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.