Eugene Weekly : News : 10.09.08

Socialism, sex and smorgasbord in Sweden
by Mark Arellano

“University” started an ent-ire month ago, and my new classmates here in Scandinavia still laugh at me for calling it “school.” Instead of kicking off another fall term at the UO, I decided to trade that in for a fall semester at Uppsala University in eastern Sweden, 40 minutes north of Stockholm. Founded in 1477, it’s the oldest and most prestigious university in Scandinavia. But that’s not the only reason I came. I chose Uppsala because of the offbeat choice of destination, to continue my study of the Swedish language and the gorgeous people. This is a land where socialism runs free and sex isn’t a naughty topic. 

Students walking to Uppsala University

There are many misconceptions about Scandinavia that ought to be corrected. First off, there aren’t any polar bears in town, and Switzerland is not the same place as Sweden. The people aren’t frigidly cold (though the winters are). Swedes are more, well, lukewarm, and it isn’t until you get them into bed that they start to warm up. In general, Swedes value their personal space immensely and don’t like to be touched by strangers and mere acquaintances. Despite this, the Swedes are very accommodating and friendly people — once they get to know you. 

Upon arrival in the not-so-frigid north, I discovered that the city of Uppsala bears startling similarities with Eugene as an eco-friendly and progressively liberal university town. Both cities boast strong student populations, an expansive bicycle trail system, a focus on conserving natural resources and an open-minded and liberal population. But that’s only on the surface. The ideals and concepts behind the Swedish society are quite different and might even scare some Americans, young and old alike.

Students in Uppsala, like the ones at the UO, do enjoy partying. It’s hard not to hear about parties thrown every night of the week. It’s almost compulsory to visit the government-owned Systembolaget to buy the higher concentrations of alcohol that can’t be bought in the normal grocery store. Floor de Jager, an exchange student from the Netherlands, told me, “I feel like a junkie when going to Systembolaget. It’s nothing or all for the Swedes.” Although it’s rather expensive to buy booze in Sweden, it’s well worth it. 

Alcohol is an appreciated and indelible part of Swedish culture. Swedes say, “In other countries, people drink when they’re happy. In Sweden, people drink to get happy.” Whether or not it’s because of this melancholy outlook on life, the Swedes love to drink, and they do like their expensive, government-purchased alcohol very much. It’s not unusual to drink well into the night with the Swedes, university students included. I did it for six nights straight! 

Like some American schools, Swedish universities are known for their parties. There is a student living area called Flogsta that is notorious for its wild corridor (hall) parties. A mixture of Swedes and international students, the parties at Flogsta defeat American parties by far: A corridor party will have people actually dancing to the latest music, massive alcohol consumption, the occasional television set thrown out of the window of the seventh story balcony and the nightly tradition called “the Flogsta scream.” At 10 sharp, students scream at the top of their lungs. Then they promptly go back to drinking.  

Although Swedes enjoy their alcohol and are quite open about it, there is a sharp difference in their attitudes towards drugs, especially marijuana. For the most part, the consumption of marijuana is frowned upon deeply in Sweden. There is no “4:20.” Try making a joke about getting stoned out of your mind, and American laughs will be
met by Swedish frowns of disapproval. Drug culture is not embraced by the Swedes at all.  “It’s a taboo subject. It isn’t anything we talk about, not even with our friends. It’s not an accepted thing to do,” said Sara Abramowicz, an Uppsala student who spent last year at the UO. 

Something that Swedes do embrace with enthusiasm is socialism. Health care for all citizens, monthly stipends for university students and paid vacations from work are all included in the welfare state. It’s comprised of compromise and a sense of belonging where everyone’s equal.

Along with the socialist ideals of sharing and caring come the sexual attitudes of the Swedes. They may be slow to get to know new people, but their nonchalant perceptions regarding sex are widely viewed as a part of the country’s overall liberal stance. Swedish student Pia Johansson said, “I don’t like the concept of being called a slut. People should have sex without being labeled.” Sex isn’t regarded as a naughty, taboo subject but as a normal part of everyday Swedish life. And with an average temperature in the winter of about 23 degrees, I’m going to need to do something to keep warm when I’m not studying.

Mark Arellano is a UO journalism student, a former EW intern and a fluent speaker of Swedish.



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