So here's the thing: Sweden is pretty much amazing. We're on Day 4 of the trip and I'm sold. The people are wonderful, the weather is perfect, the natural resources impeccable. We've spent days traveling, touring and spending time with our new international colleagues in the Young Leaders Boot Camp and Master Class in the city of Stockholm. Yesterday, we traveled to a hotel in the countryside for the Congress portion of the trip. I have been, in a word, amazed at every turn.
Now, a few observations:
1. Sweden is a nation of exquisitely tasteful people. The clothing is stylish and modest and absolutely lovely. We've spent a lot of time walking the streets of Stockholm between our hotel and the University where the boot camp was held. We've observed. You don't see a Swede in, say, cheetah print hot pants.
2. City architecture is ornate and refined on the outside. Beautiful colors all blend together. No one seems to paint a building an ugly color. Is this a code? Or would it never occur to a Swede to paint a building purple? I lean toward the latter.
3. Inside, efficiency is the name of the game. And by efficient, I mean small. My roommate Christy and I laughed that if we weren't friends before, we are now! It's small, clean, modern and sleek. Sort of like you're living in an IKEA catalog.
4. Swedish time. It's real and it's exacting. Our Swedish organizers pepper their directions to us with phrases like, "no photographs!" and "time to go!" Swedish time waits for no man. Though apparently African time works as a polar opposite, and occasionally we did wait for African men. But it all worked out in the end!
5. Children and dogs are everywhere in the city. Strollers are prolific, and even the stairs in the subway are equipped with ramps for strollers. It's genius really.
6. Swedes really are beautiful. Really.
7. Here's some irony: Sweden is all about clean streets, meticulous streetscapes, prolific recycling bins, sustainable living and green, green, green. But there are cigarette butts everywhere. People smoke like crazy here. I'm told it's a European thing but I don't have a frame of reference for that.
8. On that note, people are quite health conscious here. They bike to work, they walk everywhere, they wear sensible shoes, they have showers at work, and quite frankly, I haven't seen an overweight Swede yet. The irony: they smoke like chimneys.
9. My 7-year-old asked if the food was different here. Yes. Yes, it is. It's very good, but it's heavy on the herring and the hard bread – or what we would call a big cracker. We've been Skyping and I wish you could have seen his face when I described pickled herring. We have had some tasty beef, but I get the feeling real Swedes would rather have herring. Or pickled herring.
10. And the weather! I can't believe I made it to #10 as a farmer without yet mentioning the weather, but my word, the weather! It's like a beautiful early October day here, every day. Highs in the upper 60s to lower 70s, lows in the 50s at night. The very knowledge that I was coming here is exactly what got me through weeks on end of 100-plus temps this summer. I understand it's lovely at home right now, but if it turns off hot again? I may not make it. (A disclaimer: I'm told it's only like this for 2 months of the year, and during the winter, it's only daylight from 10 a.m to 4 p.m.)
11. I know, I said 10, but I thought of one more! Sweden has a policy that goes something like, "every Swede has the right to be in nature." Which is to say, they have a beautiful country, they take care of it, and they take pains to enjoy it. Like right now, I'm sitting in a conference room that has a giant wall of windows overlooking a beautiful lake and forest, right behind the speakers. In the U.S., you know if you went to a conference, you'd be sequestered far from sunlight for hours on end. Not the Swedes. I don't know about an actual national law, but I like thinking about how to enjoy the world around you a little bit more.
In short? Rock on, Sweden.
Follow previous posts on my Swedish adventure here: