The Nordic Countries are, it is often said, a land of serenity and of a high quality life that those born here enjoy with a distinctive practical sense doubled by a low key lifestyle that are equally characteristic. That’s why, when visiting Northern Europe, you really get to notice how surprising… the presence of surprises (that, yes, do exist) actually is.
In almost every field, in many of daily life’s expressions comprised, here, in the north, excellence is the rule. You just have to look closer. And, this way, you learn that Sweden is a country that seems to excel even when it comes to superlatives – here it is!
! Nordstan, in Gothenburg, is the largest shopping mall in Europe. I’ve started, it seems, with the most important bit of information of all…
Yes, The Devil Wears Prada when in Scandinavia! And not only!…
Shopping seems to be pretty attractive for tourists. Even a short visit to the souvenir shops around (and they are everywhere) will be convincing enough to make you buy all sorts of fun accessories, as you can see next…
! Sweden is the proud holder of the most patents per capita in Europe – 271 for every 1 million inhabitants. The pacemaker, the ultrasound, matches, the refrigerator (a paradox?) and the computer mouse are just some Swedish innovations.
! Sweden has the highest value of PCs per capita in Europe.
! Sweden was, in 2006, the most generous country in terms of third world financial assistance.
! Sweden is on course to becoming the world’s first oil-free and biofuel-powered country.
! Swedish taxation levels are the highest in the world. No less than 54% of the state’s budget comes from taxes.
(I’ve made a visit to those responsible for this situation. See below.)
! Here, the percentage of working mothers – 76% – is no 1 among all developed countries.
! 30, the average age at which Swedish women have their first child, is the oldest in Europe.
! While life expectancy is the best in Europe.
! Keeping with the theme of superlatives and associating it with the importance the sea holds in Swedish culture, there’s a little thing that needs to be said. That of the Guinness Book of World Records’ biggest ice cream boat in the world – weighing 866.5 kg (in the record’s description no mention is made of whether this is with or without its ice cream load) – is Swedish.
! And, while keeping with superlatives and speaking about ingenuity, Stockholm is also the place where the most finger snaps over the length of 1 minute – 278, by Jens Gudmandsen – was made a Guinness Book record.
! Sweden’s extraordinaire is, however, made up of much more than objectively quantifiable facts. It is emotion as well! Legendary band ABBA (you can visit the dedicated museum in Djurgården, Stockholm) is Swedish, and so are The Cardigans, Roxette, Ace of Base, Robyn, Europe, and, of course, Swedish House Mafia.
! Global brands Volvo, Ikea, H&M and… Candy Crush Saga come from Sweden as well.
! So is children’s books hero Pippi Longstocking, character created by Astrid Lindgren.
! Likewise for no fewer than 3 Miss Universe – Hillevi Rombin (1955), Margareta Arvidsson (1966) and Yvonne Ryding (1984)!
! Then there are the cultural specificities and je ne sais quois that have or have not circled the globe and for which to fully appreciate you have to come to Sweden – first, there’s snus: the tobacco you slip between the inside of your lip and gum, thus replacing the need to smoke.
! Followed by the much healthier concepts of fika, Swedish buffet and lagom.
Fika is a snack – coffee, tea or lemonade and cake (most often cinnamon rolls) that, today, has become associated with one or two daily breaks (the first at 9 AM and the second at approximately 3 in the afternoon) that colleagues take together, over the length of the work day.
Lagom means something close to ’’just right’’ – a sort of not too much not too little, just enough, that implies a line of social conduct and, why not, lifestyle, of absolute moderation.
The famous Swedish buffet is called, in Sweden, smörgåsbord. What it entails, we all know and we’ve all tasted…
! And if we are eager that the fika break habit become a must around the world, it’s only human. Or, better said, perfectly homo sapiens. Why? Because the term has been introduced by a Swede, scientist Carl von Linné.
! Also fun to know is that in Sweden are living 260 000 reindeer (about a third of Stockholm’s human population).
That the daily light hours vary, according to season, from 6 to 21 hours.
That it’s rude that when visiting, when stepping into a Swedish home, you don’t take off your shoes.
And that in Sweden business casual practically means jeans.
Seriously? Jeans? I have a better suggestion… Surprise!!!
OK! Enough with the evil outfits! Let’s get back to the serious things!
!Stockholm – Sweden’s capital – is not any less remarkable, in its own right.
Called the Venice of the North, it is built on 14 islands connected by 57 bridges.
And, often catalogued as the world’s ’’biggest small town’’ or ’’smallest big city’’, it holds no fewer than 70 museums, while its air quality is one of the best on the planet.
The old town, Gamla Stan, dates back from 1252.
! Truly, deeply remarkable! As – I’ve left this for last 🙂 – Sweden’s total population is just about equal with that of the city of New York (approx. 9 million people)!
Photos: Visit Stockholm, Visit Sweden