Friday, 26 February 2010
I am tired. Tired of the winter. But not of the snow.
I am tired of everybody moaning.
This year, Sweden has had one of the snowiest winters in decades. The snow came in December and is still here. The streets are covered in ice and, just as you think it might be getting better, another load of snow is dumped upon us.
This week has been especially spectacular. Because of the amounts of snow, the railway system has not been able to operate as it usually does. Trains have been delayed, or cancelled. There haven't been enough replacement buses to cover the capacity. The underground has been cancelled on any parts of the line that aren't physically underground.
The newspapers have reported on 'Snow Chaos' and 'a feeling of tension and riot in the air'. Every night the weather has dominated the tv news, every night they have interviewed angry passengers that have had to wait at a station for a train that never comes. People have been up in arms, their anger spiralling. Train personnel have been threatened.
I am so tired. Tired of the moaning. Tired of the news coverage and the sensationalism.
We live in Scandinavia. In Scandinavia it snows. This year it has snowed an exceptional amount. This has meant that services can not operate with their usual reliabilty. Get over it.
We live in a world surrounded by natural disasters, such as the earthquake on Haiti, where people lose their homes, their families, their means of living. In other countries, people die in extreme weather conditions. In Sweden, we miss the train. I think a sense of perspective is required.
First thing this morning, the local government and the board of Swedish Railway anounced that they will be refunding all passengers. All passengers will receive a discount on their monthly travel card equivalent to one week's travel. This is to compensate everyone for the inconvenience. The inconvenience of living in Sweden?
This political gesture will cost the tax payer 50 million Swedish crowns.
In my opinion, money better spent employing people to maintain the tracks and keep the trains moving.
Thursday, 25 February 2010
In all cultures, there is an element of predicatability. Some things that you can feel will always happen. Things that give you a sense of security because you can depend on them.
In Sweden, it's pancakes.
Today is Thursday. In every lunch restaurant and every staff canteen that sell Swedish food, pancakes are on the menu. You can rely on it. It feels dependable. The pancakes are served in a particular way - with whipped cream and jam - and always, always served together with a bowl of steaming pea soup and bread.
It's fun to watch Swedes on Thursdays. In the staff canteen, grown men queue up to ladle their soup into their bowls and pile pancake after pancake onto a plate like a Scooby snack. Then they gleefully paste on the jam and smother it with whipped cream. It's like watching a jelly and ice cream party for 10-year olds.
Pancakes on Thursdays is especially interesting for us Brits. You see, we are deprived. We only get to eat pancakes once a year - on 'Pancake Day'. 'Pancake Day' as it happens was last week, Shrove Tuesday. And on this day, when Swedes traditionally tuck into Lent buns, we Brits make pancakes and cover them with sugar, lemon juice and chocolate sauce.
But only once a year.
It's not always that easy to understand how the rules of different societies work, especially when it comes to food. A Swedish customer of mine once told me a story about some Japanese visitors to Sweden that he was responsible for looking after.
The Japanese were visiting on a pancake Thursday. At lunch time, the Swede took the Japanese visitors to the company restaurant. Unsure of what to do when faced with the lunch time food, the Japanese took a bowl each and filled it with pancakes. They then spooned on jam and cream. And finally, they poured pea soup over the whole lot. They were left with an unholy mess seaping over the edges of the bowl.
The Swede saw what his Japanese visitors had done and was unsure of how to handle the situation. He could tell them they had made a mistake by not putting the soup in a bowl and the pancakes on a separate plate. But he felt this could potentially embarrass them and force them to lose face. This could be devastating to them and their business relationship.
So, he did the only thing he thought an adaptive, culturally-sensitive person should do. He took a bowl, filled it with pancakes and cream and then he smothered it with soup. He sat down with his Japanese visitors and slowly forced down the soggy contents of the bowl with a spoon.
It's nice to know that however dependable and reliable a tradition is, it is not so rigid that it can't be adapted if the circumstances decree.
And, in this case, those circumstances are known as hospitality.
Wednesday, 24 February 2010
Tuesday, 23 February 2010
Sometimes when you live in a country so long, you forget what is different from your own culture. You adapt. You are culturally aligned. In my case, I have become Swedified.
Take 'fjärrvärme'. 'Fjärrvärme' is long-distance heating. It's a way of warming houses and apartment buildings and is very common in central Stockholm.
Long-distance heating usually consists of water that is heated up in factories outside the city. The water is then sent through pipes and out to the buildings. The water circulates in each apartment's radiators and, when it has been used for a long time, gets cold again. Then, it gets sent back to the factory to get heated up again. Logical, huh? And such a natural part of the Swedish infrastructure that I have hardly reflected over it. Until I went to England and told my family about it.
'That's outrageous!!' they said. Surprised by the strong reaction, I asked why.
'Well, if the government or private companies control the heating, they could just turn it down in order to control the public. They could set the heat to a low level in order to increase national work output. It's so communist. It's outrageous.'
I tried to explain that it was a very green way to heat the buildings but couldn't come up with a decent argument.
I tried to explain that when you pay the monthly apartment fee, you get as much heating as you like. But they thought that this was also outrageous - a neighbour could have their radiators turned up higher and they would pay the same fee as those who had their radiators lower. Communist.
I tried to explain it was the same as other utilities in the UK. Like water, electricity and gas. But they didn't get it. Controlling your own heating, they claimed, is a basic right.
I floundered. I couldn't persuade them of the benefits of 'fjärrvärme'.
I like and accept 'fjärrvärme'. I think it is a great utility. My acceptance of it sits so deeply now that I can't explain why it is the way it is. It just is.
I realise I am culturally aligned, at least on this issue. I am Swedified.
Monday, 22 February 2010
Just come back from a long weekend in London where I was visiting family and friends. On Saturday, I was trying to persuade my 23-year old nephew to come to Stockholm for a visit. Appealing to his interests, I mentioned how beautiful Swedish girls are.
My sister, who has been to Sweden several times, pipes up.
'Oh, yes! They're all really beautiful. Everyone is beautiful! So healthy and well-off looking. They're all so well-dressed and trendy. Even the pensioners. They all walk around with glowing skin and lovely teeth. They've all got jumpers thrown over their shoulders. They all look like models. Yes, all Swedes are Ralph Lauren models!'
Now, there's a positive stereotype to reinforce!
Wednesday, 17 February 2010
A fantastic characteristic of Swedish society is freedom of speech, freedom of religion and of lifestyle. Based on the value of equality, the concept of freedom of speech applies to everyone in the society, even children.
It's no surprise then that in a country that has a child ombudsman and fierce legislation against corporal punishment, the following is happening. School children are being given the opportunity to evaluate, or grade, their teachers - to give their opinion on the abilities of their teachers. Their evaluations will be public records.
Politicians who support the move say that school is there for the children, not the teachers, Therefore, children should have an influence over their environment and the people who work there.
Politicians who are against say that children are not mature enough to understand the consequences of their grading and that the results could be devastating for individual teachers.
No matter what we think, for or against, I think this is fantastic. A fantastic example of the Swedish belief in equality in practice.
Even the smallest people in this culture have a voice, and a right to share it.
I woke up this morning bright-eyed and ready to face the day. I live on one of those typical narrow inner-city streets in Stockholm, where the tall buildings line either side. The street is so narrow that you can see straight into each others flats and almost see what your neighbours are having for dinner. I live high up on the 6th floor so I have the great fortune to see the sky and over the snowy rooftops and ridges of the buildings opposite. They are beautiful turn-of-the-century buildings and the towering chimneys evoke a strong 1800's feeling.
This morning, after I'd got out of bed, I whipped open my blinds to let in the light. To my surprise on the rooftop opposite were 5 snow-busters, busy pushing down the heavy snow that was ladening the roof. The swiftness of my blinds opening must have caught their attention. Two of them looked up and right into my bedroom like peeping toms. It was almost as though I wanted to wave. I admit I felt embarrassed. I felt exposed.
Thank god I wasn't naked - for their sake.
Tuesday, 16 February 2010
A friend of mine has a 5 year old daughter, currently attending day care in Stockholm. It's fascinating to talk to her and to see how cultural norms and values are instilled in us right from an early age.
Swedish day care, like many others around the world, is about teaching children social skills, the rights and wrongs of society and what is acceptable behaviour. And this particular little girl has learned all of that. She shows respect to others. She understands the concept of turn-taking. When she grows up she doesn't want to be a Nazi.
One evening she was playing a game with her mother, and she won fair and square. But she wanted to back-track and do it again so that she didn't hurt her mother's feelings. Her mother, an American, said that it was ok and that she had won rightfully. This 6 year old Swedish girl then said, 'But at daycare, we all win.'
The Swedish values of equality, modesty and a touch of envy are all represented in this statement. It's the participation that's important, not the winning. No one person should win, but everyone is a winner because they contributed. Cultural indoctrination starts early and we see this particular cultural characteristic everywhere in Swedish society. In the concensus decision-making. In the fact that bragging is seen as unattractive. In the acceptance that being average (lagom) is ok, or even something to strive for.
Don't get me wrong. I fully support the philosophy that participating is valuable. But winning is also strengthening. For the individual and the group.
Now, thankfully not everyone in any single culture follows the national tendencies. There are always individuals who deviate. And when enough people deviate, that is when the cultural norm shifts.
At the Winter Olympics, Sweden fights along side many nationalities for a place on the podium. While other countries may win more medals, Sweden does succeed in an occasional gold. Yesterday, Charlotte Kalla won a gold medal for cross-country skiing.
I'm sure that no matter how much she thought that participating was great, winning gold must have felt even better.
Monday, 15 February 2010
Yesterday I felt very foreign.
It was the day of the 'Vikingarännet', the world's longest skating competition on natural ice. The track is a total of 80km, ending in the centre of Stockholm. My partner had signed up for the ordeal and headed off at 6.30 in the morning to catch the bus to the starting line. My job was, 6 hours later, to go down to the finish line and cheer and applaud and welcome him back.
At 2pm, I headed down to the lakeside. I passed a few weary-looking ice skaters on the way. Eventually, I arrived at the finishing line. A few tents were set up around a little podium for first, second and third place. A man with a microphone was walking around interviewing contestants who had finished and made it up the slope to the tent area. His voice echoed around the lakeside from strategically-placed loudspeakers. As I stood and waited, he approached one of the contestants who turned out to be an Australian. The Australian was exhausted. It was only the 5th time he had ever ice-skated.
Jokingly, he said to the interviewer, 'there'll be no Valentine's Day romance today'.
'Oh' said the interviewer with typical direct Swedish communication style, 'you mean you have no energy left for the bedroom?!'
The Australian looked a little embarrassed and said as he cringed, 'Well, I guess that's one way of putting it.'
I decided to move away from the tent area and proceeded down the slope and across the frozen lake to the finishing area. A large, inflatable archway marked the end of the 80km race. Lots of people huddled around waiting. Silence prevailed.
As exhausted racers lumbered across the finishing line, the crowd did nothing. No reaction. No cheering. No bravos. No clapping mittens. Nothing. Just staring with blank expressions. The silence was almost oppressive. How does that feel, I wondered, to have acheived such a magnificent feat and to come back to this? 80 km is a very long way! And nobody showed any appreciation! Not outwardly anyway. The Swedish value of modesty was very clear at that moment.
As I saw my partner approaching across the ice, I started waving my arms and jumping up and down. Perhaps I overcompensated somewhat.
I clapped my gloves and, with steamy breath, I shouted 'Yeah! Come on! Bravo! Well, done! Keep going!'
I shouted 'Brilliant! Looking good! Yeah!'
My voice echoed out over the lake and was suspended in the air like an embarrassment.
Now, I am not an over-expressive type. But compared to the Swedes I experienced yesterday, I was positively Italian.
Yes, yesterday, I felt very foreign indeed.
Sunday, 14 February 2010
When I was new in Sweden, I was walking down Katarinavägen on Södermalm with my Swedish mother-in-law. Katarinavägen has a fantastic view over the harbour and the city and far across the lake Mälaren. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining and the air was crisp.
My mother-in-law, who doesn't speak very good English, was struggling to keep the conversation going. She was pointing out different features in the cityscape. Over there is the animal park, over there is the green fairground.
She pointed at the large building looming into the sky behind the old town. I knew this red-brick building to be the city hall. The city hall has a large tower and embellishing the top of the tower is the symbol of Sweden - three shining crowns.
My mother-in-law pointed at the tower and said proudly,
'That is the town hall - the house with the pricks in.'
She was referring to the crowns as 'the pricks' and she meant to say 'on' the roof.
However, without knowing it, she couldn't have been closer to the truth.
This year is election year. Let's make sure that the pricks stay on the roof and not inside the building.
Saturday, 13 February 2010
In my job, I have the good fortune to work in different countries around the world. On one such jaunt, I was asked to run a workshop in Dubai. It was around the time that the USA and UK had invaded Irak and there was, to put it mildly, a great deal of tension in the middle East. Being British was far from popular. There had been a few cases of kidnappings and murders of foreign business people.
With this in mind, my American colleage and I decided to pretend we were Swedish. We spoke only Swedish to each other in public places. We said 'We're from Sveden' if anybody asked us. It worked really well. Being Swedish in the Middle East was not considered provocative. We were able to bask under the long-standing, international reputation of the Swedes as honest, neutral and decent.
And actually, these are three of the stereotypes that other cultures have of Sweden. Years of 'good behaviour' has positioned Sweden in the international arena as a decent nation with strong integrity. Except in Poland.
Listening to the radio today, I heard a Swedish correspondent living in Warsaw. He talked about how, until recently, he was proud to say he was Swedish. But lately, he denied it vehemently. Two major things have happened to sully the reputation of Sweden in Poland.
In September last year, Swedish stockpiles of Cold War-era canned meat were sold to Poland. The meat, some as old as 27 years, was sold by a Swedish trading company for use in restaurants in Poland. Experts said the meat should only be used up to 10 years after it was packaged. After tests at the Agricultural College in Warsaw, Poland, the canned meat was found to be turning rancid. Basically, the meat that Sweden had sold was not fit to give to a dog - but fine for Poles.
On Thursday this week, a Swedish man was arrested in Stockholm over the theft of the 'Arbeit Macht Frei' sign from the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. The metal sign was stolen in December 2009 from above the entrance to the notorious Nazi death camp. It was later recovered, cut into three pieces. The 5m (16ft) wrought iron sign - the words on which translate as "Work sets you free" - symbolises for many the atrocities of Nazi Germany.
The theft caused outrage in Israel, Poland and around the world. More than a million people - 90% of them Jews - were murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz in occupied Poland during World War II.
So Sweden's reputation is seriously, perhaps irretrievably, damaged in Poland.
It just goes to show that it can take decades to build a credible reputation but only moments to destroy it.
Thursday, 11 February 2010
One of the great Swedish values is that of equality. In comparison to other cultures, Sweden has probably come the furthest in terms of equality between the sexes.
Sweden, obviously, isn't alone in believing in equality. Many other cultures believe it too. What is interesting is how equality is demonstrated in society. In other cultures equality might be demonstrated by positive discrimination of women for top management postions. It might be demonstrated by the way in which domestic roles are divided up. It might be demonstrated in the bedroom.
In Sweden, however equality is demonstrated in a different way. Here, it is a sense that everyone is the same as everyone else.
To help this, most Swedes have the same surnames, eg Svensson, Nilsson, Andersson, Persson. They earn roughly the same amount of money after tax. They have the same taste in furniture. They watch Melodifestival on Saturday nights in February. They dress alike and think alike. They socialise on Facebook and Twitter. They recycle. And, most tellingly, they go to Thailand in the winter.
Equality, Swedish style.
Wednesday, 10 February 2010
In town today, pavements everywhere were cordoned off with orange pylons and hazard tape. Men in flourescent yellow coats were shouting 'Watch out!' and 'Stand still!!' and waving us pedestrians into the street and straight into the on-coming traffic.
Mounds of snow were pushed down from the roof-tops by men perched precariously on the roof tiles and attached by ropes and harnesses. A seemingly insecure occupation. The snow came exploding into the pavements below and splinters of ice and powdery snow billowed up like jets of steam. Walking through Stockholm today was like navigating a minefield with explosions to the left and to the right.
It seems like the snowy roof-tops have become too dangerous in the city. And when this happens, who do you call? The snow busters.
This is yet another strange part of life in Sweden. Avalanches in the city.
Tuesday, 9 February 2010
This morning we had a power cut and the flat was plunged into darkness. It's also my birthday and I was celebrated, accordingly, by candle light. In Sweden, birthdays are celebrated in much the same way as in other countries - presents, cake, songs. Although the birthday song in Swedish is bizarrely about hoping the birthday boy or girl lives to a hundred and is then pushed around in a wheelbarrow.
A few years ago, I had my 40th. I had a big party with 40 guests and we ate and danced into the night. At Swedish birthday parties, it's quite common that the guests perform - singing a song with altered words, acting out a cabaret or reading poems. It's a grand way to be celebrated.
The big birthdays are important in Sweden. Most people celebrate 30, 40, 50 with a bang. Some even say that 50 is the biggest party of your life. You celebrate your achievements and the journey your life has taken you on. This is quite different from the UK where people tend to want to forget that they are ageing. Small celebrations but nothing big. 40 is uncomfortable, and 50, my god - 50 is a nightmare.
And this reflects one of the differences I see in cultural behaviour between Sweden and the UK. Celebrations.
While Sweden maintains tradition and celebration, the UK has abandoned it. Christmas and New Year in the UK are probably the only national celebrations that survive. But in Sweden, festivities abound and traditions are kept alive. Apart from Christmas and New Year, there's Lent, Easter, Walpurgis Eve, May Day, National Day, Midsummer, Crayfish party, 'Surströmming' premiére, the Eel feast, All Saints' Day, St Martin's Day, Advent, Lucia. Many of these celebrations revolve around tradional food and gathering together of friends and family.
Many Swedish traditions have ancient roots, others came with immigrants or the church. Regardless of the origin, Swedes observe and enjoy these traditions.
It's a shame that traditional celebrations aren't as important in other countries such as the UK anymore. They are a part of the life cycle here, giving shape to our lives and giving us a sense of time and seasonal rhythm.
I love the Swedish way of observing the traditions, eating the food and being together with friends and family.
So, Happy Birthday to me. I live in Sweden.
Monday, 8 February 2010
In the world of cultural theory, there are many surveys carried out to try to charter the cultural tendencies of the different nationalities. One such survey tries to document what personal qualities Swedes believe they have, what they prioritise and how they want to see the future at work and in Sweden. It is a survey in which Swedes themselves reveal their own perceptions on what it is to be Swedish.
Foreigners living in Sweden - please check this top-ten list of values and see whether it matches your own experience of Sweden and the Swedes. Is it an accurate perception or is it a case of wishful thinking?
Top Ten Swedish Values
Sunday, 7 February 2010
As a dog-owner, you are forced to go outside 4-5 times a day. Even in the deepest winter, you have to don hiking boots, fleecy jumper, thermal gloves, thick coat, woolly scarf and warm hat and venture out for a bracing walk in the battering wind.
Sometimes being outside is a very lonely experience. On the coldest, most-miserable days, there is hardly anybody else around. Just a few other sad dog-owners,an occasional lonesome jogger and a handful of hardy smokers huddled outside the local pub.
So, today, with the sun fixed brightly in the sky and the thermometer hovering around zero degrees, I head out with a smile on my face. It is a joy to be outside. I walk down my street, through the local square and down towards the lake. By the lake there's a footpath. It's always so lovely to stroll along there and admire the ice reflecting the sun and see the ducks bathing in the cracks and open areas. Stockholm really is a beautiful city. When the sun shines, the buildings radiate in orange and red.
Approaching the footpath, I notice what seems to be a queue. The kind of queue you see in a department store around Christmas time when kids line up to see Santa.
Strange, I think, has something happened?
I arrive at the end of the queue and realise that nothing has happened, it's just the sheer volume of people that are lining up to go for a walk along the pathway. The queue is moving, but very slowly. Pensioners, young couples with push-chairs, dog-walkers, joggers, speed-walkers, cyclists,toddlers, groups of lads, it seems like everybody is out for a Sunday afternoon walk in the sunshine. Like a mass migration of lemmings, Stockholmers have left their homes and gone for a walk along the same stretch of footpath.
Me included. I go with the flow.
The walk is slow-going but eventually I make it to the other end. I feel pleased with myself that I have been so vigorous and out-doorsy. Then I scuttle across the street and plough home a different route to avoid having to press back through the crowd.
I've experienced this before in Stockholm, when I lived in a different part of town. At the first sign of sun, everybody goes out for a walk. Fully understandable, given the length and darkness of the winter.
In cultural theory, we talk a lot about how all cultures spring from a set of basic needs that we humans share. For instance, we all share the need for water, for food, for shelter. It's just that we have solved how we meet these needs in different ways, depending on geography and circumstance. And it's these differences that form the basis of culture.
In Stockholm, on a sunny Sunday in February, I guess we all share the same need. To breathe fresh air, to see light and to feel that maybe, just maybe, the winter is soon over.
Friday, 5 February 2010
Wandering from the beaten path in the Bronx, down back alleys amongst trash cans and restaurant containers is known to be dangerous. It's just not something you'd do.
Entering the council estate off Coldharbour Lane in Brixton in London, past the brick buildings with narrow walkways and tiny windows is also known to be dangerous. You just wouldn't do it.
And in Johannesburg, you wouldn't venture out into the shanty towns at night, away from the bright lighted protection of the tourist area. Sad, but true. Unless you had a death wish, you just wouldn't do it.
But Stockholm is comparatively safe. Most of us feel secure travelling on public transport, making eye contact with a stranger on the street and walking home late and night.
Stockholm is a dangerous city! A city where you walk on the wild side. Where you take your life in your hands every time you walk out of the house. A town where you live on the knife edge.
In today's newspaper, the cover story was about a woman recuperating in a local hospital. She'd been walking down the street, minding her own business when a block of ice plummeted from a snowy rooftop and smacked her in the head. She survived with stitches but it could've been much worse. A few years ago, a teenage boy was killed by a lump of ice that slid off a rooptop and crushed his skull as he walked along the road.
So, I scoff at the Bronx, at Brixton and at Johannesburg. It's us in Stockholm who look death in the eye every time we leave the building.
Wednesday, 3 February 2010
On a sunny May day a few years ago, a conversation was overheard between a pilot (nationality unknown) and a Swedish air steward approaching Malmö airport.
Pilot: "What are those yellow fields below us?"
Steward: "They're probably rape fields."
Pilot: "Oh, you have special fields for that in Sweden?"
(Note to all Swedes: It's often better to say ‘rape-seed’)
Tuesday, 2 February 2010
I am currently in Helsinki running a training course. During the morning today, one of the participants mentioned something that he called 'Estonia complex'. Probing closer, I understood this to mean the big brother complex that Estonia has towards Finland, the feeling of being the country cousin, the smaller player, an inferior.
Interesting concept, this. I have also heard that the Finns have a similar feeling of inferiority towards the Swedes. This possibly comes from the shared history of the two countries and that Finland once belonged to Sweden. This is something you still see evidence of here in Helsinki. All the signs are written both in Finnish and Swedish, for example. 'The Swedish Theatre' has a very dominant postion on the main street next to the main department store. Many citizens are fluent in Swedish as well as in their own language.
But this 'big brother complex' also exists in Sweden, in my experience. Sweden often compares itself to the rest of the world, with a kind of inferiority complex. Stockholm is referred to as 'The Venice of the North', Gothenburg as 'Little London', Vänersborg as 'Little Paris', Österlen in Skåne as 'Sweden's Provence'. It's not unusual, in the winter, to hear Stockholmers telling visitors, somewhat apologetically, 'in the summer, this is full of outdoor cafés, just like in southern Europe'.
So this inferiority complex is something that Estonia, Finland and Sweden have in common. I think it's time to shake off these out-dated comparatives and be proud of their own unique cultural beauty.
If there's something I've learned as I've gone through life, it's this. We should define ourselves by what we are, instead of by what we are not.
I think these three Baltic countries would serve themselves well if they adopted this attitude.
Monday, 1 February 2010
'Jantelagen' is the ten commandments of envy. It was created by Aksel Sandemose, a Danish author, in the 1930's.
1. You shall not think you are anything
2. You shall not think you are as good as us
3. You shall not think you are cleverer than us
4. You shall not think you are better than us
5. You shall not think you know more than us
6. You shall not think you are superior to us
7. You shall not think you are good enough for anything
8. You shall not laugh at us
9. You shall not think that anyone cares about you
10. You shall not think you can teach us anything
Sounds exactly like my methodist upbringing in the North-East of England. Spooky!
In the paper today, it was reported that Nordmaling local authority in the north of Sweden is starting a project to deal with 'Jantelagen'.
'Jantelag' is something similar to tall poppy syndrome in the UK. It's a behaviour where members of a society oppress each other with negative attitudes such as 'don't think you're important - because you're not', and 'he's too big for his boots'.
This kind of behaviour isn't specific to the north of Sweden, or Sweden in particular, but is quite common in small, closely-knit societies where the values of the collective outweigh the freedoms of the individual.
It seems like Nordmaling has received 600 000 sek from the EU to investigate this problem. They're going to hire a project leader and call them a 'Jante warrior'. This warrior will work for 1 year with children, business people and students with a variety of activities such as stand-up comedy, theatre, discussion fora. The aim is to raise awareness for the harmful effect that Jantelagen has on the development of the region and the individual residents.
Seriously, who the hell does Nordmaling council they think they are?