Postcards from Europe - 8: Ridiculous Sweden

I've come to the end of my almost four months in Sweden. But this post is not about reminiscing. It is about some of the very ridiculous (in the best possible sense) things about Sweden. Some of them are found elsewhere in Europe as well, but Swedes do like to take it a little further than most.

Once a month, when you're lazily sleeping in the afternoon coz it's too dark and cold to go anywhere outside, you'll be jolted by a really loud and irritating horn that goes on and off in the distance. As it doesn't seem to be stopping anytime soon, and since muttering suitable expressions of extreme emotion aren't working, you turn to the source of infinite wisdom and search to find out what the hell could that sound be. As it turns out, it is the monthly testing of the air raid siren! Now the impending air raid is presumably by Russia, but the Russians just aren't obliging. It's been two centuries since the last Swedish-Russian battle, but the Swedes are still ready and waiting for them. Another use of the siren is to signal a nuclear disaster/attack (different signalling pattern from the air raid signal). You don't even have to ask if they've ever had one of those in their history.

You've been in Sweden long enough if whenever you enter a service center, it maybe a bank or a ticket counter or a currency exchange, you immediately look for the token machine. It doesn't matter if the center is empty and four counters are open. You still need a token to get to any of them. If it's very crowded, people will quickly form a queue to the token machine. Yes, you need to get in a queue to get a token number that puts you in queue.

Waiting at the bus stop wondering when your bus will arrive? Never gonna happen. Coz right beside every bus stop is an automated display board that shows you the exact time left for the next two buses to arrive for each bus route. Don't even ask if the buses always come exactly on time. Once on the bus, there's special seating reserved for elders. But that's not enough. There's also a reserved place to secure baby prams/wheelchairs. Also there are 'pets allowed' and 'no pets allowed' zones in the bus.

If you're unfortunate enough to have lost your eyesight, you can still lead a pretty normal and independent life. There are what I call 'cane-tracks', engravings on the footpaths, bus stops and train platforms using which a blind person can make his way. It's on every single train platform I've been to.

There's a government stipend available to Swedish students. You have to be a student, a Swede and between 16 to 20 years of age. That's it. It's guaranteed. And it's enough to live a normal student life. And no, you don't have to pay it back. The government really does pay you to study. Is it enough to pay your tuition fees? Well, there is no tuition fee. Not even for higher education.

Here's to hoping that one day, sooner rather than later, I can say some of the same things about India.


  1. you know i liked the first para the best...cuz that was truly ridiculous. the rest...well, india will take at least a century to come to any of that...chaos rules our life here...and rule books are like tissue paper- meant to b glanced at and thrown. we don't like queues and we would never care which zone allows pets when we want to take our dogs out. we are like that only ji :D

  2. Free Education? Thats the stuff that dreams are made of. Geez, I love these posts and I'm a teeny weeny bit jealous :) Sad to hear its coming to an end though. Make the most of it.

  3. @Nikita: I think we may never get there.. Which is a shame..

    @Azra: That's not all. I forgot to include this in the post, but if you get fired, the government will pay 80% of your salary for a full year till you find employment again!!!

  4. Dude, I don't think I've ever told you this but I love the design of your blog. Also, it's a little difficult to find the "post a comment" link -- I almost missed it. Make it a little more obvious for slower ones like me, please? :)

    I don't know how many of those things I'd want in India. I like our chaos. And I like that we thrive in it. Take away the method to our madness and I don't know what makes us special. I am not saying we should have that at the cost of development, but that we can find our own way, through the chaos instead of modelling our progress on another country.

    Also, in a country, where most people would offer a seat to their elders anyway, we don't need a sign, do we? Aware that this is a generalization, but like most generalizations, it has a kernel of truth to it.

  5. @ANC: Thanks for liking the design, but I can't really take any credit for that as I've only searched and picked the one I liked best. Also, if I was clever enough to know how to make the 'post a comment' link visible, I certainly would have. Especially considering the dwindling number of comments these days.. :(

    It's not just the points I mentioned here, but the relationship between the government, society and the individual that these points convey. The government's job is to take care of everyone, even the weakest (senior citizens, disabled, students etc.) In return the people respect and follow the rules because they know that it is beneficial for everyone to do so. I think greater care for citizens and more respect of rules are both very desirable improvements in our society, I think.

  6. free education,cane-tracks,a queue in a public place..india has a loong way to go..but still we can always hope for the best..

  7. haha... the title should be 'Incredible Sweden' rather than 'Ridiculous Sweden'... oh wait... isn't the 'Incredible' tag borrowed by India already? ;)

    But yes, the sirens are uneccessary... probably the Swedes suffer from a nasty case of the paranoia. As for the free education... that's the stuff dreams are made of...(we do have a semblance of that in India - school education is free for girls in Maharashtra... but the benefits all turns out to be naught since you pay so much on books, tuition fees and all!)

    Social security will be a humungous task to implement here in India... the logistics will be massive, unlike Sweden... but that doesn't mean we don't need it!

  8. @Avanti: What's interesting to note is that Swedes take these major blessings as a matter-of-fact. I don't think they're on an average happier than us. Just more comfortable.


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