Sweden from abroad

After Trump's speech mentioning "Last Night In Sweden", we couldn't resist reflecting a bit on what other people abroad seems to know about our country. Asking people around the world you get many different views on Sweden, some more true than others..

When travelling abroad it is always interesting to hear what other people know and think about your country. In my experience it has always been pleasant to be from Sweden, looking back at the many backpacking trips I've done since 2003. Especially in South Africa people's treatment of me changed when I said that I was from Sweden. There almost everyone knew of Olof Palme, the famous former prime minister of Sweden, who was very active in ending the apartheid system. Of course not everyone in the world knows of Sweden, on my first trip to Mexico I meet a woman in a village who never even heard of Europe. "Is it a part of the US?" she asked and I was quite shocked.

On this trip we have mainly heard positive things about Sweden. Many have an image about Sweden being environmentally conscious, peaceful and democratic with beautiful nature, a lot of snow and a good welfare system. A girl from Tajikistan even mentioned a local expression "Swedish socialism" referring to our way of combining markets and social welfare. If someone doesn't think they have heard much about Sweden we can usually help them by mentioning (depending on age) Volvo, IKEA, ABBA, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Skype, H&M, Spotify or Avicii. As one of the world's biggest music exporter playing some popular Swedish radio hits can also trigger recognition. However, meeting a lot of Russian speaking people on this trip the initial mix up with Switzerland (and Spain!) has been occurring more often than usual ;)

But on this trip we have also experienced something new. First time was when we ended up next to a polish guy on the night train from Poland to Ukraine. After a while he started to ask what it really was like in Sweden nowadays. I did not understand...
"Do you dare to go out?"
"Eh, yeah. Why?"
"But there are 50 no-go zones where you will be shot if you go there right, because of all refugees?"
"Eh, no, there are no no-go zones in Sweden, we are perfectly safe. Still among the safest countries in the world with among the lowest crime rates..."
He didn't really believe me and I thought he was a bit strange.

The second time was when we met a Norwegian guy in Bulgaria, claiming Sweden is collapsing under crimes. "Oh yes, they said it on the news in Norway - the police have lost control of big parts of Sweden where now criminals are ruling", this was because of immigrants he said. Travelling Central Asia we learnt that some Germans had been asked about the "civil war" going on back home, news spread on Russian TV about refugees in Germany.

Latest up is president Trump and his talk about what happened last night in Sweden, using a show broadcasted on Fox News as his source. Still most people living in Sweden don't seem to recognise this situation due to the many tweets about #LastNightInSweden. There seems to be a "new truth" about Sweden spreading around the globe through social media and people who support this world view.

In reality Sweden is doing really well. No land is perfect and from a sustainable point of view (both social, environmental and economic) there is a lot more to do in Sweden as well as in the rest of the world. But Sweden has often been used as a good example in a wide range of issues from innovation to environment to successful integration to the social welfare system. And maybe that is the main reason for targeting Sweden, to give a bad or at least doubtful picture about this great country and the policies that have been implemented there.

In Sweden bragging is not really socially acceptable, but when faced with false claims of descend we don't seem to have any other choice but to respond and give our view of the Sweden we know:

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Design: Johanna Lakso | Updated: 2017-07-30 in Stenungsund