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Swedish Trade Unions Are Making Fun of Your Sad, Non-Swedish Lifestyle

Swedish Trade Unions Are Making Fun of Your Sad, Non-Swedish Lifestyle

If you really want to experience the good life, forget about dabbling in Kabbalah, adopting the Mediterranean diet or memorizing the Kama Sutra. Try living like a Swede.

That's the message in a new, tongue-in-cheek comedy video trumpeting the advantages of the Swedish model over even a decidedly upper-class American life. And it isn't even aimed at Americans. The film was actually commissioned by Swedish trade unions for national consumption, part of a broader Like a Swede campaign to remind Swedish employees of how good their unions are at getting them benefits.

Set in shiny, sun-filled Los Angeles locations, the video shows a wealthy, leisured American man who has tried everything to find happiness, and what finally works is modeling his life on that of an ordinary Swedish worker. While the film's rosy view of Sweden might raise eyebrows – no semi-permanent winter darkness or $10 beers? – some references might not automatically make sense to non-Swedes. Allow me to explain. 

First, we see our guy in the middle of six months almost fully paid paternity leave. This is actually a pretty accurate reflection of what happens in Sweden. Swedish parents are entitled to 480 days of leave per child, only 420 of which can be taken by one parent alone.  During this work break, the state pays 80 percent of the parent's salary (capped at $140 a day).

Next our born-again Swede is working out with his personal trainer, Britney. In a satire on high Swedish wages, she costs so much he can barely afford a minute of her time. Still, he doesn't mind, because the cash comes from his friskvård, an in-work cash allowance many Swedes get for preventative health measures such as fitness training or physiotherapy.

Later, down on the beach, our honorary Scandinavian is enjoying some of his six weeks holiday, commenting that "vacation is all about quantity." Here again, Swedes do have things pretty good, as they're legally entitled to 25 working days off a year, plus 13 public holidays (though if these fall on a weekend, it's just too bad). Of the five weeks off this 25-day block allows, workers have a right to take four in a row over the summer if they want to. Couple this with workplace pensions (18.5 percent of an employer’s annual salary) mentioned in the next section, and you can see why some Swedes feel a little smug about their way of life.

And that awkward little song at the end? That's just how the Swedes roll. Swedish friends and family commonly get together for meals where snaps is served, and obligatory drinking songs are traditionally on the menu as well. That might not be to everyone’s taste, but if Swedish life were really the endless round of parental leave and holidays the film suggests, I guess they’d have to fill up their time somehow.

Keywords: Sweden

Feargus O'Sullivan covers Europe for The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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