Ahh, the Swedes. Blond. Blue-eyed. Hitler’s ideal. I wonder if he left them untouched in his ill-begotten European road trip because he thought, “Well,they’re already pure. No need to cull the perfect herd.”
I’ve spent a week among them, appreciating their perspective, asking my questions to develop my generalizations. They’re a beautiful people to me. They have a word, lagom, for which there is no direct English equivalent. It permeates their organized, moderate, reasonable society. It’s like the story of Goldilocks and the 3 bears. The little, blond girl turns her nose at the hot porridge, shuns the cold porridge, and finally eats the porridge that’s just right. No way will she sleep in a bed that’s too hard or too soft. Not too much, not too little…just right. Adequate. Precisely the right amount. Lagom. It’s not just a concept. It’s avalue. There are only two states of being in Sweden: lagom, and not lagom. I realized immediately that I, sadly, am just not lagom.
They’re a society of Goldilockses, and I find them enchanting. I really think they should change their flag to a little, blond girl selecting a her bowl of porridge.
I’ve also been informed that they’re a bipolar bunch. Their winters are so harsh and their summers are such a luxury that a Summer Swede and a Winter Swede wouldn’t recognize or understand one another, even though they might inhabit the same body. Summer Swedes are outside, picnicking in parks and swimming and boating in their archipelagos and rivers and partying in the forests until the sun quickly returns at 4am. I haven’t met a Winter Swede, so I can only repeat what I’ve been told. It sounds like Winter Swedes are not very popular due to theirstiff, standoffish demeanors. They keep their heads down and work, speaking to no one. They’re not lagom.
There is also the strange holiday of the Midsummer Day, or Midsommardagen. This is their biggest holiday, so much so that they have been debating renaming it National Day of Sweden, which in Swedish is “Swedenswedenswedeymcswedendargen”. They gather around a pole and dance and sing, all to pay homage to a little known annual event that is a mind-boggling remnant of their natural history. The picture at the top of this post is not, as I assumed, a giant stadium or some sort of observatory. It’s actually a temporary enclosure for…well, an egg, of all things. Every year, an amphibious, prehistoric, Godzilla-sized herring, called “Surströmmingodjuret”, waddles its way down from the great, unpopulated expanse of Northern Sweden. It’s like Canada up there, but with less Canadians. The beast lays an egg on one of the islands of Stockholm (there are 14). A symbiotic relationship between the Swedes and this creature developed epochs ago, one which sustained them and brought them prosperity; the Swedes protect the egg from predators and the vicious winter (not to mention the depressed Winter Swedes) by building a structure around it in the Spring, and when the egg hatches the following year, millions upon millions of Surströmmingodjuret babies rush for the water, the Swedes harvest them and make Surströmming, a holy fermented herring dish. Before the modern era, this was only food staple that lasted through the harsh winters. Early Swedes needed it to survive, and the Surströmmingodjuret, despite having the stature of 4 horizontal skyscrapers strapped together, needs the Swedes to protect the egg during the gestation period so that it can reproduce (they allow some to make it to the water, composing songs and dances to “egg” them on to safety). These herring babies are so sacred to the Swedish people that they do not export this national treasure. When the revelry of Midsommardagen ends, they take their allotment home. It’s a very fair system, with organized lines ensuring that everyone gets just the right amount, or Lagomsurströmmingodjuret. As an analogue to the actual herring dish, they developed a gummy candy that is sent around the world. And that, I believe I am first to report, is the origin of Swedish Fish.