Men With Strollers, A Happy Place
Trip to Sweden 2022 observations
Southeast of Keflavik, Reykavik’s international airport, was a volcano that was erupting in 2022 at the time we were preparing to fly through Iceland to Stockholm. Volcanic ash was not yet a danger, but everyone was watching the eruption carefully. One more thing to not worry about. Labor shortages had tied luggage delivery in knots at airports across Europe and did we mention Covid? Oh well, it’s part of the new normal travel experience.
After a brief layover in Iceland, we caught another plane and continued to Stockholm. We passed almost directly over the volcano Fagradalsfjall which was visible on the port side. Its deep red lava filled its cone and was flowing down its slopes making new land.
On arrival in Stockholm, our luggage appeared almost immediately, and we began to experience what I can only call “happy people.” Have you ever been to a happy place? If not, you should go to Sweden. I am unaccustomed to happy places, so I commented on their perpetual good moods to the first few Swedes I met before I got used to it. They readily admitted to being happy. In 2022, Sweden was ranked the 6th happiest country in the world behind Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Netherlands, and Switzerland. On this trip we couldn’t help but be happy. It was infectious like the constant ear worm from an ABBA song.
We were greeted with smiles and a “hej”, Swedish for hi, everywhere in Sweden. Language was not a problem. When we said something in English in response to a Swedish greeting, the speaker would change to English without so much as a pause.
Now you should understand that Sue is Vegan, and finding a restaurant with Vegan options can be difficult in the U.S. Not so much in Sweden. There was a Vegan restaurant a short walk from our hotel in the oldtown part of Stockholm. Almost every wait person everywhere we went smiled and said the chef could prepare something even if it wasn’t on the menu. And the Swedes have embraced alcohol-free beverages, from beer to wine. Since we have gone alcohol-free ourselves, it was quite amazing to find many restaurants advertising non-alcoholic wine and the large government run Systembolaget stores carrying a very large number of products from major wine producing regions like Germany, South Africa, and New Zealand. The prices were right as well and the flavors amazing. These wines were not “just grape juice” but truly good vintage wines. Sue was now happy too.
However, the thing that impressed Sue the most, was seeing many men pushing baby strollers. Not just one or two, but men with strollers were everywhere often talking in groups about childcare and, I’m sure the latest soccer game? We don’t know what they were talking about because they were speaking Swedish, but we rarely saw a woman pushing a stroller. It seems that in Sweden, family childcare duties are taken care of by the male in the household. On consultation with Mr. Google, we found that Sweden and other Nordic countries have a very generous parental leave policy, and that childcare is considered a public responsibility. Being in stark contrast to the United States, Sue was impressed, and the parents appeared to be very… happy.
The only thing that made me unhappy was the coffee. Swedes like their coffee steaming, not just hot. I spilled some coffee on my little finger during breakfast one morning and developed a blister that lasted for days.
After two weeks, 4 cities, and several trains rides it was time to return home. When you enter a country by air, you rarely see the amenities at the airport. It is grab your luggage and find transportation to your hotel. So, when we arrived at the airport in Stockholm on the return trip, we were surprised to see there were about 90 check-in desks that were dark and empty, though you could not go to the counter earlier than 2 hours before your flight. And only six of the counters at the far end of the area were accepting passengers for several different carriers. It was somewhat depressing, and I don’t fully understand why other than a combination of COVID rules and staffing shortages. But I’m listening to ABBA as I write this, and like a Super Trouper, everything will be fine. I am happy ….