Monday, September 11, 2006

Jag är en Amerikansk och “en Svensk!”

(Translation: I am an American and "a Swede!")

Sometimes, when you meet certain people, you feel an instant connection. You might be drawn to them because of their interests, their appearance, their warmth, their personality or just because they have an inviting manner. But is it possible to feel that comfortable, not only with another person or group, but with the people of an entire country?

For me, it is ... with the people of Sweden.

I've felt a sense of connectedness with Swedes from the time I first visited the country many years ago under the auspices of AIESEC (pronounced "eye-sek"), the Association for International Exchange of Students in Economics and Commerce. AIESEC enabled me, while I was still in university, to work as an economics intern for a large shipbuilding company in Gothenburg.

I will never forget the fantastic international business experience I got as well as the hospitality and generosity of my colleagues. It led to the development of many friendships and, in later years, key corporate clients. It motivated me to want to return to Sweden, and I look forward to every trip. Further, my love for the country led me to study the language to honor the Swedish culture and sensibility.

What are the traits that I admire in Swedes? They are reserved, honest, understated, direct and generally trustworthy. Sweden is known for its beautiful women, but I would say that they are a beautiful people. They are health conscious -- their cuisine is healthy and exercise is part of the regimen. Swedes get things done without making a lot of noise.

While it takes a while for them to become your good friends, friendships once formed are long-lasting. One Swede once said to me: "Swedes are like a bottle of ketchup. You shake them and shake them, and nothing comes, and then all of a sudden everything comes."

Despite all these wonderful qualities, the Swedish psyche also confronts challenges. For example, at a very young age, Swedes learn about the "Jante law," a kind of universal cultural code that says that no Swede is better than any other Swede. Some Swedes believe this value system stifles success and limits development of the self-esteem needed for success. One of my Swedish friends said to me: "Swedes understand how to experience the good life, but they are too risk-averse to ever experience the great life, as many Americans do." Taxes are hefty, and it is hard to become rich. Nevertheless, Sweden continues to produce leaders in business and creativity and remains a commercial focal point in Scandinavia.

Several years ago, I became a member of the board of the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce, which is dedicated to boosting trade between the two countries. A few weeks ago, I was in Lidköping, Sweden's fifth largest city, for a board meeting and then went on to Stockholm where I met with various major companies potentially in need of public relations services. I enjoy working hard to promote commerce and goodwill between the United States and Sweden, and continue to seek ways to build bridges.

Student experiences, such as the AIESEC summer program, can have a lifelong impact -- which is why I believe international exchange is so important. As our world shrinks, these kinds of opportunities need to grow.

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6 Comments:

Blogger markrose said...

Thank you Ken for those eloquent thoughts. It must be nice to have that strong connection with another country and to develop that relationship throughout your life. I spent four months in Denmark when I was committed to being an expatriate writer and I had a difficult time. Although the Danes fancy themselves liberal and open, I found them to be, by and large, cool and distant. And they were especially unforgiving of Americans - you know the story, we are all bent on a money gobbling power trip to control the world through military might and tacky culture. That was over 20 years ago and perhaps things have changed but I am sure that the Iraq war cements their prejudices. Although we think of Denmark as Scandanavia, geographically lumped with Sweden, Danes prefer to be thought of as Europeans. I only made it to Sweden briefly but your post gives me a new perspective on that part of the world. Thank you.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006 9:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Daniel Jonasson said...

Jag är bara svensk!

I love Sweden. Infact, so much that I decided to get born and raised here. The points you tell about how swedes is, is mostly correct. And thats what I love with my country. I even love the hefty taxes. I believe in mankinds equal rights, and that every man or women should have the right to the same treatment when it comes to everything. School, healthcare, income, work hours and more. Although Sweden is slowly passing over to the right wing side of the political scale, it's probably still considered a left-winged country by many. We have elections coming up this weekend and with no real leftist alternative we will probably get closer with the US. That is, selling more weapons - only so the US can invade even more countries. The weapons-export to a country occupying another (USA-Iraq), is forbidden in Swedish law. Well, nobody fucking cares. Ok, now that I've written reviewed my comment, maybe I don't like Sweden at all. But never the less I can't think of any other country that I rather would have been raised! Leve Sverige! Upp till kamp för ett bättre samhälle! Rösta på f.d. KPML(r)!

Friday, September 15, 2006 4:13:00 PM  
Blogger Ken Makovsky said...

Mark,

I appreciate your very nice comments. How are things going for you?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006 10:23:00 AM  
Blogger Ken Makovsky said...

Daniel,

Everything has its pluses and minuses. To me, Sweden -- everything considered -- is a rather remarkable place.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006 10:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Leslie said...

Dear Ken,

I was happy to read some posivtive comments about the Swedes from an American. I'm a native Southern Californian and also a lawyer as I note you have a J.D. The reason I have been reading up on Sweden and various people's reactions to their nature is that I am dating a Swedish man who is currently working here for an international company, ABB. I have had a very difficult time understanding his reserved and often rigid-like Swedish nature, being an outgoing Californian. I look Swedish, but it seems to me I couldn't be farther apart in personality from those people. I smile at strangers and enjoy meeting them. I'm usually never on time, and I like being emotional with people. Everything I've read about Sweden, including the high prices of food and drink and awful winters of darkness, makes me never want to go there, at least being me. Primarily because I know I will be very lonely amoung those type of people. In fact, I've read that the minute I'm late, I will be dumped by any potential friend. So I gather I won't be able to make friends there, timeliness being so important. Maybe because they take so much time to open their hearts, they make up for the time loss by emphasizing timeliness in other areas of life. I am the opposite. I am also honest, (yes even though I practice law,) and am very direct. I find the Swedes I've met here are not always so direct with me. But I now attribute this to their thought process and language expressions which are so different from mine. They may be direct, but often it flies right by me. I have had so many misunderstandings with my boyfriend's alleged directness because of how he phrases things in English. I have never had this problem with other nationalities including Finns. Now when I'm not sure what he means, I engage him in explanations to make sure I understand his meaning. And that but has saved many misunderstandings and hurt feelings. I know I'm complaining too much. Of course, there are good qualities that I see in him, and I care deeply for him. But this has been a difficult relationship for me and I can't imagine dealing with a whole country of these types. I think could never live in Sweden and be remotely happy. And unfortunately, he will return there one day. I am toying around with at least visiting since I have learned some Swedish. But most Americans blogs that I have read state that they are uncomfortable around the natives there. I'm glad to read your positivity. Perhaps, I'm wrong in my assessment of the place.

Thanks for letting me voice my feelings to you.

Leslie

Friday, December 01, 2006 3:39:00 PM  
Blogger Ken Makovsky said...

Interesting reading your point of view. Swedes are made up of many types of people. Many are as friendly as Americans, though a bit reserved. Best not to generalize. My experiences are mostly positive.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006 10:11:00 AM  

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