Monday, September 24, 2012

39) Wise Planning

ust prior to Independence Day, I  returned from one of my visits to Sverige - Sweden, as the Svenskas (Swedes) know it.

            Stockholm was wound up with the most rain they'd had in 100 years, however, thanks to the clouds, I often got to sleep in darkness.  The enthralling Eurocup had captured the nation (although Sweden has never actually been conquered, in part due to the cliffs surrounding the waterways into the city), the Olympic trials were on TV, and Midsommar, their solstice celebration, was starting, which meant a holiday weekend, summer vacations, closed shops, and, like Manhattan, the city became a relative ghost town, as people fled to the archipelago.  They celebrate it similarly to our Independence Day, with traditional, food, drink, snaps (schnapps), special flowers, traditional costumes, song, and a dance or two around the Maypole, all of which is just an amazing, fun experience.

            Sweden recently put out a postage stamp commemorating their 1,000 anniversary.  As compared to New York City, Stockholm is much older and the apartments smaller.  Therefore, they must use space better.

            Stockholm is a very easy city in which to live.  Everyone speaks the Queen's English terribly well, and knows almost all American idioms due to film, TV, music, and clothing.  Although it's every bit as much a walking city as New York, there is terrific infrastructure from subways to buses, taxis, commuter trains, airport trains & buses, highways, bicycles, and telecommunications.  Never have I had better cell phone reception, which leads my clients to disbelief when I tell them I'm standing on the back deck of a friend's in Stocksund - their 'Westchester' suburb.  And with the web, I have Skype, e-mail, NY1, and WQXR, 'The Classical Music Station of NYC'.

            Stockholm is beautiful, old, and modern, with a few extra boroughs than New York City.  They have much culture from restaurants, concerts, museums, movies, clubs, to ice bars for the tourists.  The waterside cliffs have prevented them from ever having been conquered.  They are basically surrounded by water, and one in three Stockholmers has a boat.  Like true Vikings, they take to the 'sweet' (fresh vs. salt) archipelago water at every opportunity.  However, instead of antiquated sonar, they watch the rocky bottom depths with GPS, and meet at rocks or islands determined by GPS coordinates. 

            The people of Stockholm are as international, and sophisticated as anyone.  They are stylish, worldlier than Americans, older & wise.  Their people are good citizens.  They pay high taxes but have access to health coverage, unemployment benefits, and retirement benefits.  This makes divorce less of an issue - if they bother to marry.  They believe you should work even if you're unemployed, and collecting.  Rich are moving back, to 'give back' having previously left to protect their wealth from taxation.

            They tend to travel, be fit, and enjoy taking care of their bodies with a sauna (pronounced ‘sowna’), and/or steam, hot & cold bathes, and massage.

            Swedes are technophiles, always on the leading edge of adopting, if not creating technology; much market testing is done there.

            Sweden has planned magnificently for everything from dishwashers, to toilets with  two-sided handles (for low water volume in case you've only urinated), to heated towel racks, triple-paned windows (to save energy), elevators up the middle of old building stairwells (with seats!), to outdoor neighborhood recycling bins (with low level slots for the handicapped), to overnight street cleaning (with NYC-style vehicular sweepers on the sidewalks!), to fitness facility showers that turn off after a predetermined number of seconds (to save water), to level sidewalk cafes on steep hills, to buses with wide rear doors at curb level that allow baby strollers free access & free rides, to charging you for bags at the supermarket (to promote environmental temperance),  to handing you a personal credit card swipe machine (for security), requiring only a PIN (vs digital signature) when making retail & restaurant purchases, to the ability to pay individuals directly, electronically.

            I would argue that the US is not the world leader in technology and planning.

            People don't block the doors on the subways or vandalize the drink & candy machines on the platforms.  Meal portions are smaller.  They are an involved and aware member of the world community, enjoying a much larger middle class, health insurance, and retirement benefits in spite of higher tax rates than in the US.  They are proud, good citizens who exercise their societal responsibilities.  Millionaires, who once left the country to protect their wealth from taxes, are returning to enjoy the quality of life, and 'give back'.

            They are a hearty, smart, good-looking people with a strong work ethic, and great sense of humor.

            Granted, they've had hundreds of more years to evolve than Americans, but we tend to be ethnocentric, and want everything big, and now.  Many of our citizens rape the system, and leave the country.

            Although we, and the whole world, identify with the 'American Dream, we are not necessarily as good neighbors as we could be.  We are not aware of how our older brothers and sisters live, nor do we learn from them as fast as we could.

            We are so caught up in our individual rat races that we don't stop to smell the roses and dance around the Maypole.

            Don't get me wrong, Auntie Em, there’s no place like home; I like living in the USA, especially the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  I enjoy our freedoms, and hopes, and being near family, familiarity, and the ‘crossroads of the world’.

            But I also recognize that our time as the world leader may be beginning to wane, just as it has for so many other kingdoms, and empires, and that there are great things, people, and places outside the US from whom we can learn, and befriend.

            We may have adopted policies of policing the world that we must follow through on, and we may have been imperialistic or bullies, like any adolescents, but we can grow, and our neighbors can help.  In the meantime, like older siblings, they wait for us to mature to a point where we can be better listeners, family members, and world citizens.

            In the meantime, with balance, they celebrate their pasts, enjoy their presents, and responsibly plan their futures.

            Do you?


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