Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Swedish World Perspective

I’m back. I’ve been busy. Well, not really busy. But busier. Spent a lot of time in train stations having missed a few by just a couple of minutes. On one of those waits I wandered into PressByrån and started rifling through the magazines. I really like to read and tend to be drawn to bookstores and magazine racks.

So I snagged up The Economist. Which I actually don’t read but I was feeling adventurous. I flipped through and stumbled upon a short little snippet about the Metro, the free newspaper that I read every morning on the subway and the trouble they were having establishing themselves in the US. It was here that I realized something that bummed me out. And reinforced something about stereotypes. For the most part, they are always based on some grain of truth, how big of a grain is up for debate but there is usually something there.

Metro in the US is thought to be having trouble making a lasting impression for a couple of reasons. One being advertising revenue, the loyalty people have to the newspapers they pay for and other exciting business things. But what caught my eye wasn’t that. It was that Metro tends to focus on international news. And so Americans in New York and Boston didn’t want it.

A free newspaper in Boston was taking a different route and focusing on local news. And doing well. Not the Metro though. Too much international stuff. Bummer. I have, and will continue to, argue that Americans are not nearly as ignorant as they are made out to be. But this wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement.

And this is one thing I like about Sweden. People are well informed about what is going on throughout the world. Let’s face it. The US is big so people usually hear about what is going on there. But Swedes are informed about what is going on the world over.

Although one thing that really drives me nuts is the half truths that people take for gospel about the US. Too much TV, too many movies. Leaves a bit to be desired sometimes.

So I have questions (actually only three). Important ones (kind of at least…). Ones that I have no real answers for (but still have opinions about).

Are Swedes so well informed because they are so small? A country the size of California with only nine million people. There is only so much going on in this country. Leaves a lot of room for international news.

Are Americans less informed because they are so big? Less room for international news.

Does it matter?

Whether it matters or not, people take this sort of news and it fits into the stereotype of the ignorant American. Which just isn’t good. Because not everyone is like this. Just like every Swede isn’t afraid to talk on the subway. Just like every Swede isn’t a feminist. While there is some truth to most stereotypes, they just don’t always fit. And before anyone leaves some comment about taking my own advice and that I’m an arrogant American who doesn’t even see that I am doing the same thing. Shut up. I write in generalizations. I know.

Maybe I have been colored by the people I hang out with, my family, my friends. I am a product of my environment. And my environment always seemed to have a pretty good international perspective. People travelled. A lot. People read. A lot. People went on to all sorts of higher education. And so, I have been surrounded by people who have been anything but ignorant in the face of international happenings.

Maybe it’s just the New Yorkers and the Bostonians who don’t want that international news.

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29 comments:

  1. I think you are on to something. I agree with all of the reason you suggested (size of country, and locale are two major reasons)...in general, my exerpiences tell me that Swedes are more internationally tuned in maybe for a few other reasons as well:
    1. Swedes travel more then the average American. I have no actual data to prove this, but it seems to be the case.
    2. bi-lingual...usually gives you a chance to gain a different perspective on the world
    3. sports? Ok so maybe this is a stretch, but when your countries most important sports (soccer, hockey, skiing, olympic sports) are all "sports of the world" you are forced to keep up with your favorite players in their new and different culture. Zlatan's in italy, half of the nhl is swedish, , Anja Parson is on slopes all over the world, etc.
    Americans ply their trade on our own shores...
    so whats my point? If Tom Brady, Kobe Bryant, and Barry Bonds, were living and playing in other countries dont you think the millions that follow sports obsessively would just by happenstance pick up a few more nuggets of knowledge about that country?
    just a thought.

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  2. Yes, yes and yes. But anyone who has traveled/adventured extensively is more aware and interested in these things. Yet that's a whole different level awareness than someone solely focused on book smarts. But it's late for me, so I might have just mushed more topics in here than originally intended. Sorry! :o)

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  3. Okey, I do agree with you Hairy- but maybe I agree more with Travis. There must be more to it than just size of country, yea?
    Anyway, have you been to New York? They ARE ignorant :)

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  4. No, not all Americans are like that, but you can't change my opinion that most of them are. I've just seen and heard too much of it... Nothing personal.

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  5. @travis - I would probably agree with you about Swedes traveling more. but that's a bit of a dangerous statment. becvause swedes traveling even just a few hours will get them to a different country whereas I can drive for twenty hours in the US and only have gone through 4 states.

    the bilingual I'm with you on. everyone should learn a second language at least.

    sports. I love it. and I think you make a good point actually. it opens up another world that some people never would get involved in. so a soccer fan in italy suddenly knows all kinds of stuff about england just because there's a few soccer players that come from there. I buy it.

    @isle dance - also a good point. those who travel and adventure are probably a little more interested in what is going in throughout the world to start with.

    @lily - fair enough, travis makes some good points. and i have actually never been to New York. so I can't comment on their ignroance. or lack thereof.

    @mrs cecrux - woooo!

    @robban - you're killing me. But I'll take the admission that not all are like that. one step at a time...

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  6. What? Prove me wrong, then. Take me to the next step... I've heard many, many Americans who talked about Borat and thought Kazakstan wasn't even a real country (jus one example). They figured since Borat is made up, so is that funny-sounding country. I've never heard one Swede saying the same thing. Ignorant, stupid, have your pick... Again, not all Americans. I'm sure there's a lot of Americans who are anything but ignorant and stupid but what I'm saying is there are more Americans that fit that stereotype than those who don't.

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  7. come on now Robban. You think there are more Americans who are ignorant, stupid, etc. than those who aren't? That means over 50% of Americans are ignorant and stupid. Hundreds of millions of people.

    You've made some excellent comments on this blog. I've enjoyed discussing your ideas and thoughts. But you can't really believe that over half of the US is stupid and ignorant? That's a bold statement.

    I feel pretty confident in saying just abut everyone I have hung out with in the last 5 years who considers themselves an American knows that Kazakhstan is real.

    I also know that most of the Americans who end up on TV here, like in the talk shows, the late night shows, the crappy American TV that makes it's way across the ocean, are in fact idiots. Unfortunately, that is because they make better TV. People laugh at their dumb answers. At the stupid things they do. The stupid things tey say. It is by no means an accurate representation of the US.

    And for a little anecdote of Swedish ignorance - I actually had a Swede argue with me that there were 52 states in the US. This wasn't your usual, "Oh, I thought there were 52," it was a "No, I know there are 52 states and you, despite having lived there for 17 years, are wrong."

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  8. I'm American....
    AND...drum roll*
    rrrrrrrrrdddddddddddrrrr

    I always knew Kazakstan was a real country.

    Shock shock to the world! I'm not stupid or ignorant.

    Jag kan säga nånting dumm om svenska människor också..MEN...I'll refrain because I know better. I KNOW stereotypes are what they are..stereotypes.

    Shit. How did I, the American girl become so smart? Miracle in Göteborg!

    Sorry Hairy but sometimes I cannot stop the sarcasm. This is aimed towards Robban.

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  9. Robban,

    How many Americans have you spoken with?

    Which TV shows are you watching?

    Do you know how much TV guests are paid to appear stupid?

    (If people - internationally - stop watching said shows, the shows will disappear.)

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  10. lily. I used to live in New York, my son is also born in new york...depends on where you go depends on how dumb they are. doesn't apply to everyone there....but if you 'happen' to run into a few dumbos we all naturally consider them all to be stupid.

    It is more then just the size of the country....but if you dont travel then you dont know..i guess...and i agree with the sports thing....of course if Koby Bryant started playing in Mumbai...everyone will all of a sudden know where that place is even if they didnt before.

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  11. It is a bold statement I'm ready to stand by. I do think there are a lot of Americans who are ignorant or stupid, or both. I can't say if it is more than half... But I think it's probably a span from 40%-60% who are. Just as there probably are 40-60% of the Swedes who are reserved and quiet towards strangers, mostly concentrated in the Norrland and Svealand-areas though...

    Mrs CeCrux, you seem to be missing the point. I have said most of the Americans are stupid, not ALL. I haven't said you can't know that Kazakhstan is a real country if you're an American I just described what I've seen. FYI it wasn't from some crappy American TV-show it was a lot of comments on Youtube.

    I have a work that includes sitting in front of the computer and being on the internet a lot and on the Internet I've seen countless stupid and/or ignorant American comments on blogs (including friends' blogs), youtube etc. I've seen ignorant/stupid American blogs. I've heard and seen countless stupid American statements on TV (I'm not talking about the crappy shows you've talked about in your previous comment, hairy swede, I'm also talking about documentaries, news etc.) If you want another example, google "10 reasons why osama bin laden didn't attack Sweden". I had a friend who've lived in USA as an au pair for a year and he told me about the ignorance. People knew virtually nothing of Sweden, for example, except for the "fact" that ice bears roam the streets of Swedish cities and towns and that all the Swedes are dirty and walk around naked all the time.

    The ignorance that many Americans have, I feel derives from an attitude that anything foreign is more boring/less interesting, crappier etc. than the American counterparts. For an example, foreign films is a movie genre in USA and from what I've heard it's not talked about positively. Another example, if anyone say anything with the slightest critique to anything American you're "anti-American" and of course that is a really, really bad thing, almost the same thing as being the devil... Just watch the Kazakhstan national song-clip from Borat and you got yourself a perfect example of what I'm talking about.

    Look, I'm not looking to offend you, hairy swede, or the Americans reading your blog, but this is what I've read, seen and heard either myself or from friends countless times.

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  12. Robban,

    You might want to stay away from YouTube/the Internet. You can't believe everything you see out there.

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  13. Robban:dip shit
    (How can one possibly say that 40-60% of the american people are studip, based upon the facts of being a fanatic visitor of youtube?)
    Mrs cecrux: what I meant by saying that New Yorkers are ignorant is that, (in general) if you walk through New York city, it is not smiling faces or helping hands that you will meet.

    Because I think you have to be talking in general to be able to have this discussion at all. I mean, when someone says "Swedes are quite and boring people" We KNOW that they do not mean all the 9 millions of us, but the impression they've gotten from the people they've met.
    The same goes with me and New Yorkers.. Or with Italians or French people. I think its fun to categorize- if you can do it with a sense of humor and self-perspective.

    People have to stop being so over reactive and angry.. I mean it's just an opinion, after all.

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  14. don't judge all Americans by TV shows or by internet. That is CRAZY!!
    There are A LOT of us here, not all stupid, not 40 to 60 percent stupid. maybe should go there and check it out instead of judging from internet!!!

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  15. Robban,talk about stupid and ignorant! Whoa!!! You need to do some better research on Americans!
    i agree with Lilly "dip shit"!!

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  16. thanks for clarifying lilly!

    funny you call him a dipshit..lol!!!

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  17. Wow Robban I thought it was the Swedes that were supposed to be the ones with an open mind.
    I'm usually the one defending Sweden but I cant do that with the stance you've taken.
    First of all, your word choice is wrong. When you say "most" Americans are ignorant you are really leaving yourself open for rebuttal...you could say some, many, or hell even a lot....but most is the wrong choice of word.

    If Americans are so ignorant and we are such a stupid country then help me figure out why the United States has won more of your Noble Prizes then any other country???? Robban you can' tell me its our population size because we're supposed to be all stupid!

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  18. I didn't say "all stupid", travis.. You yourself said that I said "most" yet in the end you say I said "all", how is that? Tell me.

    Ok, I know I have no statistics or whatever but as I said I based it not only on countless stupid and/or ignorant comments/blogs/clips but also on what I've heard from a friend of mine who was there a year.

    But the point is it's kind of pointless to debate whether most of the Americans or just a lot of them are stupid and/or ignorant since nobody can prove it. All we can use is experiences, not to prove but, to support what we think of this subject.

    And as I shown experiences of me and friends show that there's a lot of Americans that are stupid/ignorant - so many, in fact, that there could well be most of them. I honestly believe that there's a big chance that more than half of the Americans are stupid/ignorant.

    On the other hand you seem to have had more of experiences of the opposite, judging by your comments.

    That's where we should leave it at, we've apparently had different experiences. If you still feel like discussing, well, you're not winning me over unless you share with me a larger number (larger number than the number of stupid things I've seen...) of smart comments/blogs/persons/documentaries/TV-shows
    /true stories or whatever... Your comments now haven't exactly contradicted me so... Well, you know what I think and I know what you think so there's no point in debating on this subject any further. Bottom line is it's a subject which you can only be subjective about. It's nearly impossible to be objective about it.

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  19. travis my man - I'm leaving this one to you...

    in defense of robban... kind of... he has made a lot of good comments here before. granted I completely disagree with him and can't even beging to fathom how someone could think this... but fine.

    Although I had to comment on this - robban, you say you're basing this on a friend who was there for a year. but have you spent a lot of time in the US yourself? or this all second hand?

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  20. I never said I knew it or said it was a fact but I do think that it could well be over half o the Americans who are stupid/ignorant to different degrees.

    No I haven't been there and I didn't say I based on that, I said I based it on that among other things. So, no it isn't all second hand, int his modern world you don't have to go to USA to hear or see what people there has got to say. On the Internet or the TV you can see a great deal. I've got nothing more to say, really...

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  21. @HairySwede--You're the dumbshit! Did you even look at your comment?!? You said can't even beging to fathom! "beging" isn't even a real word. Man, what an idiot. It's a good thing you're Swedish and not American, because then you would totally prove Robban's point. And I would have to kick your ass. Maybe.

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  22. Yeah, americans are big and swedes are small. I don't understand what relation ignorance have with body fat though ;)

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  23. clearly the Swedes are implying that all fat people are stupid... I kid I kid.

    I don't really understand the stereotype going hand in hand. Or maybe they don't and they just happen to be grouped together.

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  24. I know this is a really old thread and I don´t expect anyone to read this. But I feel I could add some thoughts to this discussion.

    1. Sweden beeing a part of Europe
    The relevance historical parts countries have played may or may not be important. But going back centuries Europe has been the central playground for affairs and politics for us Swedes. Long before the EG (current EU) was formed multilateral dealings were beeing made by the different european countries. In retrospect it might seem that all the europeans were doing was fighting, but at every given point in history treaties and pacts were in action. The countries of Europe were all depending on the aide and trade of other neighburing countries. Germany with a huge population (compared to Sweden that is) has got news magazines and tv-shows that really emphazises on foreign affairs. I could go on explaining my point but since no one will read this I'll stop here.

    2. Americas role in world politics
    In a lot of the dealings in the political world the USA playes a big part. Domestic policy in the US gets covered all over the world. The size of the country is of little relevance. Chinese big newspapers cover foreign politics excellently (despite what many people think). Blablabla. You get the point.

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  25. you bring up some excellent points.

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  26. "Are Swedes so well informed because they are so small? A country the size of California with only nine million people. There is only so much going on in this country. Leaves a lot of room for international news.

    Are Americans less informed because they are so big? Less room for international news."

    Yes, of course. Make your home town a country, and I promise you that you will know extremely much about "other countries". If you instead were to view Sweden as a "state" in the "country" called "The European Union", then Swedes would all of a sudden know a great deal less about "other countries".

    OK, Sweden has a relatively small population, but there are MANY countries with smaller populations. Just looking at Europe, the following countries have a smaller population: Norway, Finland, Denmark, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Moldova, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Albania, Andorra, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus, Macedonia, Montenegro, San Marino, Slovenia, Austria, Liechtenstein, and Monaco. Sweden's population is more than 30 times as large as that of Island (or almost 300 times that of Liechtenstein or Monaco). Of course for an American, 9.3 million is nothing, but just so you keep things in perspective here. Of the world's almost 200 countries, Sweden is the world's 22:nd largest economy so I wouldn't exactly write us off as insignificant. That would be an American or other very large country perspective.

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  27. I suppose that is usually what it comes down to. A matter of perspective.

    But your point about the EU was really hammered home to me recently during the EU parliamentary elections. All of a sudden, I was hearing the same thing out of Sweden that I used to hear in the US. The parliament just seems to far away. They dont really do anything. They play no role in how I live my life.

    I disagree in the US and I disagree here. But it did really show just what you said.

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