"Peter, why is that everytime I have a bit too much to drink, people ask me if I am Swedish?"
"Well," he replied. "The short answer is that Swedes like to come to Denmark to get drunk because the beer is cheaper here. But the truth is that Danes actually feel a bit inferior to Swedes. I mean they have Volvo and Ikea. What does Denmark have? The Little Mermaid?"
Fast forward six years and here I am in Tartu in the midst of sügis, the Estonian season that roughly corresponds to the American fall and the British autumn. But unlike visions of crisp October days and Indian Summers, sügis is damp, wet, soaking ... märg. They put the 'ü' in 'sügis' just to capture the feeling of wading through slops of wet leaves. It was like this last week when I climbed up Toomemäe in Tartu to see a new monument -- the Johan Skytte memorial, recently opened with the help of Queen Silvia of Sweden (see above). It was the Swede Skytte who founded the university, 375 years ago this month.
Nagu Rootsi Kuningas
But one day in Tartu I met a man who had named his son Karl, Karl "nagu rootsi kuningas", he said as he smiled to me. It's kind of odd to think that people even today have warm feelings about the Swedish monarchy. Another friend, a Swede, told me that when he visited an old couple in Noarootsi, the walls were covered with photos of the Swedish royal family.
Now I admit the Swedes are nice looking people. That they are so ashamed of their own language that they insist on cranking out pop hits in English, rather than paa svenska, is ok with me also. But let's just say that if I named my future son Gustav, I'd be doing it for Gustav Suits, not for King Gustavus Adolphus.
Still I just can't put my finger on what it is about Skytte's people that still endears them to the locals here. I can only guess that if a drunk Estonian somewhere out there has to find an alleyway where he can relieve himself and finds himself beside a Swede engaged in the same activity, he feels a tinge of familiarity and camaraderie with his fellow traveler.