Stockholm. I have been to this city more times than I can count -- ok, this is my fourth time -- and I still can't figure these people out.
They live in gigantic inoffensively colored apartment blocks that look like they were built by the Norse gods. Their men look hopelessly preoccupied; their women look clinical; on sunny days more jovial, on rainy days a bit evil. Still, if you ask them a question in Swedish, they might give you an odd look, but they will answer you politely and tell you to go rätt från someplace.
By default, the Swedes are the Estonians' favorite conquerors. The Russians came and killed everybody, several times. The conniving Germans managed to keep their self-serving feudal system intact into the 19th century and then tried to revert back to it in the 20th. The unlucky Poles brought Jesuit priests, but were unsuccessful. That leaves the Swedes, responsible for the vana hea rootsi aeg, the good old Swedish times, when everybody was Lutheran and the köttbullar were plentiful.
Not like today's Swedes would know anything about that. Generations of modernity have severed all links to the past. The best they can come up with are open-air museums. Besides, Stockholm feels so immense that Estonia indeed does seem far away, even if Tallinn is the closest foreign capital.
Lost in the T-Bana, I wonder who runs this country. Who has built this magnificently strong city that looks like it could withstand anything? Who has designed these meticulous parks? Is it the government? So I am told. But if the state is so invincible, how come Fredrik Reinfeldt's face isn't plastered on every wall? There is an engineer driving this train. It's just that nobody's ever seen him before.
Two things I like about Sweden are the Pressbyråns and the language. Pressbyrån is a chain of convenience stores, similar to R-Kiosk in Finland and Estonia, that sell lottery tickets and chocolate and womens magazines and, by far the most important, kanelbulle and vaniljbulle -- warm inviting pastries that fill the air with Scandinavian goodness. They also sell chokladmjölk, which just begs to be consumed together with vaniljbullar. Grab yourself a free Metro newspaper, find a seat on the train, and you are all set.
The Swedish language is perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing of the Germanic languages. I wish I could speak it, and I can muster a few sentences and understand some of what those busy crowds in T-Centralen are saying, but it just seems impossible, because every Swede sounds like they have a meatball stuck in their throat. It's written biljett (ticket), but it's pronounced "bee-yett." It's written Alvsjö (a train stop) but it's pronounced "Alfhuh," the last impossible syllable resting somewhere in the back of the throat. The letter "G," though, makes a pleasant "Y/J" sound. Bergman is prounounced "Berryman," and Mariatorget is "Mariatoryet."
They say the Estonians from the West Coast and those who have spent time in exile in Stockholm speak with the same soft lilting accent. Maybe I should try to emulate them.