Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sweden Seen From a Pakistani Perspective

Google brought me a story that I - being born in Sweden - simply couldn't resist. It's written by Ahmad Rafay Alam, who writes for the Pakistani newspaper the Express Tribune, and bears the title:
Ball bearings: a pakistani’s view of sweden
Then comes an opener that grabs you by the .... well, let's just say that it grabs your interest.

While landing at Sweden’s Arlanda airport, some 30 minutes outside its capital Stockholm, one can be forgiven for wondering where all the people are. Coming from Pakistan, where rare is the moment one’s line of sight is not interrupted by another human being, Sweden appears to the uninitiated as unpopulated; a vast swathe of pristine forest dotted every now and then with a cottage and the odd lake. The presence of nature is all encompassing — there’s forest everywhere — and it is one of the reasons Swedes have a deep connection with their environment. But one would be quite mistaken to think, what with nearly eight months of darkness, that Sweden is a land where nothing goes on.
Half way down the article, the author offers this sharp summary of Swedish history:
"Sweden, the land of Vikings, Ikea, Bjorn Borg, ABBA and the sauna, didn’t really coalesce into a nation until 1521, when King Gustav Vasa unified the many other tribes of hunter gatherers and races that had collected on the Baltic archipelago. A generation later, Sweden had broken with the Pope and by the end of that century, the country officially became Lutheran Christian. By this time, a hereditary monarchy had been introduced (it still continues, with the marriage of Crown Princess Victoria to her former gym trainer and “commoner” boyfriend taking place last month) and King Gustav had broken the back of the Hanseatic League, a collection of merchant-gangsters who ensured safe passage through the Baltic Sea at an appropriate cost. With the League’s monopoly over sea routes broken, money began to flow into Sweden’s coffers like never before and the country saw its golden era. Fast forward 500 years, and you’ve got Sweden, so to speak."
Not bad at all! Sometimes the distance makes you see things more clear.
But what about the ball bearings?
Well, here they are:
"During our tour, we were informed that Swedes had invented things as common as the zipper, the three-point seat belt and ball-bearings. Ball-bearings seem to me a perfectly apt metaphor of what Sweden and Swedish people are like. Strong willed, efficient and not meant to be noticeable."
The invisible Swede? Ouch! That hurts, but on the other hand, they do say a lot trough their work, for who hasn't heard of Ericsson, Ikea, H&M, and SKF (the maker of the ball bearings)?

And let's not forget Stieg Larsson.

Hans Sandberg

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