27 June 2006

Is Sweden boring?

By Tapani Lausti

Is it possible to rate countries on how boring they are? The British tabloid Daily Mail certainly seems to think so. The paper recently published an article under the headline Is Sweden the most boring country in the world? (20 June 2006). The article was written by a Swedish expat called Helena Frith-Powell.

Actually, the word 'boring' does not appear in the article. Frith-Powell uses the word 'dull'. The Swedes, according to her, "are an unnerving mixture of deadly dull and totally eccentric".

The article as such is not worth much. It is one of those hopeless characterisations of a complicated reality using sweeping generalisations, such as I have collected on these pages from time to time, like claims that the Finns don't have a sense of irony or that Finland is an undynamic country.

Of course, one can have fun with this kind of silliness. What Frith-Powell's writing made me think of, however, is how common it is to come across in England a sneering attitude towards Sweden and the Swedes. This is probably what made the sub-editor choose the provocative headline to this childish article. (I was wondering whether some English hack made up the whole thing, just for fun.)

I have never quite understood where this sneering attitude towards the Swedes comes from. It may be political in origin, since Sweden has often for some reason been described in the British press as a "socialist" country. Maybe it also irritates many Brits to read about the positive aspects of Swedish life. There must be something silly about a country which has clean streets and only special state-owned shops for the sale of alcohol. In social affairs, Sweden is probably considered too liberal for the tastes of tabloid reading Brits.

There is irony in the fact that Frith-Powell's article, which compares England favourably with Sweden, was published in a paper which itself represents the unpleasant side of English life. The whole tone of Daily Mail tends to ooze hatred towards liberal values and any show of tolerance in social affairs.

Indeed, daily visits to English newspaper shops can be a depressing experience. One cannot avoid the lurid tabloid headlines which mainly cater for unpleasant prejudices.


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