18 August, 2016 — Espresso House Lund C, Sweden

by Shaun Terry

I left the cafe to go check out the campus. It was one of those universities with fractures of campus strewn about town, but the architecture was old, and the landscape was green, even if the sky was grey. I walked about the Student Union, trying to find someone to talk to about doing grad work in this town, but relevant parties were absent, so I trekked back the couple hundred meters through a mild drizzle to retake my couch.

As I came down the spiral staircase, I saw an older man sitting in my seat, my things neatly displaced. But as I neared the couch, I couldn’t find the book I’d been reading. He peeked up at me, “Oh, are you looking for this?” He’d been taking in my copy of The Almost Nearly Perfect People, a contemporary book about Nordic cultures.

“Oh, yeah; thanks.” My level of irritation was going from naught to something just Nord of mild.

“Sorry about that,” he claimed.

“No, it’s okay,” I replied. His apology quickly dismantled my sudden mood. “Did you enjoy what you read?”

“Very much; yes. Thank you.”

I grabbed for my things before he started, “I’m not taking your place, am I?”

I waved my arm around the room like a game show host presenter, only without the commercially preferred female proportions and slinky dress, as I graciously pointed out, “There are plenty of other couches. Thanks.”

We smiled at each other, as I walked a few feet to the welcomed isolation of the couch on the adjacent wall. As I set my things in their appropriate configuration, I looked back at him and realized that he no longer had anything to read. I walked back. “If you wanna keep reading, I have lots of other books to read.”

“That’s very nice of you,” he replied.

“Yeah, it’s no problem.”

Society tells us that places like Las Vegas, Rio de Jainero, Tokyo, and the savannahs of Africa are the exciting places to go, and maybe that’s right; I don’t disagree. And when people think of where to live, America, Germany, Costa Rica, Australia, and France seem to be relatively hot choices.

The media inform us that Scandinavians are healthier and happier than we are, as they trade in taxes and diversity for dull, communal sensibilities and large, numerous public benefits. I think I’d like to move to boring Scandinavia. There seems to be tension between fostering people’s uniquenesses and creating social cohesion. This troubles me, but in the end, would I rather be healthy and happy or feel free to pursue my most narcissistic proclivities?

I’ll argue that individualism and competition share a close relationship, and in America, people see the evidence of this. Members of society often find society’s ruts, as they get waylaid by a system that asks for exceptional ambition in order to survive and grow. In Scandinavia, homogeneity seems to be the price paid for a smaller number of people slipping through the cracks.

Scandinavia could do better. Some parts of Scandinavia are surprisingly conservative. People really can be a little petty and judgemental, like in so many parochial societies. For all the advancements in things like gender equality, education, and environmentalism, Scandinavians can be victims of their own successes, failing to really push things forward where there are obvious shortcomings.

Still, perfection not standing in the way of the good, maybe better is still better. I hate the cold. Maybe there’s an obscure Norwegian commune in the Mediterranean (I doubt that there is). Life is hard.

I think kindness and altruism go a long way toward making people feel good, just as I appreciate the somewhat presumptuous, albeit sweet and crinkly, literary from the cafe. These things don’t come without costs, but for me, maybe the benefits are worth what’s being given up.