A SWEDISH VIEW OF BRITAIN
I was told by a cheeky Swedish girl, "We
were the ones that came and raped you!".
Picture for yourself
a modern day Viking.
What do you see? Endless foaming ales swilling down stubbly necks, rough
grown men marauding topless through the northern regions Lindisfarne on
the Northumberland coast, is but a stones throw from the Geordies of Newcastle.
When sitting ensconced in Swedish cable TV recently I saw one of the many
Danish adverts that appear on it, and an extraordinary thing hit me. If
you released your mind from the knowledge that this voiceover was spoken
by a Dane and allowed your mind to think it was listening to a very broad
Geordie accent, too broad for me to understand, the match was uncanny.
It was the same voice. A piece of linguistic archaeology buried in cable
This is something I found bizarre whilst living in Sweden. Modern Sweden
has become crowded with theme park re-enactments of a Viking past. From
Gotland to Gothenburg every year the pride of being a Viking race is celebrated.
I was told by a cheeky Swedish girl, "We were the ones that came
and raped you!".
This very line brought me to a thought. The English always hear about
the Vikings as a foreign band of barbarians to be feared and who came
ravaging our coastal towns long ago. The Swede is encouraged to think
of an albeit very bloodthirsty but nonetheless glorious past of warrior
heroes. And yet...if Vikings left Scandinavia and came raping and pillaging,
and settling, in Britain, then surely the modern Swede is the quiet farmer
who stayed at home and the Geordie is the descendent of warring Vikings
and some pretty frightened Anglo-Saxon peasants. And so we arrive at today.
In modern day Sweden, a Sweden with a keen acknowledgement of its Viking
past, I found a view of Britain that was ironic. Like most of the world
the Swede described the south-eastern England that has become the external
image of the U.K. The Queen, the red buses, the black cabs, the polite
but restrained suited gentlemen and the loud and light Home Counties accent
that stands out so strongly from American, the most commonly heard English.
But the Swedish also spoke often of another Briton, quite apart from his
Home Counties British brother. One they view as far less the sort wanted
or encouraged in the new Europe. This one drank too much, too often -
a social crime in Sweden today - and cavorted loudly and lewdly. He leered
at soft porn in tabloids, was sexually promiscuous - frowned upon far
more in Sweden than Britain whatever the old cliches might claim to the
contrary - and was prone to end in a brawl before the night was out.
Here the Swedes find themselves in a new arena. They are fond of the careful,
courteous British stereotype that prevails on one hand, keen to embrace
them as European partners, but shake their heads in moral disgust at the
Briton on the other. Yet it is this very British stereotype that appears
to most keenly resemble a Viking if ever there was one. It seems that
as much as the Swede wishes to banter about the glories of a Viking past,
no trace remains in the order of modern Scandinavia, and they would rather
it remained in the theme park the world over. The Briton in the Swedish
mind's eye has perhaps a little too much of the Viking in him.
© Nathaniel Handy 2001
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