Scandinavia & America: Love & misunderstanding
First things first, our US webshop is finally now live, so we invite all our American readers to add this link to your bookmarks: skandinavisk.com/us. You can now order almost everything from the Next Generation the Europeans get, only we ship to you from California rather than Copenhagen – thus saving you time and money.
Right, now that’s said, we thought it might be fun to take a look at the history of Scandinavia’s relationship with the United States and vice versa. The Nordic countries hold a unique place in American culture, not least because if you’re looking for a remote, oddball region to place your character or story, then look no further.
So follow us on this short journey, and be prepared for a bunch of links that will either amuse, bemuse, or leave you just as confused as this very relationship.
The background stuff
Ever since the 1800s Scandinavians have flocked to the land of the free, originally to escape crushing poverty back home. Today, there are about 12 million Americans of Scandinavian ancestry, which is about half the population of Scandinavia itself, many of whom made their home in the Upper Midwest in places like Minnesota, where the Vikings play football (the American kind).
As early as 1853 Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen predicted the footnote role Scandinavia might play in future American visits back to Europe in his prophetic essay ‘A Thousand Years From Now’. Sixty years later, Denmark sold their part of the West Indies to America, which they renamed the US Virgin Islands, and nowadays Denmark just sells them stuff like furniture, windmills, pork and Lego bricks.
The American Revolution had a profound impact on newly-independent Norway back in 1814 who drafted their own constitution partially based on the American original. Yes, Norway is actually younger than the United States of America. And inspired by them.
Sweden, meanwhile, has the highest density of McDonald’s restaurants in Europe (per head of population), and a similar propensity for American chrome. The world’s largest US classic car gathering is actually held in Lidköping every July, the petrolhead subculture of Raggare can be found in even the remotest forest, and it is said there are more restored 50s American cars over here than in the US itself.
The more difficult recent history
The current US-Scandinavian relationship – much like the rest of the world – has been dominated by the opinions of President Donald Trump and the typically stunned, politely angry, or subtle wit of those countries on his radar.
First, it was the Danes who asked Trump, following his inauguration, if they could come second after America first. They neatly defended themselves from a Fox News tirade about rotten socialism in the state of Denmark, while the Prime Minister diplomatically deflected his idea of buying Greenland, the Danish PM calling it ‘absurd’, Trump calling her ’nasty’ and cancelling a state visit.
The Swedes, historic models of discipline and progress, have found themselves either having to clarify that their country is not on the road to hell as the result of an inclusive immigration policy, or trying to dampen Oval Office outrage over the arrest of A$AP Rocky for assault outside – you guessed it – a US-inspired Swedish burger bar.
Then the Norwegians, one year after being recognised as the world’s happiest nation, had to fend off his suggestion to invite more of them to emigrate to the US instead of people from “shithole countries” – not surprisingly just one day after he received a visit, and big military order, from the Norwegian Prime Minister.
Our Nordic neighbours, the Finns, were even drawn into his orbit when he mentioned the Finnish ‘custom’ of raking their forests to avoid catastrophic wildfires while standing among the burned-out remains of a former Californian Paradise. ‘Rake America Great Again‘ was the droll Finnish response.
We could go on.
But every time we mention Trump, our unsubscribe rates go up and we get at least one reprimand from our American readers telling us to get back in our box or we’ll alienate half our audience. It’s not easy to avoid when we’ve consciously chosen to celebrate a more Scandinavian approach to life via our business, despite the politicised perception and polarising position the region of Scandinavia appears to hold among many Americans.
Still, like Trump, there’s an individual on the Scandinavian side who also draws both tremendous American interest and admonition in equal measure. Her name is Greta Thunberg. We think these two lightning rods represent the opposite extremes of current American and Scandinavian thinking. You can probably guess which side of the fence we lean toward.