Sunday, December 10, 2006
"Barn" and Strollers
In preparation for my experience here, one of my cultural guidebooks stated plainly that in Sweden "children are sacred." Believing that children are sacred everywhere, I was unsure what to make of this declaration. I soon discovered what this meant.
Whether you're in Linköping, Stockholm, Uppsala, Tranås or any other place in Sweden, children ("barn" in Swedish) are more present and involved publicly than in the States. There are two reasons for this and they are inter-related. First, as a society, Sweden is prepared for the presence of children in more places. Almost all public places are accessible to strollers and welcome the excitement that children bring. Second, and this will make all American mothers wince with "what ifs," the new Swedish mother receives 18 paid months off to care for her newborn and infant child (compared to just four months in the States). This eliminates the need for newborn day care and brings me to the other part of this week's observation of Swedish culture...
...strollers. The phenomenon of strollers in Sweden cannot be understated. To a Swede, "strollers" will seem like a mundane and matter-of-fact topic for a blog entry, but that's just the point. Public places filled with strollers during every season of the year is like air, food, water and "fika" to a Swede. It's always been and always will be, so normal it goes unnoticed. Someone in Södermalm (south Stockholm) even created an icon to this phenonmenon as seen above. When I saw this statue of mother and stroller, I knew a blog entry was not far off. And these strollers come in all shapes and sizes, often including luxuries that cause strollers to be locked up when not in use. When you come to Sweden and walk around her beautiful cities, make sure to look both ways when you cross the street. If not, you may very well be run over by a bike or a stroller (cars are the least of your worries!).
Because the Swedish mother is off for 18 months, mother and child are together all day long, in private, in public and everywhere. The 18 months law gives mothers freedom from work, which leads to children-in-strollers-with-mothers everywhere you go, which only reinforces the "children are sacred" Swedish cultural truism. Not a bad way to run a society, quite frankly. I just can't figure out how the birthrate in Sweden remains similar to other developed countries--from walking around this place, it seems the population would be skyrocketing every year.
This Wednesday, Sweden pauses to honor Santa Lucia, Patron Saint of Light. With the daylight being just six hours this time of year (sun rises at 8:30am and sets at around 3pm), Lucia precedes Santa Claus. So next week, we will enter the world of Julbords, Julmarknads, Glögg, Pepparkakor and say "God Jul till alla."