryonic stages of winter offer little hope, little light…little refuge.

Still, every day I shoehorn on my – now scuffed – brogues and leave the Embassy Apartments, my once proud gait has been infected with a defeatist shuffle. I cannot even boast of being a shadow of my former self. No, I am now but a stain…a stain left by my former self. This campaign is hard, and I feel like my struggles are in vain, but Sweden must be Dippylomacised, or at the very least, civilised.

I haul my loathsome self onto a bus, leaving another shred of dignity at the automatic pffting folding doors – the delivery of Dippylomacy is becoming increasingly ‘drudgey’.

But it was then, then that I saw it. Then that my woes seemingly fell through a trap door. No, it was better than that, it was like spring, but not the annual rejuvenation, more like the first spring ever, the first spring when this planet nestled upon its current axis and established the very notion of seasons – like the life-giving moment the first sunbeam graced the surface of Earth. I didn’t just see the light, I felt it…and this is what I saw:

You will, of course, be excused for not fully comprehending why such an innocuous looking public transport poster campaign would have led to such Empire enhancing euphoria. But this, my dears, is the launch of a city-wide and city sponsored campaign, a campaign to – as the words on the poster pleadingly suggest – ‘Say hello to your neighbours’. This is the dawning of a whole new epoch of Swedish culture, it is a momentous shift, a shift of tectonic magnitude – the laboured birth of the Era of Smalltalk.

It is not until one is fully ensconced in Swedish Culture that it becomes apparent quite how important Small Talk is to the folk of the Greatest Britain. From hobnobbing toffs to the chattering classes, it is a cornerstone of Commonwealth culture. But, in Sweden, you won’t hear a peep of it, and the hushed masses have never known it any other way.

In the early 19th Century, already sparsely populated villages, underwent a process known as ‘enclosement’. Farm land was divvied up and allocated to straw-chewing yokels in a single large plot. A farmhouse was built on each patch and before you knew it, to borrow a cup of sugar or next door’s step ladder, you had to walk around four kilometres. In agricultural terms, the move was a success, but it was the death knell for gossiping farmers’ wives. Centuries later, and with the arable farmers descendants now herded into cities, the silence still hangs heavy in the air.

So hip, hip hoorah it is then for The Campaign, for it is the campaign that is now coaxing the Swedes to chitchat. It is going beyond organising community meetings, it is, believe it or not (and I know it will be easier NOT to believe it), teaching the Swedes the basics of casual conversation. Instructions include fundamentals, such as not to ask questions which can be answered with a ‘ja’ or a ‘nej’.

Take this for example , this is part of the poster campaign which guides the reader through starting a conversation with a dog owner, it simply reads ‘What a nice dog, what is its name?’ As one can see, it is very much back to basics for a country which is now so technologically advanced, they seem to have left by the wayside the behavioural basics – still, at least this civility indoctrination program seems to be addressing the issue.

But there was something else to this campaign, something which led me to believe my gentry presence had finally been felt. The campaign had a face, a face that demonstrated manners, etiquette, grace and elegance. It was as if the creators of the campaign had tried to personify all these qualities, and what did this man look like? Well, in fear of sounding like I have been the victim of espionage, not that unlike my good self. Indeed, the gent they seem to have employed as ‘the face of smalltalk’, is not the tall, blond Average Swede, but rather a handsome fellow with lacquered hair, a well-waxed ‘tache, a bowler hat and a monocle…the Swedes are, dare I say it, slowly becoming…well…they are becoming, us.

I gayly spring off the bus with a born again skip in my step, now where can a gent get a shoeshiner to buff the scuffs around here?

Toodle pip,




ATTENTION BOTH THE FOREIGN OFFICE AND EMPIREES:

I am proud to announce that my translated guide to etiquette is now finally unavailable in all good book emporiums.

Posted in Culture, Ex pats, history, Humour, Society, Stockholm, Sweden | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Dispatch #32 – Speaking.

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

 

Try as one might to live in a Union Jack- draped bubble, sooner or later one will chance upon and inevitably converse with what is technically known in this overly-lauded land as ‘en Kålrot’, or as we would say ‘a Swede’.

The Swedes are, however, the dormice of the anthropological world – quiet and only really visible during the oh-so-scanty Scandinavian excuse for a Summer. But, quite how quiet the quintessential Swede is may come as a shock. The Swedes’ schtumness is, on occasion,  documented, wagless chins prompting such anti-sociable shocking headlines as:

(Click for full story)

Having now grappled with and subsequently grasped the barbaric basics of this Viking vernacular I attempted to use my newly-acquired articulation skills and make conversational contact with a native. I am a personable chap – I naively thought – but as it turns out talking to a Swede is akin to coaxing a golden retriever puppy dog from out under a bed…try as one might to use your utmost genteel tones and the friendliest of all lilts, the blighty bugger remains steadfast, gazing through a yellowy blonde/e fringe in an apparent fear that engaging your company will be the last thing it ever does – the nervous pup and the Average Swede have much in common.

How ironic it is then that the verb’to speak‘ in Swedish is ‘att prata‘ – a word morphed from the Mother Of All Tongues, English. But, whereas we use this word to describe the act of babbling on incessantly (“oh do stop prattling on, my dear”), they use it to mean ‘to speak as little as is humanly possible…and only if you have to…in an emergency…a very urgent emergency’.

Anthropologists have been noggin-scratching for eons trying to figure out why the Swedes stay speechless; why they’d rather be eaten frost-bitten toe first by a wolf than inconvenience the man just ten metres away brandishing a blunderbuss and ask for help. The conclusion seems to be that for too long in these ice capped and brutal parts, survival was given precedent over socialising – too much time making traps and not enough time making friends. One imagines the only extra head you’d have really wanted to share your dinner table with was the one of the animal you’ve just slain. This trait has become hardwired into the Swede’s psyche – now the millennia of needing to bash in brains to survive is over, they just find themselves being…bashful.

The Swedes go to great lengths to avoid engaging in anything remotely resembling a conversation with anyone outside of their extended tribe – pleases and thank yous are kept to a bare minimum and eye contact is avoided on a Medusa scale proportion.

This quirk does herald some somewhat startling statistics: Sweden boasts, if that is the right word, the most single households in Europe – some 47 per cent of Swedes live on their lonesome (the UK rate is a slightly more gregarious 29 per cent). Is this a sign of independence or just another way to avoid an awkward silence?

However, what was good news for New Wave Empire Building and bad news for the Swedes were the details listed in a Julian Assange-proofed cable newspaper which proves quite how detrimental a non-communicative and silent life can be.

Boffs are now suggesting that solitude is just as dangerous as smoking and obesity when it comes to an early grave – they’re American boffs, not proper boffs, but perhaps it is wise to err on the side of caution if you are of a Swedish ilk. (click for source)

Add to this that less chat equals less chat-up lines, less chat-up lines equals less romantic liaisons (long or short term) and less romantic liaisons will bring the birth rate crashing down, as is evident in Sweden right now.

Advice to War Cabinet:I am of mind to suggest we simply retire for tea and cucumber sandwiches and wait it out before claiming Sweden and its 100 or so residents.

Speak up Sweden, I can’t hear you.

Toodle pip,




ATTENTION BOTH THE FOREIGN OFFICE AND EMPIREES:

Have you missed me terribly? Perhaps you are lonely, or just Swedish, don’t worry you can always call Jourhavande Medmänniska or The Samaritans.

Posted in British Empire, Culture, Ex pats, Gothenburg, history, Humour, Language, Society, Stockholm, Sweden, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Dispatch #31 – School.

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

 

My sincere and bespokely-worded apologies; my peeplessness both humbles and disgraces me – it shames me to my very colonial core. I would so dearly love to write that I have spent the time deep undercover; perched behind enemy polar lines, but alas this is not the case. Neither have I, in dippylomatic terms, gone ‘rogue’ and idled the days away languishing in a thermal spa bath with twee, blonde nymphette Nina, she of bland band The Cardigans fame.

The truth is oh so much worse…

I have been caught.

…and it was but just an Etonian schoolboy error which led to the disclosure of my secretive sleuthing. I had written a strongly-worded letter of electronically mailed complaint to the most abhorrent cafe I had ever supped in. My opine contained a number of words which had, it would so seem, ‘flagged up’ both my thoroughbred nationality and the true reason I sully my soles on this permafrosted land.

For the record, never use the words ‘Earl Grey’, ‘crumpets’, ‘wench’ or ‘carpet bombing’ while airing your disdain in the written form.

I assume it was no coincidence, but days after the mouse had clicked upon ‘send’ an official summons was thrust through my letterbox. I was given an address and a time and told not to be, under any circumstances, late. The letter was embossed with the letters ‘SFI‘ and from its content I can only guess that this stood for:

Swedish Forcibly Induced.

The building in question, on approach, had all the charm of a Russian gulag. I found myself sitting in a draughty outhouse where I am herded among other captives – NONE of them were Swedish, had I been sentenced to some form of cultural-cleansing facility? Whatever it was, it was being done on an unprecedented and industrial scale. Research tells me that currently 125,362 are undergoing the cultural-conversion treatment.

Then we hear our punishment, delivered by an individual who ominously described himself as ‘teacher’; teacher’s first shudderingly sinister words were delivered with the good grace of a Gestapo officer shining a 100watt light bulb into our collective faces:

“In a year’s time you will ALL be speaking Swedish”.

Or, as it sounded in my top-hatted head:

“Ve have vays of making you talk.”

Well, we will see about that, Ölaf, or whatever phlegm-inducing grunt your parents named you after. Conversations with my gloriously multi-cultured fellow inmates led me to learn this was in fact a program which attempted to coerce us fresh-off-the-boaters into learning the whys and wherefores of the Swedish ways…and then to communicate them in the Swedish brutish banter, i.e. in a matter of months we would all be able to speak like we were singing and hide our grimace when we gnaw on the boney claw of a crayfish.

I left Week One baffled as to how I would shake these shackles; did I ever really want to be ably able to assemble flat pack furniture? Did I ever want to find an ABBA track ‘catchy’? Nej, tack you very much, but then the queerest thing happened while mingling with Malmö’s glitterati.

A waitress approached me and said:  “Vill du prova en härsken fisk hor d’oeuvre?”, without hesitating I responded: “Nej tack, jag skulle äta hellre en franskmans socka. I had aghasted myself -I was talking bloody Swedish, I had the Brain of a Brit, but with the silver tongue of a Swede. I have spent nigh on a year trying to demean myself enough to blend in and now it was being handed to me on a silver platter.

Being behind enemy lines has never been so easy.

Hej-diddley-då




ATTENTION BOTH THE FOREIGN OFFICE AND EMPIREES: Have YOU been affected by SFI? See this Dispatch as an open forum to discuss your experiences. And for Pete’s sake, SUBSCRIBE.

Posted in Ex pats, Gothenburg, Hodge Podge, Humour, immigration, Language, Politics, Religion, Stockholm, Sweden, Travel | Tagged , , | 37 Comments