Scandinavia isn’t that big. Its defining feature might be that it’s a Separate Entity, in terms of its geography, culture, and presence on the global political stage. They speak their own languages, three of the four countries have their own currency, and they’re not even that popular of tourist destinations, when compared to locales throughout the rest of Europe and the world. But to Americans, particularly the ones making decisions about how the country is run, Scandinavia has a strange theoretical presence as either a utopia or a moral worst-case scenario.
“You’re trying to make us like Sweden!” is an amusing statement to hear both lobbed and received by various people in the American political spectrum. On one end, “like Sweden” flies in the face of American Exceptionalism, a concept to which a large portion of this country holds dear; in this view, being “like” any other country is wrong, especially a place with a government so entangled in its citizens’ affairs. And yet others hear “like Sweden” and think of healthcare, low violence rates, and some amorphous vision of peace. Other countries often represent everything the U.S. could be and all the things we better not become, depending who you ask.
Of course, it’s a shallow comparison either way. Scandinavia isn’t us; it’s just the perfect distance away to fantasize about or be wary of, without really having to look that closely. But if we’re going to look at all, we should look closely—the things we’d see would probably be a surprise.
Rain Taxi’s best Scandinavian-themed reviews:
Review by Poul Houe of The Almost Nearly Perfect People by Michael Booth (Summer 2015, Online)
Review by Poul Houe of Voices from the North, edited by Vigdis Ofte and Steinar Sivertsen (Spring 2009, Online)
Essay by Emil Siekkinen on Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer (Winter 2011-2012, Online)