East, West, Lagom is Best

I recently returned from studying abroad in Sweden, also known as “The land of a thousand Swedes,” and “The powder- keg of Scandinavia.” Now many people are inclined to ask, “why the fuck did you choose Sweden?” To tell you the truth, I asked the same thing. Here are some of the answers I came up with:

How many times has it happened that, in the course of a typical day, you have needed a Swede? Too many to count? Well, I’ve found a place literally swarming with Swedes: Sweden! Or have you ever wondered where Swedish is actually spoken? The answer: in Sweden! The origin of many common-place English expressions which most of us use without even thinking, such as, “Var +A+-r Sven?” and “Precis lagom!” (and who could forget “Fan, din j+A+-vla grisknullare, men du +A+-r s+A j+A+-vla dum!”) can be traced, you guessed it, to Sweden. In fact, after dinner just a few days ago, my friend Matt exclaimed loudly, “I sure could use a Swede right now,” but then seemed rather embarrassed that he had said it. This is not uncommon. Many people will even say “Oh, Swede!” or “I feel like a Swede today,” without really knowing what a Swede is. (I myself thought that it was a garden variety of mushroom.)

Much as it’s likely that over 75% of the people in a room have the name “Bort,” so is it likely that most people in a room are Swedish. Try this in lecture: say out loud, “Now who here is Swedish?” Maybe one shy kid who masturbates a lot will raise his (other) hand. But then someone else will (perhaps the guy with the horned helmet who comes to class on a horse), and then another (the guy named Gustave XII, perchance), and before you know it nearly everybody has revealed his or her secret. You were sitting in a room full of Swedes and didn’t even know it! Spooky. Note, this is also likely in Sweden.

Sweden spends exactly 0.000001% of its GNP on the military, because of its historical “wartime neutrality.” It can defend itself for a whopping 3 seconds before big bad NATO comes to the rescue, and Swedish soldiers sure mop a mean floor. The rest of the GNP is spent on two things: 1) horrible, horrible furniture, which is distinctly Swedish (whatever that means); and 2) alcohol. Much like the US five-day rule on the purchase of firearms, Sweden has a fiveday rule on the purchase of alcohol. When you feel like a drink you contact the government and register your name. In a few days, a certificate will come in the mail, which you take to your local “Systembolaget” (roughly translated as “Place full of Swedes”), and after only a few hours you can be making a fool of yourself in front of your friends and family (in Swedish, naturally).

When it comes down to it, the country that gave us civilization, algebra, and the number zero speaks for itself. But Iraq is not Sweden. Sweden, on the other hand, can proudly claim lasting contributions both to heavy metal and to animal husbandry, having invented the “Iron Maiden,” a device for restraining pigs. (Available at IKEA.)

Have you ever looked at a Volvo or one of those newfangled Swedish hanging stools, felt your heart warm, and said, “where can I see more of those?” The answer should be obvious right now, but in case you’re naturally stupid or just Swedish, I’ll tell you: in Sweden! They eat their pizza with a knife and fork. The word for “I” is “jag,” which means, roughly, “Swede.” When you’re in trouble you yell, “hj+A+-lp,” pronounced “yelp.” Man that’s weird. It sure is good to be back in these U-nited States.