Some Comparative Reflections on Sweden and France (Pt. 2 of… ?)

So, the attentive reader will have noted that in the last post, I mentioned having a cold.  I came down with it in Paris (though no doubt I caught the bug on the plane over).  This caused me some consternation since my right inner-ear is touchy when I fly, even at the best of times.  By this I mean, of course, that it becomes plugged and then, on the descent, hurts like someone is slowly pushing an ice-pick into my head.  This is bad enough, but this time I was looking at flying to Stockholm in a couple days’ time with ears that were plugged with fluid on account of the cold – something had to be done!

Naturally, this meant a trip to the pharmacy.  Now, French pharmacies are a little different from the ones that I am used to at home.  We do say that there are ‘over-the-counter drugs’ at home, but in France, one actually has to talk to the pharmacist to get them, as all the drugs are actually behind the counter (I wasn’t paying attention, but it seemed like only beauty products and bandages were in the area customers had access to).  Anyway, I found the whole experience very easy – I just explained (in my broken French) what my problem was and the fellow handed me some pills and that was that.  And, thank the empty heavens, the drugs even did a pretty good job of clearing out my passages, so the flight wasn’t that bad.

However, the problem persisted and I ran out while I was in Stockholm (I should have been more prepared, alas).  So I made a trip to a Swedish pharmacy.  Now, I don’t speak a single word of Swedish, but fortunately everyone in Sweden speaks perfect English (I’m not kidding, I didn’t have trouble communicating at all, unlike in Paris).  Anyway, I spoke to a pharmacist there about what I had been given to me (to good effect) by her French counterpart (the main ingredient was pseudoephedrine).  What she put into my hands, however, was something that is not what I was looking for and did my ear no favours for the return trip.  Now, there were, I should say, no problems with communication – she mused about the combination of ingredients in the French medication as a typical one – and I am certain that it was simply the case that she couldn’t give me what I was looking for without a prescription.

I say this based on two important bits of information besides the fact that she knew what I was looking for.  First, none of the drugs on the shelves that I could get at (Swedish pharmacies do keep some of the goodies up front) contained pseudoephedrine, though there were plenty of ‘natural remedies’ available.  Second, but more interestingly, my host in Stockholm had informed me about the availability of birth control methods in Sweden.

Apparently, my host informed me, there is but one brand of condom for sale in the whole country.  Further, some of the other over-the-counter methods of birth control available in my neck of the woods (spermicidal agents, specifically) require a prescription in Sweden.  This, of course, confounds my ordinary North American sensibilities.  What if that brand of condoms doesn’t work for one (e.g. allergies)?  What if I should wish to combine this less than totally reliable method with a backup (say, spermicide) in order to further decrease risk off pregnancy.  Shouldn’t one be able to go ahead and do so without some doctor hectoring him/her over his/her acceptable level of risk?  And, should I happen to need a drug that is safe in low doses (the French drugs did not kill me) and will make my life better now, should I not be able to get my hands on it without (doubtlessly) having to spend a few hours waiting to see a doctor?

Not in Sweden, it would seem.

Some Comparative Reflections on Sweden and France (Pt. 1 of…?)

So I have made it back from Europe in one piece, and happily without bringing my cold back with me.  I have even managed to mostly get back to local time pretty painlessly, so I am in high spirits this Sunday afternoon.  In any case, I had an outrageously good time while I was away, having the good fortune to be able to stay with friends, in both Paris and Stockholm, for all but three days of my trip.  I have been to Paris before (and other parts of France, and some of Europe beyond that), but I had never made it to Sweden before this trip, so I was pretty interested to see what I could learn about the place – especially because Sweden is held up as some left-wing version of Shangri-la.

We flew into Arlanda airport and took the train from there to Stockholm.  The airport is quite far north of the city itself, so our route in was mostly wild and pastoral vistas (both very welcome since, at this point, we’d been cooped up in downtown Paris which, while lovely, is not roomy and is distinctly lacking in greenery).  My first observation about Sweden was that, finally, Ikea made sense.  I can’t quite describe why, but when we were passing through/by the smaller suburbs of Stockholm, it just was unquestionably true – Sweden is like “Kontrii” by Ikea.  If you are shopping at Ikea, you are not just buying a particular style of goods, you’re buyingSwedish style.

Getting into Stockholm proper, a few things were immediately apparent.  First, it is clean.  There was no litter, very little in the way of discarded cigarette butts, and absolutely no dog crap.  These last two are totally unlike Paris, which always has surprised me – the French (and Parisians especially) are so proud of Paris that it makes little sense to me that they don’t deem it important to pick up after their pets or refrain from dropping their butts wherever they happen to be standing.  But then, there were far fewer Swedes smoking anyway, so maybe it’s not a Swedes vs. French thing, but a matter of how many smokers there are dropping butts.

Second, Sweden is white.  Extremely white.  I’m not sure I saw more than a hundred non-Swedish stock people while I was there (but I have been told that the immigrants mostly live in Stockholm’s suburbs anyway, so I suppose I wouldn’t have run into them in any case).  Paris is much more ethnically diverse than Stockholm and so I presume (given that immigrants tend to congregate in cities) France is on the whole much more mixed than Sweden.

Third, Stockholm is mostly new, which is interesting for a couple of reasons.  Paris is basically a museum piece – it has been decided that Paris is to retain its nineteenth-century character, so all its skyscrapers and tall buildings are at the outskirts of town (presumably, they are actually in the suburbs).  With the exception of the old-town in Stockholm (one of the city’s islands which has been settled for some thousand years and is home to the official residence of the Swedish monarch), however, the rest of the city is extremely recent.  By which I mean this – if it isn’t a church and it isn’t in the old town, it was probably built after the ’60s.  Unlike other cities in Europe with large modern sections (e.g. Berlin, London), this is not a legacy of the destruction wrought by the war (Sweden never got involved in the great European conflagrations) – it appears that the Swedes simply decided that theirs was to be a ‘modern’ city and tore down whatever was in the way of that project.  Which makes sense, I think, given their famously (infamously?) aggressive feminism.

But that is enough for today, since I have yet to get my daily dose of exercise.  I will have more observations up soon (because I was lazy and didn’t do any drafts for the blog while I was away, so it will have to be easy observations).  I will be more on topic soon though!

A Notice of Absence: 05/31 – 06/15

So, I will be leaving for Europe come Thursday (May 31st) and will not be back until the 15th of June.  Wifey and I are going to Paris and to Stockholm to visit friends (free accommodation)!  So the chances are that I will not be posting anything at all during that time – I expect that my traffic will plummet, but so be it.  I’m going to be sipping cheap wine and looking at art by the masters.  And observing Europe’s on-going collapse in person.  Should be fun!  Hopefully it will also give me some grist for the mill, so that I have some drafts written by the time I return.

This post will remain sticky until my return.