I’ve been away from Sweden. Traveling the world if you will. Mostly, just drinking heavily because I was at Oktoberfest. Drinking does not lend itself to writing, and so, I took a self-imposed vacation.
Oktoberfest is, quite simply, ridiculous. It is a living stereotype of excess and debauchery. I saw an Australian chug two liters of beer in approximately 30 seconds and promptly throw up. I saw another man hold a glass filled with a liter of beer by his teeth and chug it in less than 10 seconds. Look mom, no hands! I saw enough men in lederhosen to last me a lifetime. I also saw a Swedish flag. Constantly. And overwhelmingly.
Swedes are not known for their nationalism. At least as long as they are inside the Swedish border. Pride in ones nation is often seen as a negative, something more appropriate for a red neck republican from Georgia than a refined Stockholmer. Of course, the flag days, the blue and yellow that dominated so much of Swedish society, doesn’t count as nationalism. Blue and yellow are just nice colors.
But get Swedes outside of their borders and the pride runs thick. Suddenly, Sweden is the greatest nation. Suddenly, Swedish colors are worn with pride. Suddenly, Swedish flags are waved wildly. I have yet to understand this.
While at Oktoberfest, three Swedes sat down next to me. Not because they knew I was Swedish. I do not exactly scream “Swede” by my appearance. My clothes are just a tad too big. My body type is just a tad too large. I’m just a tad too American.
Often times, Swedes are easy to pick out in a crowd. They immediately made their presence felt by trying to get Australian Joe kicked out. He had made a toast a little too heartily and some beer spilled over the glass. He was drunk and working on his 6th liter of beer by around 2 in the afternoon. The fact that he could even lift his glass was a feat in my opinion. But rules are meant to be followed, and the Swedes clearly didn’t appreciate the overt drunkenness of Australian Joe. Because Oktoberfest is clearly not the place for wanton drunkenness. So the waitress was called and Joe was made to take a walk.
Of course, this didn’t enamor them in the eyes of their fellow tablemates. Neither did the flag. The constant, and obnoxious really, waving of the Swedish flag. At first, I thought maybe they were trying to wave someone else down. One of those corny tourist guide moves where the flag is used to identify the group. Twenty minutes later, despite my somewhat inebriated state, I had ruled this out. For some reason, these men felt compelled to show the Löwenbrau tent that they were Swedish.
This seems to be a common occurrence. Swedes abroad love their country. Swedes in Sweden are slow to praise it. I’ve seen it before. I’ve seen it with Swedes in the US. I’ve seen it with Swedes in the UK. And now I’ve seen it with Swedes in Germany.
I like pride in ones nation. I think, to an extent, it is a good thing. It builds a sense of community and gives citizens something to belong to. Something to work for. Something to serve. There’s nothing wrong with some pride as long as it comes with a healthy dose of realism.
I suppose it is because of this that I struggle with the Swedish pride. It is obviously there. I’ve lived here long enough and seen too much of it not to recognize that Swedes like Sweden. Even think it is a wonderful place to be, especially in comparison to other countries. As they should. But why it is not displayed in Sweden escapes me.
Maybe they feel so confident in their country that when inside the borders there is just no need to make a display of their pride. Or maybe Swedes have a horrible inferiority complex and need to demonstrate their nationalism to others while abroad. Or maybe they were just drunk. Either way, I’d like to see more Swedish flag stickers on the back of Saabs.
Welcome to Oktoberfest. And Swedes abroad.
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