Interview with Tour Guide Marita Bergman
|Marita Bergman leads a bunch of our Scandinavia tours, with an international outlook and an undeniably Swedish sensibility.|
What is it about Stockholm that's kept you living there for 30 years?
I'm originally from Småland — in the south, where most of the Swedes emigrated to the USA — and moved to Stockholm in 1978. I fell in love with the city from the beginning because of its beauty. Stockholm is a mixture of old and new, water and land. It's built on 14 islands, and you can easily walk from the modern city to the old town and over to the south island, enjoying lots of scenic views. During the 30 years I've lived here, Stockholm has developed into an international city of 2 million. But it hasn't lost its character. Stockholm has always been open-minded and green.
Americans love to say "Scandinavia" instead of referring to each country. Is there anything wrong with assuming that Sweden, Norway and Denmark are similar?
These countries share a lot in common — their history, monarchies and social systems. But they also have very different mentalities. Sweden has traditionally been the "big brother" to the others, thanks to its industrial development (Volvo, IKEA, Eriksson). But about 20 years ago, Norway found a lot of oil in the Atlantic, and now it's one of the richest countries in the world. With so much wealth and natural beauty, it's no wonder why the Norwegians are the most nationalistic in the region. The Danes are the most political people (everywhere you go, you hear people talking about politics), so you might say they are the most European as well. Swedes like to go to Denmark to breathe the liberal air and drink cheap, good-tasting beer. That's because we Swedes know what's good, and we want to enjoy it — no matter where it is in the world!
Is it true that Swedes don't mind paying high taxes?
The Swedes don't complain about their taxes, because they know that they are getting a lot back. It's a matter of broadening your social security to include subsidized daycare centers, free schools up to the university, social healthcare, and so on. The system was built up by the Social Democrats, mostly after WWII. Their vision was to give all people a decent life, with their basic needs secured through taxes. Parallel to this we also had very good economic development (Sweden's economy never really suffered during WWII). For the past decade there has been discussion about whether the system takes away all responsibility from the individual, and this has led to some limits. But our social system is the Swedish soul. Perhaps it deserves credit for the way our society has developed in such a calm and positive way.
Are there foods and drinks that visitors to Sweden must experience?
When it comes to food, Sweden is a very international country today. Families are eating more pasta than potatoes, for example. The latest food trend here is sushi. Not surprising, since we've always eaten lots of fish — especially salmon and herring. Salmon is eaten in many ways, smoked, baked or perhaps in a soup. Herring is eaten with all kinds of sauces, especially for Christmas and Midsummer. Delicious! Another dish that I like very much is elk or reindeer steak with lingonberries. Swedes eat the most ice cream of any one in the world — and coffee, too. For us to like it, the coffee has to be strong. If you can see the spoon standing in your coffee cup, you know that it was made in Sweden!