Korv and Senap at IKEA

Swedishness and IKEA

Korv and Senap at IKEA

Korv and Senap at IKEA

As you arrive at the new IKEA at Tempe in Sydney, one of the first things you notice are the flags out the front. There’s a NSW flag, an Australian flag, and a Swedish flag all flying high. When it comes to “Swedishness”, however, that’s pretty much where it ends.

One of the things I used to love about IKEA was the food section. I loved the way you could go to IKEA and purchase some iconic Swedish brands. By that I mean things like Marabou Chocolate, Bilar (another popular Swedish sweet), Kopparbergs Cider and Kalles Kaviar, amongst many other items.

In some respects, Kalles Kaviar is to the Swedes what Vegemite is to Australians. Australians know exactly how much vegemite to put on a sandwich, where people from other countries always put on too little or too much. The same is true of Swedes when it comes to Kalles Kaviar. The first time I had some I put far too much onto hard-bread and found it almost inedible. I now know how much is right.

“You would often see Swedish mothers with their children at the IKEA looking at the food”, my friend Graeme commented. You would often see emotion in the eyes of the mother (an expat) as she passed on some “secret cultural knowledge” to their children growing up in Australia. As much as I purchase home brands most of the time, I also recognise there’s often an affection for brand names too.

But that’s all changed, as the new IKEA at Tempe in Sydney has only IKEA brand food. Sure, you can buy the hard breads, the caviar, the chocolate, the pickled herring and so on, but it’s not quite the same, I think, to purchase IKEA brand chocolate instead of the iconic Marabou. Even in the cafe now, Lingon soft-drink has been replaced by Schweppes Raspberry.

Apple and Pear Cider at IKEA

Apple and Pear Cider at IKEA

Despite the veneer of Swedishness, IKEA has obviously become as international as McDonalds. They have the Swedish named furniture, they have the portraits and biographies of the Swedish designers on the walls, they have Swedish language books on the bookshelves, but they seem to shy away from anything “too Swedish”. It would be great to hear the occasional Swedish pop song on the PA system. It would be great to see some photographs of Stockholm in the frames which otherwise feature images of New York, London and Paris.

I understand things change, and that they’re a global company not a Swedish company anymore. But I did quite like that you could purchase some well known Swedish brand food in the food section. Alas, no longer…

As much as I understand the importance for internationalism in the commercial sector, I note that McDonalds, for example, appreciates you can have variation from country to country. I hope IKEA doesn’t become too generic, and preserves a little of their intrinsic Swedishness. I also understand I’m a bit of a freak, and the vast majority of Australians don’t give a shit if there’s Lingon soft-drink, or if you can purchase Marabou chocolate…


I Made The Headlines

Newspapers can be a wonderful reminder of the place you have been, as they can include both the major news events happening at the time, as well as the smaller details, such as the weather and what’s on television. I’ve still got a copy of The London Times from when I first visited Europe in 1983, which holds a special place in my heart.

But as I’ve scaled down my baggage needs when travelling – I actually did my last trip to Sweden with carry-on luggage only – I’m trying not to bring back too many physical copies.

Instead, for the last two trips to Sweden, I’ve taken a photograph every day of the newspaper banners outside the local Pressbyrån.

The bombings and killings in Norway dominated the headlines for most of my time there, naturally enough (eight days). But so too did the celebrity breakup of Måns Zelmerlöw and Marie Serneholt (four days). In between there were stories about other celebrities, the weather, and a major feature on the founder of IKEA. It was summer, after all.

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And in case you’re wondering, “I Made The Headlines” is a reference to a song by Swedish group, Alcazar.

Opening scene from Men Who Swim documentary

Men Who Swim

Opening scene from Men Who Swim documentary

Opening scene from Men Who Swim documentary

After tonight’s Swedish class, and then catching up mates at the pub, I came HOME and watched documentary on ABC2 called, “Men Who Swim”, about a Swedish male synchronised swimming team. Or as the Swedes call it, “konstsim” (art swimming) which I think I prefer to the English-language phrase. One sounds very perfunctory, very organised, whereas the other sounds far more exotic, far more experimental.

I’d already seen the film, Allt Flyter a fictional account of this group just over twelve months ago.

At the time I noted…

There were shades of The Full Monty in the film’s premise, about a group of middle aged men who try something adventurous and new. In this instance, they formed a team to compete at the world synchronised swimming championships. In the background, the film also explores the relationships between the lead, Frederic, his daughter, his ex-wife, and his friend Charles. The film has a “feel good” vibe about it, though, as Graeme noted is often the case with Swedish comedies, it’s not all light and bright.

Tonight’s documentary also had a dark element to it: the sometimes difficult experiences of people who move to Sweden, and even though they speak quite good English, still find it difficult to find work and to fully integrate.

In this case, the film was told from the perspective of someone who was apparently a reasonably successful film-maker in the UK, but who struggled to find similar satisfying work in Sweden.

Not only do you need to learn Swedish, but you also need to join a group was the advice he was offered, and which he mentioned early in the film. And that’s how he became part of the male synchronised swimming team.

The film tells of their disorganisation, and often their lack of motivation, and explores group dynamics from the perspective of a group of men on the verge of middle-aged. They haven’t quite given away the desires and fantasies of youth, but haven’t quite settled down for a life in front of the television yet either. I find myself in a similar position, and so I could relate to both their desires to keep trying something new, and the headspace that requires.

It was a lovely documentary and I enjoyed it very much.