The following post is from an interview I had with Maria Ludvigsson, an award-winning columnist writer in the Swedish newspaper, Svenska Dagbladet. This is also an excerpt from the book Attractive Unattractive Americans, which are available in bookstores now.
The Swedish are known for their attitude; we think we have something to teach to the rest of the world. Even here in little Sweden, one can often find preconceived comments about how bad everything is outside of our borders. America is the country we want to talk about most when we share opinions on how things should be done.
In the most recent presidential election in 2012, Sweden expressed more statements than usual about how crazy Americans are and that they lack the sanity to vote as honorable Swedish people would. Not infrequently, Swedish people make statements about the Swedish welfare state, equality and the excellences of their equality state. But the self-satisfaction of the Swedish ought to make every human being sick if they have a trifle of objectivity in their body.
The stuck-up comments from Swedes stem from something that reminds them of an unhappy love story. We love, admire and constantly crave to be like Americans, but they do not return our adoration. Americans mix us up with some other country that begins with an S, "Swiweden or what was the name again?"
As if that wasn't enough, humiliated, we realize that our great love for America is worn on our sleeve, obvious to all, including ourselves and Americans. Americans manage to take care of themselves without our good Swedish advice, benevolence and attention. No other country has as many Nobel Prize winners as the United States. The latest technology, medicine, movies, music and everything we perceive as "the newest" comes from America. Of course, it can be noted that American hegemony sometimes is disturbed by up-and-coming countries, like China, who impress us with their ambitions toward labor, growth and economic stability. However, it is clear that countries like China look to one specific country as their primary inspiration--America.
The current economic crises and the low conjuncture also injure the USA's highly esteemed reputation. That worries us; it concerns us when the one who we have all hope for doesn't live up to our expectations. But this worry also gives us a reason, to again, tell Americans about Sweden and how we think things should be done. We are proud to showcase how good our country is financially, and we like to point out that The Financial Times selected our Swedish finance minister as the "Finance Minster of the Year, 2012." That is a major award!
So, in our comments and greetings to the country "over there," we Swedes explain willingly how we believe the USA should have done things. Of course, we believe they should strive to be more like us: raise taxes, secularize the religious population and, as soon as possible, build the same welfare state that Sweden did in the 1970s. And for God's sake, let wealth be synonymous with "stealing from the poor." Only then could the United States be more easily understood, and more important, America would be much better because they would be more Swedish.
Perhaps our love story goes back longer than we believe--to a time long before America gave us rock music, movie stars, dreams and the iMac. Wasn't it our close family members who once left the captive and poor lands of Europe to build anew and big in the West? Why should those who left to escape religious oppression, tax collectors, counts, barons, emperors and kings ever expose themselves to that again? Why build a copy of Europe when you could build a better country in America with freedom of expression, economic liberty and religious independence of the United States? It stings a bit for the Scandinavians to acknowledge that the people who left did it to start something new.
Let it also be said that there are those who believe that everything in the U.S. is good, but some people argue that Americans in general are a trigger-happy, overweight population that believes in God but not in the welfare state. Therefore, this disparity of opinion creates a natural need to provide an alternative picture. However, neither image is correct. The U.S. is perhaps like most people: both good and bad.
You cannot paint a picture of America and get a homogeneous portrait of the country. It is broader and more diverse than what can be written in the chronicles and analyses. But America is fascinating and it is the country that, more than any other, gives us hope. We always glance westward to seek ideas and solutions. A humble view is that we have more to learn from the U.S. than they do of us.