Monday, October 14, 2013

Is Sweden today like 1950s America?

Part of the reason my rather politically conservative dad is actually happy I am living in a socialist wonderland, is, bizarrely, because he thinks Sweden today is like 1950s America – at least the good stuff 1950s America – minus the fun design, giant cars, and sexism.

It is an interesting perspective, especially given a lot of the different cultural baggage. Do you agree?

Obviously the similarities do not include the role of women in families, but instead the attitude towards family – or in his mind the idea that:  

Everyone gathers around the dinner table at night, over a home cooked meal. It doesn’t matter who cooked the meal, or that both parents work, but that everyone is home around 5 pm and can relax and enjoy family time together. Also, restaurants are for special occasions, or lunch, not for every single meal.

Children play outside. In our neighborhood you see kids of all ages jumping on bikes (OK, now with helmets) and riding to school by themselves. You see kids in groups stopping strangers and asking to pet their dogs. Kids are dirty and climbing and running without a parent in sight. There is a freedom to childhood that he remembers, that he tried to give us, although already then a bit limited, which has almost disappeared from American childhood today, that he sees kids here enjoy.

Middle management is AOK – Most Swedes my dad has met have a comfortable middle class existence. They have worked hard and they have a good job and are happy. They are not trying to ‘climb their way to the top’ – they have settled in the middle. They do not need to ‘earn their keep’ they are valued employees. The idea that you can have a rewarding career and life and ‘settle’ for middle management seems to have evaporated from the radar for many Americans… especially those in larger cities. As salaries and benefits for middle managers disappear, you have to climb higher and higher just to live a middle class lifestyle.

You can retire at 65 – Many of my Dad’s Swedish friends (yes he has a few, he’s been coming to visit for a long time) have all retired. My parents have not. They could not survive where they live on their pensioners income alone, so they continue to do a bit of work on the side in order to maintain their lifestyle. Yes it is a choice, mostly because they chose to be self-employed, but still, they don’t have the pension to fall back upon that their Swedish friends have.

Can Sweden maintain this 21st century meets 1950s vibe? I find chinks in the armor every day, but I certainly hope so. And I guess I kind of agree with him, and am glad he likes where I live and understands why we chose to live here. 


  1. I think with the way your Dad describes it, he's onto something. I think the family togetherness and children's freedom to play are definitely very true of Swedish life. And the eating out being a rarity thing. They are all things I love about living in Sweden vs Australia (where I'm from). And Sweden does have the push for equality of the sexes that makes me want to stay even more now that the conservative government has been returned in Aus. The idea of returning to a country where the Prime Minister has such backwards views towards women is abhorrent.

  2. What chinks do you see? Job security is deteriorating, but I think there's a good chance that will be rectified.

    1. For me the chinks are more that 'stranger danger' seems to be on the rise here. There have been a few scares that have led cities to warn kids against walking to school by themselves.

      Also, with this being the digital age, more and more people (The Swede and I included) may get home from work at 5, but find they have a lot more work to do once the kids are asleep -- it is an unspoken thing, answering emails, finishing up a report, etc.

  3. Well the comparison to 1950's America is interesting to me since I was born in the 1950's America and it was indeed a good time in America for sure. And definitely families were a lot closer in many ways then today. And yet both the U.S. and Sweden are still in need of the author of the familys guidance on such things in the word of God , the Holy Bible(King Jame Version in our English language). And the main thing it teaches first is how to know the Lord as ones personal Saviour and Lord God , the Lord Jesus Christ . Who came into the world from the Father to live a sinless life , and die for all of our sins on the cross of Calvary, who was buried, and rose from the dead the third day, was seen of men, and went back up to heaven. And all who will repent of their sins against God and trust him as personal Saviour can be saved from sin and eternal hell fire and go to God's heaven instead and have their sins forgiven eternally. And hope you will find a good church that believes the word of God and preaches and teaches it as well as listen in to which also has good Christian music also. And thanks for what you father said there.

  4. As an aside, and as a Swede living in the US for the past 40 years, here's a major difference between Scandinavia/northern Europe and the US: Northern Europeans always criticize their own governments while Americans do the opposite. The US government has done an excellent job of brainwashing their citizens into believing that they live in "the greatest country on earth".

    1. you must live in the northeast corridor or coastal california (i.e. a liberal stronghold) because i assure you, much of the country has a strong mistrust of the govt.

      i am an american and living in sweden for 12 years. while swedes (and most nordic folk) like to complain about the govt around the dinner table, in fact the govt is actually about 50% larger than the US, and as high as 300% depending on the metric. anecdotal conversations with a handful of people just doesn't hold up to objective evidence.

  5. I don't think ALL Americans believe that.

  6. @ anon 5:03PM. which america do you live in?

    I think your blog post is spot on.

    I feel like sweden is a country designed for children.

    If you are single, nothing is super convenient for you. Want to eat an inexpensive meal ? forgetaboutit.

    everyone is home by 5pm, which means they finish work at 3:30pm ...

  7. My friend living in Sweden for 5 years. Really now Sweden like America.