Visiting Sweden 50 years later, I found it to be greener, more multi-cultural and socialist and WAY more expensive.
My parents lived in Sweden in the mid 1960’s. As a visiting college freshman, I remember cheap trains, youth hostels, and pretty blond girls in skirts on bikes. I also remember telling friends back home in school about seeing “forbidden” films, like “I Am Curious Yellow”–which was banned in America.
Visiting Stockholm in June 2011 for the International conference on Oriental Carpets (ICOC), my first impressions were that the city looked much the same. Then the differences began to register. First, we noticed that “I Am Curious Yellow” was now playing on prime-time TV. Next, we noticed that there is no Passport Control at the airport. You just walked from the plane to Baggage Claim and onto the street.
Prices had soared, and the fast train into town, taxis and hotels were pretty costly. Being in the EU (but not the EURO currency zone) had enabled the economy to prosper. Having appropriately regulated their banks, the Swedes had been quite well insulated from global economic problems.
Sweden is on the cutting edge of “Green Energy” with huge wind, solar and tidal energy programs sponsored by government/private cooperative programs. Stockholm, named the first Green Capital in 2010, plans to be fossil-fuel-free by 2050.
And now there are the bikes, the BIKES!
The numbers now are huge…there are thousands, tens of thousands of them, in commuter lots at train stations and hundreds of bike lots around town. These are not fancy new mountain bikes or 20-speed racing bikes. The vast majority are old-fashioned 3-speed types with skirt protectors and handlebar baskets. Oddly enough, no one seemed to wear bike helmets, then or now. It was odd to see such a modern place with thousands of commuters riding bare-headed on old-fashioned bikes.
Fifty years of multi-culturalism has changed the mix of people you see on the street. There are lots more dark-haired, dark-skinned immigrants of all kinds. Famous Swedes include the chef Markus Samuelsson, an Ethiopian adopted at an early age by a Swedish couple…and now cooks on New York television!
Sweden remains on the forefront of social engineering. A Swedish friend described his business meetings where everyone scrupulously avoids deference to seniority and decisions are always made by consensus of the entire group. He also pointed out that the Swedish military and police do not wear visible markings of rank on their tunic.