Today I met up with Lisa’s brother, Henrik, who lives here in Malmö. He pointed out some parts of the city that I had missed on my walk the other day, so I saw new areas of the city such as the Triangeln Square, Möllan, and the old part of the city.
On our way to lunch, we talked about social attitudes in Sweden, a topic that has come up in a few of my conversations now with various locals. I again heard the sentiment that Swedish people are uncomfortable with strangers and not very outgoing (never mind that I was hearing this from a friendly Swede I had just met, though perhaps it was different because we were introduced by a good friend in the US). It seems like something that Swedes in general are self-conscious about, especially when they mention the willingness of Americans to talk to strangers.
Henrik told me that Swedes illustrate the difference with a metaphor. Americans are like peaches: sweet and soft on the outside, with a hard pit on the inside. They are friendly and easy to talk to, but it’s tough to get past that niceness and talk about deeper feelings. Swedish people, however, are like coconuts. They have a hard outer shell that is initially difficult to break through, but once you do, they’re all mushy on the inside and spill their secrets. I found this hilarious and probably quite true.
We went to the Slottsträdgårdens Kafé for lunch, a small café in the garden of the city’s main park. I’ll have to go back soon and take pictures because the flowers (and the food!) were beautiful. I had a dish that I’ve found to be all over Sweden, a salad with a ton of mini shrimp heaped on top (“salad med räka”).
At one point I asked Henrik if he thought that Swedes were generally healthy (probably the vaguest question I can ask that relates to my project). He said yes, maybe, but health has been declining in Sweden lately. He thinks the main cause of the decline is increased economic inequality. Even though a lot of healthcare is free in Sweden, there are still some small fees to pay, and not every aspect of health is included. For example, dentistry is not covered for adults above 18 years old. Thus past the age of 18, if someone is only making about $300 per month and a single dentist visit costs $250, they won’t go. With increasing economic inequality, then, fewer people are going to the dentist.
Even Swedes who could easily afford going to the dentist and other doctors do not necessarily do so. Henrik estimates that about 5% of Swedish citizens make an effort to get annual check-ups with a general practitioner even though this would cost no more than $40 per visit.
Henrik gave his recommendation for solving the problem in Sweden: create a law that requires companies to make sure that each employee has a check-up at least once a year. This sort of law would move Sweden’s health care policy to be more in line with that of the US, where your health care package depends on your employer’s generosity. Interesting.