The Royal Treatment: A Cultural Artifact

We arrived in Stockholm a few days ago after a sleepy five hour train ride from Copenhagen through the Swedish countryside. 

I have to say, one of my favorite aspects of this trip is that we’ve used pretty much every means of transportation to get around: plane, train, boat, bus, metro, taxi and tram. I usually only use a car to get around, so it’s been a new and fun experience to navigate the system.

Sweden definitely has a different vibe than both Copenhagen and Oslo. After all, it has a population of about 10 million people with 2 million of them in Stockholm, making the area feel much more metropolitan.

On our first full day, we explored the palace and watched the changing of the guard. I was struck with the notion that Royal palaces like the one I was standing in are places where tradition and contemporary culture collide. 

On our tour of the grandiose palace, we learned how the King and Queen welcome dignitaries in the same room that they host raves for the people. Each room was classically decorated but had a modern function in today’s environment.

All of the cities we went to had a royal family with a palace at the center of the city. For such an egalitarian society, this symbol of wealth and power felt out of place. That is, until a local girl in Oslo explained to us how she felt about it.

She said that the Royal family is a symbol of dignity and tradition for the country and that they don’t really think of them as the elite or wealthy.

This feedback confirmed the fact that prestige and influence doesn’t necessarily equate with privilege and elitism.

Additionally, if I’ve learned anything from this trip, it’s that Scandinavian governments operate completely differently than American government, but both systems are ruled by democracy. For these countries, I appreciate the relatively peaceful transition from monarchy to democracy through the balance of both tradition and the will of the people. 

Personally, I have always been a huge fan of all things Disney, which of course means that I am obsessed with Disney princesses. I even bought a tiara at the palace in Copenhagen to prove it. I’d like to think that the benevolence and compassion demonstrated by royalty in Disney movies might be inspired by the Scandinavian monarchs. 

Cultural Artifact: Stockholm Pride 

2 weeks in Scandinavia has given me a glimpse into the lives and cultures of a population of people raised very differently from me. One of the tasks set before us as a group was to individually find a cultural artifact in one (or all) of the cities with which you identify. As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, LGBT culture is something deeply important to me as a member of that community and something I tend to observe when I travel. Therefore, I decided to pick that as my cultural artifact. 

Coincidentally, the few days we were in Stockholm overlapped with the city’s gay pride festival. This wasn’t something I was expecting at all, mostly because the majority of pride festivals are in June. When we stepped off the train from Copenhagen I noticed the rainbow decorations in the station and was curious as to why the city seemed to be decked out for something LGBT-related. Lo and behold, once we got to the hotel I was informed the city’s Pride was going on all that week and weekend.Now, I’ve been to a few Prides in America, but those pale in comparison to what I saw in Stockholm. I’ve never seen a city embrace LBGT culture so intensely the way this Swedish city did – everywhere you looked there were rainbow flags and posters and stickers. Every business seemed to have a flag posted outside its doors and there were even huge flags next to the Swedish flags located around the city. I’ve never seen anything like it. 

America doesn’t have the same track record with LGBT rights as Scandinavian cultures. Same-sex marriage was legalized in Sweden in 2009, in Denmark in 2012 and in 2009 in Norway, while America didn’t get around to legalizing it until last summer. That speed is represented in the approval rankings in the countries. According to various polls, 79% of Danes, 71% of Swedes and 78% of Norwegians support the legalization of same-sex marriage, but in America that number sinks to only 63% of the population supporting gay marriage.

That difference in approval is evident when you compare the cultures of America and Scandinavia. Just seeing the sheer amount of rainbow decorations in the city from a huge range of people and businesses made me feel so appreciated and accepted in Stockholm, while I’ve personally never seen support to that extent in America.


Perhaps that difference is derived from the difference in religiosity in the 2 regions. Scandinavia is a much less religious area than America, and that may have a hand in the acceptance of same-sex marriage and LGBT individuals.

Regardless, it was a really special experience to be in Stockholm at the same time as its Pride Week. It was very interesting to see the increased support for the LGBT community, and it made me realize just how far America has to go in terms of human rights work. This aspect of Scandinavian life gave me an insight into the differing cultures between our country and this region, which was definitely a broadening experience. 


More on Stockholm later! – Joce 

Cultural Artifact

I first considered a hospital as I am Pre-medicine, interested in the differences between healthcare, and talked to Mrs. Hertzberg, a Norwegian nurse, about her positive outlook on Norway’s system. I also considered a university as I find it fascinating how Europe’s higher education system of paid schooling works, its surprising quality, and got to discuss with a tour guide, a student at the University of Copenhagen, about her positive experience.

But what ended up impressing me the most were the skeletons from the Vasa museum.

The Vasa museum was amazing starting with the fact that I love experiencing what everyday life was like in the past. The museum centers around an over 30 year-old ship (one of the largest restoration projects in our history) that was one of the largest, most daunting ships of its time. The ship made it just out of port before a wind gust easily tipped it over because the four stories of height above the water alone was too much for the rock weight in the hull. Thirty crew members died and the ship sunk in minutes.

Anyway, I was walking around the section where they displayed the more complete skeletons recovered from the wreckage. I enjoy learning about human anatomy, human history, and these skeletons interested me. I examined each. Some had longer bones; others had shorter. Some had ribs nearly completing an entire chest; others were missing ribs entirely. And yet some still had their full set of teeth; others, well, needed dentures. After realizing it might be getting creepy how long I was looking at these skeletons, I decided to move on. I looked back to reflect, proud of all the detailed comparisons and expert examinations I had just performed. They all, then, looked remarkably similar. Like a bunch of off-white, browning bones arranged into about twenty incomplete skeletons. Worrying I just wasted a bunch of valuable museum time on these jumbled bones, I began walking away and saw there were names and passages on the wall across from the show cases.

They were stories.

Not only were these random stories with names, I now noticed the skeletons each had name plates above them connected to the life histories. I immediately returned to the beginning of the crypt to start all over. For each, I read the passage and went back to the skeleton to reexamine–sometimes taking a few trips. Some left behind families. Some left behind enormous wealth. And yet some left behind alternative deaths from various illnesses, disease, or malnutrition.

Two people stood out to me. The first, supposedly the captain, Jonsson [left]. The second, an unknown teenager [right].

 

The captain was found with high quality clothes and gold. The teenager was found with no possessions and evidence of malnutrition. Reading these and the other twenty accounts, each had unique stories in life. Whether or not they came with status, riches, or diseases, they all ended up in the same place as a collection of bones at a museum.

This exhibit let me experience their lives but also reminded me of world culture today. On the trip, we toured sprawling palaces, ate with the Oslo chief accountant, and experienced the Pride parade. Each of us have different privileges, different niches, and different stories. But regardless of what those are, we can see the sameness we all share when the layers decay away.

If I Worked in A Clock Shop I’d Have the Time of My Life

Time. We never seem to have enough of it. While visiting the Royal Palace in Stockholm, I learned that the keeping of time signifies much more than numbers and two ticking hands. 


The handful of palaces I have visited are exquisite. There are hundreds of rooms, thousands of chandeliers, and lavish furniture. But in Stockholm there was one additional thing that stood out from the others. There were two rooms entirely dedicated to clocks. Clocks seem like a peculiar choice for a cultural artifact. I mean, we have them back home after all? The clocks were ornate and beautiful, larges and small. But it’s wasn’t their intricacies that caught my attention. It was the explanation of their purpose in the palace. They described the important history of clocks, their significance to society, and their peacemaking capabilities.   


Many of the clocks on display were given to Sweden as gifts. They were meant to signify friendship, gratitude, and good and friendly relationships between countries. They were cultural and characteristic of the donor country, offering a little taste of the world to the palace. 


Additionally one sign read: “When the striking of the clocks began to mark out the days, it was largely because of changes in society: a newfound faith in progress gave time an absolute authority, because it measured people’s advance to a better world.” 


Upon reading this, the true weight of time’s significance really hit me. The fact that the systematic keeping of time was not always a standard became obvious. Where did time come from? How did it begin? Regardless, the introduction of the clock had an immense impact on society. 

Measured time allowed for an increase in demand for discipline in daily life. “Early industrialism was heavily reliant on fixed working hours and routines”, read another display. It was incredible the social progress that was made due to clocks. 

Then I couldn’t help but think how far we’ve come since then, and what time means to us now. We complain we don’t have enough. We are running from place to place, constantly battling measured time. Society is entirely driven by the discipline that clocks brought hundreds of years ago. It reminded me that time is bigger than a sequence of numbers or a point in the day. Time is an incredible gift. By measuring time via clocks, we have harnessed an aspect of nature to something we can count. Like the generous clock gifts, I was reminded that time should be appreciated instead of wasted. We should spend our time on friendship, gratitude, and fostering good and friendly relationships. 

Kon-tiki: The Spirit of Adventure. 

Putting your money where your mouth is perhaps the greatest way to change the indifference of cultural norms. Norwegian Captain Thor Heyerdahl did just this when he decided to sail from the Polynesian  islands to South America. The only resource that he had was a raft designed with primitive materials to prove that it was possible for such a ship to brong people to South America from long distance. He crafted his own raft out of balsa wood with the help of a small crew and embarked on the journey to prove his theory. He was taking a dangerous risk with this primitive raft which quickly caught the world’s attention. When months later the raft landed, a global audience celebrated the achievement of captian Thor and his theory instantly gained merit. This achievement is why I choose the Kon-Tiki raft that I saw in Oslo as my cultural artifact. I strongly admire the willingness of Captain Thor to believe in his ideas enough to expend the energy and assume the risk to prove it. I believe that risk takers do the most to change assumptions and norms because they are willing to try something that normal people will not. I believe that this free-spirited nature is something that many Norwiegans posses, something that I learned from talking to Nikolai, a friend of Dr. Whitworth. Nikolai told me about his love exploring the out ldoors and of how many Norwegians are apt to use their vactaion days exploring or enjoying the wilderness. I really related to this emphasis on individual risk taking and bold execution, and it was perhaps one of the most admirable traits that seemed to be weaved through much of Norweigan culture!

The reindeer and the quiche

Having experienced Oslo, Copenhagen, and now some of Stockholm, I have been able to start comparing them. After exploring Stockholm, I felt the European influence of Copenhagen and the importance of tradition like Norway. And our dinner tonight was a good example of this–reindeer with an appetizer of quiche.

The reindeer reminded me of the importance of tradition I felt in Norway. Oslo was calm, quiet, and rich in their history, family, and nature. Our activities included fantastic museums of vikings, world-famous cross country ski jumps, and a home-cooked meal of reindeer. Stockholm so far has shared this importance in history and tight community that I think was demanded by the harsh winters of northern Scandinavia. Coincidentally, we had traditional reindeer in both countries, learned about their naval pasts, and the Nobel prizes they commonly share.

In contrast, the quiche reminded me of the excitement and international influence of Copenhagen. Denmark differed from Oslo both in diversity and atmosphere. Copenhagen was far less nature-focused and far more social with bars, restaurants, and stores from all over Europe. Where Oslo shut down from its relaxed days around 10, Copenhagen seemed to stay alive all night long. Stockholm shares this aspect  with Denmark–the connection with the rest of the European nations–at a capacity that Norway doesn’t.

Summing up my reindeer/quiche dinner analogy, Stockholm strikes a great balance in my opinion. It has the cool old buildings, lively atmosphere, and great food like Copenhagen paired with the northern traditions, rich history, and awesome museums like Oslo.

Stockholm (or some of it at least)

What little I have seen of Stockholm so far has been quite beautiful, especially Gamlastan, the old town. 

When walking around Gamlastan you can feel how old and storied it is. There are streets that haven’t been changed in hundreds of years. This contrasts greatly with the Stockholm across the water which gleams with the glass and steel indicative of modern society. 

Overall, I have found Stockholm to be an interesting blend of old and new.