7 Awesome Things Sweden Is Doing That Other Countries Should Be Aware Of
1. Amazing sustainability initiatives.
Sweden leads the EU in organic food consumption and has some of the most comprehensive country-wide recycling programs I have ever seen — more than 99% of household waste is recycled and recycling centers must, by law, be no further than 300m from a residential area to make them accessible (although most households have a central garbage room for their apartment or housing block, where they can sort their waste). Most of the food waste and some of the paper is burned for bio-gas, which is then used to power machinery or buses. Pharmacists will also take and recycle or dispose of leftover medication. Sweden encourages residents to donate large goods to secondhand stores. Incandescent lightbulbs are no longer available, and compact fluorescent ones are being phased out in favor of LED lightbulbs, which last ten times as long and don’t have dangerous mercury inside them. Can recycling machines are in every grocery store, and the coupons you get give you money off your groceries — in fact, Sweden is so good at recycling that it needs to import trash from other countries to keep the recycling factories going. Companies like Plantagon are pioneering initiatives like vertical greenhouses to clean air and provide food for cities like Linkoping and Botkyrka.
2. Political egalitarianism before everyone else.
Sweden banned corporal punishment of children in 1979, one of the first countries in the world to do so. Half of all Swedish children were smacked before the ban; in 1977, Swedish Parliament created a committee to investigate children’s rights, and printed information about the ban on milk cartons in several different languages. Women got the right to vote in Sweden’s “age of liberty” between 1718 and 1722… literally the first country in the world by about forty years. The Feminist Initiative political party launched in 2005 and has spread to Norway, where candidates use it to protest the ability of doctors to deny access to abortions. Good job, Sweden!
3. Parental leave all around.
Swedes get 480 days of parental leave to be split between both parents — unless you have twins, in which case it is doubled. Parental leave can be used until the child is 8 — although there are some restrictions after they turn 4 — and is 80% of your salary. 90 days of the total are supposed to be taken by the father, or they are lost; this was done to encourage equal parenting practices and help fathers bond with their children. Photographer Johan Bävman produced a series called “Swedish Dads”, with beautiful portraits of these dads enjoying their parental leave, with stories about how much time they took and what they did with it. If parents divorce, custody is always shared 50/50, and only 2% of divorces bring custody battles before a court.
4. It’s a great country if you are gay.
The Spartacus Gay Travel Index lists Sweden at the top of its list of which countries are safest for LGBTQA+ visitors. Same-sex sexual activity was legalized in 1944, and Sweden was the first country to allow transgender people to legally change their gender on paperwork after having sex-reassignment surgery (back when most of the world considered even transvestism as a mental illness). Men who have sex with men are allowed to donate blood (after a year deferral), and LGBTQA+ people have been able to openly serve in the military since 1976. The Rainbow Index, which ranks countries on a scale of human rights issues, shows that Sweden has slipped from 4th to 12th place… because other countries are getting better, not because Sweden is getting worse.
5. Teaching everybody English.
As English quickly becomes the closest equivalent to Galactic Standard, and many professions require their practitioners to speak it, Sweden has embraced this and started teaching kids English in first grade. English-language movies are broadcast without dubbing (although they do have Swedish subtitles), and most Swedes are better at speaking English than they give themselves credit for; I can’t count the number of times someone has apologized for their (flawless) English, or how frequently I think someone is an immigrant because they have no accent and can trot out any number of English-language idioms. They are the best in the world at speaking English as a second language. When I lived in Montreal, teaching kids English was actively discouraged even though the largest English-language employer in North America (the United States) was less than a half hour of driving time to the south. This has caused the Montreal economy to drastically fail, so maybe Quebec should look at Sweden’s example on this one.
6. Getting cozy on Fridays.
You might have heard of hygge, the annual Nordic celebration of all that is warmth and light in the winter. Welcome to fredagsmys, or “cozy Fridays”, where Swedes put on their jammies early, snuggle up on the couch to watch movies, and eat tacos. Every Friday. It doesn’t have to be tacos; you can pick another food that makes you feel equally cozy. There’s a reason IKEA sells so many candles; it’s because nothing increases coziness like firelight.
7. Five weeks of paid vacation and excellent work-life balance.
Aside from the parental leave, every Swede gets five weeks of paid vacation every year. Up to three of them must be taken continuously, within a period of time from July to August (unless you get special permission from your supervisor). This is so that businesses aren’t constantly out half their workforce as everyone takes holidays at different times — although it does mean that you can’t get anything done in August because literally everybody has rented cabins in the south of France. Swedes have better productivity and less workplace stress than their counterparts in countries with less vacation. They actually have amazing work-life balance in general; if I have to pick up my daughter late from preschool (“late” meaning after 4 PM), she is usually the only kid there because all of the other parents have left work relatively early and whisked their kids away for snacks and playground visits.