Mar 29, 2009

Thank God we're not Swedes!

No, this is not the usual cheer roared by Norwegians, but a sentiment stated by US republicans. Today's dead-tree edition of my local paper, Bergens Tidende, has a hilarious editorial on the GOP panic in the US that America is turning into Sweden. Illustrated with a photo from the opening of an IKEA store in Brooklyn. (All quotes are my translation from the printed article. No online version yet.)

"There are terrible rumors about president Barack Obama and his family these days. They are so bad that we really shouldn't repeat them here […]. But, what the hey, we have a duty to inform: […] According to the internet, […] the president and his family are actually - Swedish.

Apparently, the Obamas are trying to Swedify the US. According to the editorial, Mitt Romney wants the US to fight against becoming European. Mike Huckabee thinks Lenin and Stalin would have loved this latest development (i.e. Obama). Mark Steyn warns against a Scandinavian armageddon (says my paper). The excerpt quoted in our paper:

[I]f Scandinavia really is the natural condition of an advanced democracy, then we’re all doomed. And by “doomed” I’m not merely making the usual overheated rhetorical flourish in an attempt to persuade you to stick through the rather dry statistics in the next paragraph, but projecting total societal collapse and global conflagration, and all sooner than you think.

Steyn starts off his own article with a lot of wit, then throws a bunch of statistics at his readers to prove his point, but without telling us what is behind the numbers. To do that, I found an article by Dick Polman, who - unlike a lot of anti-socialist Americans - has actually lived in Europe. (Weird is in the eye of the beholder, of course.)

For me, Steyn's Europe-bashing only reminds me of the America-bashing I've experienced here. So many times it has been suggested to me that the US is an awful country because we allow the death penalty, because we didn't sign the Kyoto agreement, because we have nukes on our naval vessels, because all our actors are too good-looking (yes, really), because we voted for Reagan (a memorable argument at 2 am in the morning while waiting for someone to get their coat), etc. And yet, everyone who has been in America loves it. When they get to experience it first hand, they are positively surprised.

I think people like Romney, Huckabee and Steyn should experience Europe first-hand. I do. I live here, and I just finished my taxes. Sum taxable stuff (incl. an apartment I own): NOK 356,596. Sum all taxes: NOK 92,871. That works out to an income tax of about 26 %, which is about what I paid when I worked in California. In Norway, I pay a 25 % sales tax on most things, but unlike the anti-socialists in the US, I do not have to fork over a huge wad of dough every month for health insurance, and I get five weeks paid vacation every year, partly due to my union. Yes, this American is a member of a union, and you know what? Doesn't hurt at all. No, really.

But just in case the anti-socialists in my wonderful country of birth and mother tongue need more fuel for their anti-Sweden bonfire, my local newspaper's article ends with these helpful statements of gratitude any American who still believes Europe sucks can happily say out loud (again, my translation):

Thank God we have an average life expectancy that is three years lower than Sweden's.
Thank God that we are ten times more likely to be shot and killed in the US than in Sweden. We like a little excitement.
Thank God that we have almost 50 million Americans without health insurance so they don't clog up the system and make the rest of us have to wait longer for our health care.
Thank God that we have an infant mortality rate that is 3.5 times higher than Sweden's.
Thank God that we are the only western nation without mandatory vacation, unlike Sweden, where they get weeks and weeks of vacation, and thank God that we are one of five countries in the world without the right to paid maternity leave, unlike Sweden, where women get 16 months off.

4 comments:

Protege said...

I agree with you. I hate when people criticize or glorify something they have not experience first hand.
I have lived in both Scandinavia, central Europe and the US and I can say that each place has its benefits and its problems.
I loved the decade I spend in NC and I will forever miss the people. But I would not want to to return there again, exactly due to the things listed in your absolutely last paragraph.

Jon said...

I have been tempted several times to move to your fair city or the nearby countryside, but alas, I will probably have to wait until I retire and am widowed. I can stay at one of my cousins' homes until I get settled. I feel safe and at home there and wish I felt as secure here in the States. This is a great country, but has been sitting on its collective arse for way too long and has deteriorated considerably in the last forty years. There is a lot I will miss here, but I like a new adventure. Now to improve my language skills!

Tom said...

What an interesting post, Keera, and it might inspire me to write about the things I miss in Europe, well, the UK. Don't get me wrong though, I love living in the States although I don't think this island is particularly representative of the States on the whole...

Just one question - in the UK the taxes I used to pay were similar to yours although VAT (sales tax) was less, about 17% if IIRC. On top of that, however, we had to pay national insurance, which was about 10%. That covered health and pensions.

So, where does the money for health come from in Norway? Just out of the taxes or is there something additional you have to pay?

Keera Ann Fox said...

To all: I love both countries - my native USA and my adopted Norway. But, a lot has changed and for the worse in the past 20 years in the USA. Where the US bettered Europe in many areas post-WWII, it now lags behind. Europe has pulled ahead, slowly and surely, and I do wish the US would realize it is now the hare in the race, fast asleep, while the tortoise is moving up to the front.

Protege, as a regular working gal, I much appreciate the benefits I get, like my recent sick-leave. It's definitely easier to be an employee in a country where I do not risk unemployment should I get the flu.

Jon, I've been reading about how Reaganomics is actually to blame for the loss in quality of life and purchasing power now experienced by America's middle class.

Tom, the answer is one word: Oil. We invest the money and live off (some of) the profits. How much of what the UK gets out of the North Sea helps pay for its government programs?