Katherine Butler: Enchanted by the Swedish dream

Stockholm Notebook

Share
Related Topics

A Chinese journalist tells me there are people in her country who go to Ikea, not to buy anything, but as a leisure activity. Surrounded by blond wood bookcases, they stretch out and go to sleep on the stylish couches, or imagine themselves magically transplanted from their lives of toil in the factories of the Pearl River Delta on to the stage set of a perfectly designed make-believe Swedish home. After just a few days in the Swedish capital, I knew the feeling. Of course Stockholm is expensive: a glass of wine costs nearly £10 – but that aside, I kept imagining how immeasurably better life would be if our cities were more like the Swedish capital and our politics run by Swedes, in other words, if we all lived the Swedish dream.

The Chinese woman and I were among journalists, academics, economists, experts, politicians, and lobbyists from all over the world who had travelled to the Scandinavian city for an EU sponsored conference on poverty and democracy. Chi-Yuk Choi had recently risked her life to report on an appalling trade in corpses in rural China. Others had powerful witness accounts of police brutality in the favelas of Rio or the torture of albino children in Tanzania. One reporter from Ghana had to cover his face in case he would be recognised at home and bumped off for courageously exposing yet another shocking tale of human exploitation, prostitution and misery.

It seemed almost cruel to stage such an event in a paradise so civilised most people have a boat for their endlessly long, paid summer holidays. The Djurgarden, an island in the centre of Stockholm, was filled with fathers on year-long parental leave pushing buggies of happy children. True, the Swedish days are short, but everyone lights candles, casting a soothing glow over their dream homes and stylish bars or cafes.

Saintly guidance

It was a climatic shock to travel to Scandinavia directly from eastern Sicily, parts of which until November still enjoy warm temperatures and are thus overrun by cruise-ship American-Italians in sneakers and Bermuda shorts, visiting the many Roman and Greek ruins or clogging the narrow streets en masse shouting "Hey Marleen, look at these Godfather T shirts!". Syracuse, with its wealth of ancient heritage, is big enough to retain its authenticity despite the influx. But then, the city's patron is Saint Lucia, a martyr who is widely venerated each winter with candle-lit processions – in Sweden.

A criminal reality check

On our last night in Stockholm, the illusion of perfection was reassuringly shattered. The crime rates are hardly worthy of the Cosa Nostra, but Johann (from Johannesburg) had his laptop bag stolen from under his nose in the lobby of our achingly hip design hotel.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour leader Ed Miliband unveils Labour's pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings  

Election 2015: Smash two-party system! Smash the voting system!

Armando Iannucci
Tactical voting is a necessary evil of the current first-past-the-post system, where voters vote against what they do not want rather than in favour of what they do  

Election 2015: Voting tactically has become more fraught in the new political order

Michael Ashcroft
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power