Monday, August 27, 2007

About Sweden

Sweden is very . . . wholesome. There’s nothing wrong with that; for the most part it’s really very sweet. People ride bikes everywhere. Their favorite thing to do in the late summer is pick berries or mushrooms and you see them heading off into the woods with large buckets as you drive down the road. They eat a lot of fiber for breakfast, and are evidently in bed at a reasonable hour—at least, all the restaurants, even the posh ones, close by 9:00pm*. The beds are invariably super comfortable, though, so I don’t really blame them for wanting to spend more time there. The beds are comfortable because of something they call the “bed mattress”—a sort of pillowtop that sits on top your mattress. When it stops being pillowy, you can toss it out and get a new one. Ian has some trouble with the whole bed mattress concept because the sheet is a flat sheet that’s just folded around the bed mattress rather than a fitted sheet that’s tucked in, and Ian is a bit of a squirmer in bed, so his sheet comes untucked most nights and he finds himself sleeping directly on the bed mattress, which isn’t quite as comfortable. On top are duvets, usually individual ones even if the mattress is double-wide (which it usually isn’t, but when it is and you have those two duvets? Heaven! Particularly if one of you is a covers stealer, Ian.). In the last hotel we stayed at, in Luleå, the bed mattresses were a full seven centimeters thick, and the duvets were down. Bliss.

We did a lot of driving over the last ten days, and the Swedes’ wholesomeness seems to extend to road etiquette as well. Usually, I tend to consider the speed limit a lower limit when I’m driving. I don’t drive much faster than I’m supposed to (maybe 5 or 7 mph over), but I do drive consistently faster. The Swedes, on the other hand, apparently don’t even aspire to reach the speed limit, let alone surpass it. That would be lawbreaking and therefore unwholesome. There aren’t very many people here in this huge country, so there aren’t a lot of multilane roads, so passing people who are going slower than you isn’t totally easy, although there are a couple tools in place. There are frequent second lanes along major roads like the E-4, so for a lot of your drive, if you’re stuck behind someone who’s hovering around 90 when the limit is 110, you can pass easily in a minute or two. For areas of the E-4 where there aren’t passing lanes for long stretches of road, there’s a different system. The lanes are quite wide, and the line along the shoulder is dotted. When the line in the middle is also dotted (which is most of the time), if you come up behind someone quickly, they move to the side—i.e. driving half in the lane and half on the shoulder, and you move to the middle—i.e. driving half in the lane and half in the oncoming lane—and around them. Oncoming traffic knows the drill, so it moves over to be partially on the shoulder if necessary.

In theory.

What actually happens is that people don’t pay attention to anyone behind them, so they don’t move over onto the capacious shoulder, and instead frequently hug the center line (although not with the kind of consistency that would make you feel safe passing on the right, although you do have room to do so), thus mostly obscuring your view to oncoming traffic. Eventually you have to pass anyway because you’re going crazy hovering behind this undoubtedly very sweet person who is steadfastly refusing to get within 12 kph of the limit, so you rush out onto the other side of the road and hope that oncoming traffic, if there is any, sees you barreling down and moves over to the side as expected.

In the event, we made it here to Stockholm safely, and dropped off the car at the airport with no trouble whatsoever.

We all seem to be alive and well still. Shockingly, no ill effects from the surströmming.

*Note: not in Stockholm, which is a vibrant big city like other vibrant big cities.

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