Greetings from Sweden! President Obama’s visit in Sweden has raised some strong emotions among Swedes, both positive and negative. Some of the streets of Stockholm were closed off today, but a friend of mine said it was actually nice “I took the boat to work instead”. Most Swedes just spent the day glued to their TVs witnessing President Obama’s visit on live TV. I personally heard Obama singing “Get Lucky” about seven times on Swedish radio today. The evening is still young in Sweden, as I type this, so no report on how Obama’s night in Sweden actually goes.
Yesterday I posted 5 things Obama should bring to Sweden, and today I am continuing with 5 things I think Obama could take back home to the US with him.
1. Fika Pause and Cinnamon Buns
Fika is a Swedish coffee break, it’s not just about learning to enjoy coffee like the Europeans do, but it’s an institution. It’s a coffee break when you stop working and you connect with your co-workers, friends and family. You need two coffee breaks a day, and by law each employer has to give those for employees. For the military and government personnel in Sweden the breaks are not just free time, but the coffee itself also is on the house. If coffee isn’t your thing, no problem, you can fika with tea, or any other beverage. Fika would give everyone a break from working and ultimately add to happiness and productivity.
Eleven o’clock fika break wouldn’t be the same without some cinnamon buns, and the Scandinavian kanelbulle isn’t anything like the sticky buns you may have tasted back home in the US. These cinnamon buns are the perfectly sweet, but not as fattening and bad for you as doughnuts.
2. Taking care of families & children
Obama might have seen today that most often it’s the dads pushing the strollers in the streets of Sweden’s capital. The equal rights movement and feminism are raging in Sweden. The women are as likely or sometimes even more likely to have careers than men are, and at the same time, the country has an amazing system for supporting families and especially women in their choices to balance family and work.
Mothers get 16 months paid leave per child, out of she can give 2 months for the dad as paternal leave. For each child the government pays you around $158 per month until the kids are 16 years old, assuring you will have means to take care of your child. Health care is free for the entire family, and dental (including surgeries and braces) and free for children under 18. Education is free, and every child gets a free hot meal as a school lunch every day. Even higher education is free, and not just that: you can apply to get free student aid for the time you study to cover your living expenses.
There is a lot about for Obama to learn from the Swedes how the government can support families and maybe he could bring some of these ideas back home.
3. Green energy
I am not a green energy expert, but let’s just look at an example of green energy from my very local aspect from the town where I live in Sweden, in Linköping.
We have excellent public transportation system using 100% biogas produced from food waste. Yes, we put all food waste in separate green bags, collected on normal trash days, and the trash is turned into biogas (oh and even the by-product is used as a fertilizer and not wasted). The buses in town are not the only ones using the biogas. Local waste-to-energy company Tekniska Verken collects the household waste and only 5% of it goes to landfills, some of it is recycled, and large part of it is used to create energy, and some of the energy is used to heat the hot water used in households. The hot water pipes go under ground, and in some parts of the downtown area and at the airports so close to the surface that the warmth helps to melt the snow during winters making snow removal easier or not necessary. The hot water is also used to heat many of the homes in our town via hot water radiators. The saying “from trash to treasure” gets a whole new meaning in Sweden.
The share of renewable energy in Sweden was 48 % in 2012 compared to 13.2% in the US. I know Obama heard some of the great innovations today, but my wish is that he will bring some of those back home to the USA as well.
4. Common sense education
Yes, it’s Finland that scores as the “best education in the world,” but their neighbor Sweden doesn’t do too bad either. What I love about the education here is the “common sense” and emphasis as much for the life skills than for academics in the lower grades. I admit, everything I know about the green energy in our town I actually learned from my 10-year-old – he went to see the energy plant on a school trip. Learning in Sweden is very hands-on and by real life examples. Field trips are very common, and it is common to have a local expert to teach about a specific subject alongside the teacher. One day my daughter came home with a handmade chair from the woodworking class, next month she made pillows on sewing classes. All of our three children also learn to speak Swedish in a less than a year and are going to fully Swedish speaking school, thanks to excellent Swedish as a second language-programs. It was the hardest for our oldest one to learn to speak Swedish though – most children can speak English by the time they are eleven years old. Two of my children are currently also studying German, in Swedish.
I think Obama could learn a lot from the Swedish education system and how children are not just taught to memorize information and score in tests, but they are taught to excel in global economy and think outside the box. The Swedish are not taught to be followers, they are taught to question everything, and come up with better solutions.
5. Raise taxes and improve social benefits for all
Yes, I am completely serious. Swedes may curse the high taxes and some pay almost as high as 50% counted together for income tax and the social security contributions, but nobody would want to trade away the benefits. Obama should take a look at the Nordic model of taxation and social benefits. Tax payers money doesn’t just go for free coffee breaks, but for modern infrastructure that makes a country where everything functions and everyone is taken care of. From trash to energy, long vacations and happy families, time to take coffee breaks everyday, somehow the Swedes just manage to be happy even with higher taxes and higher gas price (I just paid around $150 for a tank of gas). And even after all of this, most people can still afford to pay $150 per a pair of Converse shoes, the must have shoes at the moment.
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