Sunday, 30 May 2010

Throw us a crumb

And so Eurovision is over, and Germany won.

But not to worry, Sweden was still strongly represented. The Swedish song may have fallen at the first hurdle, but the whole contest was full of Swedish dancers, backing singers, choreographers and songwriters. There was even a Swedish celebrity pianist on stage backing up Belarus.

Without Swedish involvement, the contest wouldn't have been as professional. So we can also see 2010 as a Swedish success, according to commentators and journalists.

I guess it's good to be grateful when you get thrown a crumb from the banquet table.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

A reality check is needed

Tonight is a night of anxiety for many Swedes. In fact, the last couple of days has been quite traumatic for them. You see, on Thursday, Sweden failed to qualify for the Eurovision Song Contest final which is being broadcast tonight.

Sweden sent a sweet girl, Anna Bergendahl, with a sweet song, to the semi final in Oslo. And Europe voted. And Sweden failed to impress the voters. And Anna was on the first bus back to Stockholm.

The next day, the papers were full of headlines screaming 'Fiasco!' and 'Ban the Eurovision shit'. It was unjust, they claimed. Anna deserved better. Sweden deserves better. Europe is just jealous of our musical talents so they don't vote for us. Eurovision should be changed! There should just be a Nordic Eurovision! Sweden should pull out immediately. The rhetoric was rabid, and the people were livid.

Sweden takes its Eurovision very seriously. Since ABBA won in the 70's, and put Sweden on the musical map, it's been a matter of national interest and pride to participate in the yearly contest.

But now, it's fanatical.

One debate in the papers and on the television is about how Europe's music is inferior to Sweden's. They claim that all Europe's music is basically rubbish and Sweden's is the best. Sweden always sends great songs to the Eurovision Song Contest but they never win. This is because European voters are too stupid, or too tasteless, to appreciate good music.

I have rarely heard such blatant arrogance before.

A reality check is needed. The fact is that Sweden's results in the Eurovision Song Contest have gone from bad to worse every year, while other Nordic countries have won. Sweden's music is not the best, in this context. Sweden is out of touch with what music appeals to the masses in the rest of Europe.

What's worse is that Sweden makes the mistake of believing that the Eurovision Song Contest is a contest for the best song. It isn't, and it never has been. It is about politics, nationalism and entertainment. It always has been.

So, if winning is important, this is my advice to Sweden. Do not vote for the song you think is best. Vote for the song you think will do the best in Europe. Even if you think it is rubbish, chances are that millions of Europeans will disagree with you. Vote strategically.

Maybe then you will have a shot at the glory and recognition you obviously desperately desire.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

A walk down the aisle

Isn't it funny how something small can be so meaningful? In Sweden, it is less than a month until the Royal wedding when Crown Princess Victoria marries Daniel Westling. The party is planned to last two weeks, culminating on May 19th in the cathedral.

And it's what will happen in the cathedral that is causing a huge stir. Victoria has stated that she wants her father, the King, to escort her down the aisle and give her away at the altar. Not so strange, you might think. Not so controversial. But in Sweden, this is causing a storm.

A father giving away his daughter at her wedding is not a Swedish tradition. In Sweden, the bride and groom walk down the aisle together towards the altar where they are then married. This is a major symbolic action. In Sweden, a woman is not something that is owned by one man and can be given away to another man. A woman is strong, independant, mature and educated. She is fully capable of walking down the aisle on her own, together with the man she has chosen to marry. She is not anybody's property. This is yet another way in which the Swedish value of equality is exhibited in society.

That the future queen chooses to go against the tradition is a break in protocol. It is also seen by many, including myself, as a lost opportunity to communicate to the world's press that in Sweden men and women are equal.

Of course, Princess Victoria should be able to do what she wants to do at her own wedding, but let's not forget that she has a responsiblity to the nation, especially when the nation is funding her wedding. A future regent, if anyone, should be seen to uphold and promote the values of the country she represents.

If she doesn't, what then is the point of a monarchy?

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Stockholm A-Z: Café life

Café Life

Like many cities with diverse seasons, I find that Stockholm can be schizophrenic. In the winter, Stockholmers walk quickly to their destinations, head-down often avoiding social interaction on the street. This is understandable. It is so cold, you just want to get indoors.

In the early stages of summer though, the city changes.

The sunnier, warmer weather comes and restaurants spread out onto the pavements and streets. It seems like even the smallest of cafés has an outside terrace. It might only consist of one table and two chairs, but it is still an outdoor terrace. Outdoor summer cafés open up for the season on quaysides, in parks and squares.

And the people flock to them in droves.

Café season is the start of beautiful people season. All winter, Stockholmers have been hidden under layers of thermal clothing. But now, they cast off their outer garments and slip into their summer outfits, their sunglasses and their shorts and sandals. A more grateful and beautiful nation I am yet to find. You wonder where all these Amazonian women and athetlic men have been hybernating for the winter half of the year. Oh, of the gym.

Café life has a strong tradition in Swedish culture. It is still possible to find traditional coffee houses dotted about the city. A window to the past, they often still have the original decor and atmosphere. Swedes are amongst the top 5 countries when it comes to the consumption of coffee, and this is part of the reason why coffee is so good in most cafés. Even 7 Eleven has decent coffee. This is also why Starbucks considered Stockholm to be a saturated market long before they opened their first store at the airport earlier this year.

But it is the outdoor café that reflects life for the modern Stockholmer. Weather permitting, these are the perfect places to sit and watch the world go by. Infraheaters and blankets help keep any irritating chill at bay. So, grab your outsized sunglasses, head to a square, slip into a chair, order a macchiato and enjoy summer life in Stockholm.

Why did the Swede cross the road?

I'm sure we've all heard the joke about why the chicken crossed the road, but have you ever heard the one about why a Swede crossed the road? Or rather how a Swede crosses the road? You haven't? It's hilarious.

Crossing the road in Sweden used to be like a game of Russian roulette. You stepped tentatively out onto the zebra crossing and hoped the motorists would stop, knowing they had no obligation to do so. However, a while ago, a new law was introduced in Sweden. It stated that all cars must stop at zebra crossings to allow the pedestrians to go over.

However, it seems like this new law has caused another problem - an increase in road accidents between cars and pedestrians. Apparently, many Swedish people simply fling themselves out onto the crossings because they have right of way and cars have to stop. With the law on their side, they disregard the common sense rules that we all learn as kids.

So a new campaign had been launched this week, teaching Swedes how to cross the road. With the slogan 'Make eye contact before you cross', the authorities are programming people to actually look at the approaching cars before taking the first critical step.

It's hilarious. But it gets better.

I was walking to work the other day and I was handed some campaign material. It took the form of a little yellow box and it rattled attractively with sweets inside. A big eye and campaign slogan was written on one side. On the other side, in small print, it said 'Remember at crossings that drivers must give way to you, but remember also that you as a pedestrian must not step out onto the crossing without checking the vehicles that are approaching.'

I became so engrossed in the small text, the yellow box and the tempting sweeties that I stepped out onto a crossing without checking and almost got mowed down by a cycle courier.

So rule number 1 when crossing a road: do not read small yellow boxes and fantasise about sweets.

The rest, well, it's just common sense.