Friday, February 5, 2010

What have the Swedes ever done for us?

From today's Evening Herald

By Susan Daly

Well, that's just charming. The Swedish embassy is pulling out of Ireland - and breaks the news with Valentine's Day looming.

I know we've let ourselves go a bit recently. We're stony broke, heading for obesity and yes, we're still a bit too fond of the drink. We haven't been doing all that well at the Eurovision these past few years -- and God knows the Swedes love a catchy pop hook.

It's a bit cold-hearted though. Have the last 60 years here with us meant nothing to them? Fine. Be like that. See if we care.

What have the Swedish ever done for us anyway? Oh sure, they're not bad at designing stuff. Inconsequential little things like some of the world's sexiest cars (Saab), and some of the safest (Volvo). And so what if the Irish long-haul lorry driver wouldn't dream of hitting the road without his Scania truck? Swedish engineering gets us places in safety and style -- yawn and yawn.

It was much more exciting when we drove clapped-out bangers whose brakes didn't work when it was raining. Or too windy. Or there was an 'r' in the month.

Perhaps the same lorry driver calls home on his sturdy Ericsson mobile phone. He won't get an answer because the wife is off in Ikea, eating a giant plate of meatballs for a fiver. Right shower of rip-off merchants they are.

They stand in the middle of their big fun blue-and-yellow warehouse, look you straight in the eye without blinking and say, "Yes, madam, you can indeed buy that bed, wardrobe, matching lockers and sliding drawer system for €100."

Who do they think they are with their minimalist chic and their clever storage solutions? I rather liked when the awkward space under my stairs was chaotic and cluttered. I don't remember asking anyone to design a set of sleek rolling shelves, handy shoe-organiser and hideaway coal scuttle. My books were perfectly fine on the floor where they were. Bunch of do-gooders.

At least we Irish know how to enjoy ourselves. What contribution has the Swedish nation made to entertainment? Apart from the enduring legacy of the pop perfection that was ABBA, that is.


Irish wedding receptions would be hard pushed to find another floor-filling anthem to replace Dancing Queen. Without ABBA, the broken-hearted would never know the bittersweet pleasure of drowning their sorrows in a bottle of Absolut (Swedish premium) vodka while crying along to The Winner Takes It All.

Alright then: literature. We have Joyce, we have Beckett, we have Bernard Shaw. Yes, I agree it would be a long day doing a straw poll on Grafton Street to find one person who has ever actually finished any of their books. And yes, it was the Swedish who gave international recognition to Heaney, Becketts, Yeats and Shaw with the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Yes, the Swedes came up with those best-selling Scandinavian detective novels we all love to curl up with in bed at night. Yes, the new Stieg Larsson is a rollicking read. Yes, I love the Wallander series on TV at the moment. What's your point?

Okay, kudos for the cultural stuff. But what do they do for fun? We were doing just fine with our repressed sexuality and fear of public semi-nudity before the Swedes came along with their saunas and positive body image, thank you very much.

Now you can't swing a Speedo in a spa here without hitting a group of Irish lads sitting around in a steamy room as shameless as the day they were born. Relaxing together in a calm, amiable environment rather than beating seven shades of cider out of each other at closing time? I blame the Swedes.

At least they're not a very good-looking race are they? Britt Ekland, Greta Garbo, Ingrid Bergman, Victoria Silvstedt -- shockers, the lot of them.

Case closed. The Swedes have done nothing for us. Apart from the cool design, the safer transport, the great novels, music and TV, the Swedehearts and the power to make us all chill out. . .

If we Irish need to stay angry to dull the pain of being abandoned maybe we should focus on the fact that the referee who didn't call Thierry Henry's handball against Ireland was Swedish. It might also explain why the embassy is leaving so suddenly: the threat of war.

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