In the US, Sweden is often used as a symbol of all that is right or wrong in this world, depending on which side of the political spectrum you fall on.
“Environmental sustainability paired with universal healthcare and a strong economy!” shout the progressives. “Doomed-to-fail socialism characterized by wanton hedonism, immorality, and midnight sun orgies!” cry the conservatives. “Meatballs! Loud noises!!” screams the confused guy in the corner.
Frankly, it’s a lot of talk, and usually from people who don’t know that much about Sweden and have never been here. But here’s some food for thought for those who want to have an opinion on the big “Sweden is Socialist” claim:
Have you considered the public restrooms situation?
To a casual observer, Sweden can look a lot like the socialist utopia it’s made out to be. Free university education, (mostly) free healthcare, five weeks of paid vacation, shared parental leave that allows you to actually participate in the first year of your child’s life… And even non-Swedes like me can reap many of the benefits of Swedish citizenship, thanks to the generous provisions of my love visa.
What I fail to understand, however, is the complete lack of public restrooms in any town in any venue where you might expect to see them. You have to resort to finding a larger coffee shop where you can walk in and put on a show of looking for your friend who’s probably right around the corner oh what do we have here it’s the bathroom I’ll pop in for just a second and check if she’s here ahhhhhhhhhhhh sweet relief.
It can’t just be me that’s doing this.
So what am I missing here? Do people never have to go to the bathroom in this country? Do they run home every few hours to take care of their business, or are they really feeding coins into the nasty public bathrooms every time they want to be outside for the day?
Take the public library, for example. I have to pay 5 crowns to use a dirty, poorly-lit stall in the library. Not that it’s a lot of money. It’s the principle of the matter! You have this beautifully-designed, well-staffed library, and I would like to sit there for a couple of hours and read or work on my computer. But eventually the time will come, and I will have to, you know, pee. But I can’t unless I have a 5 crown coin… and then it’s a kind of disgusting experience.
The train station is another example. As you would expect, there are lots of people waiting and milling around. There are restaurants, coffee shops, and even a bookstore (in the Malmö train station at least). But the bathrooms are available only to paying customers.
Once you get on the train, you can use the bathroom—I guess once they’re sure that you’ve purchased a ticket, you’re entitled to the facilities. But what if you are a tourist and just passing though and have no change? Or an ordinary resident in Sweden who spent his/her last crown on the last bathroom? Where’s the justice?!?!
Oh, Sweden. You are a land of dreams: a feminist, environmentalist, strong-economy Utopia among Western nations. (Leaving aside the weather issue for the moment.) But if you were really a collective of the workers, you would have our basic needs more fully covered. Forget all the opportunities you provide for self-actualization and achievement. Where are the basic structures for my physical well-being?
The game is up, Sweden. The public bathroom situation has shown all of us who live here your true colors: you are so not Socialist.