What do Scandinavians think of Germany?
Germany: Better Scandinavia
There is something about, let's call it the Teutonic plate shift in Europe, that the Germans themselves have probably not really noticed yet. Do you actually realize how much Germany looks more and more like "old" Scandinavia?
During the trips I took for my new book, I noticed that the Germans had achieved something remarkable, something that we in the north have always strived for: a productive balance between order and flexibility. This balance explains not only why Germany has the most successful economy in Europe, but also the tone of its political culture. You rely on compromises instead of polarizing.
Sure, many Germans keep complaining about things that could go better, but I think the lack of complacency is a virtue. Especially since, as a Norwegian, I have to admit that we Scandinavians tend to have the opposite problem. The differences between our national ideals and reality are growing ever wider.
Germans have always admired Scandinavian societies. As economically successful and at the same time egalitarian systems, it seemed, they had found a middle way between socialism and capitalism with a liberal and open-minded culture.
However, if you take a closer look at these countries today, you will find that the dream is over. Sweden had the fastest growing inequality between high and low incomes between 1985 and 2000 of any 34 OECD countries. The benefits of the welfare state were steadily reduced, while support for the radical right-wing Sweden Democrats grew; according to a recent poll, they are the most popular party The old joke that the Danes say they are more “tribe” than people is becoming less and less funny, and the kingdom has been obsessed with issues such as immigration and Islam for over a decade.
Finally, in Norway, oil wealth is beginning to turn out to be a curse. Immigrants (many of whom are Swedes, by the way) are doing the practical work more and more - they clean our houses, serve our restaurants, drive our buses and look after our seniors. Many Norwegian teenagers become depressed when they realize that becoming a Hollywood actor may not be realistic after all.
Now that the price of oil is falling and the oil-dependent industry is shaking, many Norwegians are concerned about their place in the labor market. Is there still an attractive niche for you in this high-wage country? Or will you have to fillet your fish yourself in the future instead of having it done in China? Many ambitious young Norwegians will certainly emigrate to Germany in the near future in order to find an interesting job there.
Without wanting to exaggerate the lazy state of Scandinavia - the trend is clear: the Nordic countries are becoming less equal, and the comfort of good old Scandinavian life has been disturbed by fear of the foreign.
Of course, one can say that this also applies to Germany. Nevertheless, it differs from other large nations such as France or Great Britain in that it has an effective social balance. For example, the level of family and social spending, measured in terms of gross domestic product, is just as high as in Scandinavia, and that in a less homogeneous, federal state. The murder rate in Germany has fallen below that of Norway, Sweden and Denmark. While Germany is already converting old prisons into residential houses, the Norwegian prisons are so overcrowded that the government has started renting cells in the Netherlands. In Germany, dental care is part of health insurance. In the Nordic countries, dentists are only free for children and adolescents - and very expensive for adults. And while the local banks in Scandinavia are becoming almost irrelevant, German SMEs enjoy savings banks that not only think about profit, but also about the interests of the community.
Sure, a lot of people work in the low wage sector and sometimes they earn so little that they can't afford their children a school trip. But the trend is pointing upwards, not least because of the introduction of the minimum wage. Besides, your society becomes more informal and less hierarchical. Even in federal ministries, I have been told that it is now common practice to talk to each other. Just like with us.
Basically, we northerners are only now rediscovering how close Germany is not only geographically but also culturally. After the Second World War, the Scandinavians understandably turned to the Anglo-Saxon world. Today, interest in Germany is increasing again, including in Norway, where the number of schoolchildren who choose German instead of French or Spanish as a foreign language is increasing sharply. If this continues, these Scandinavians could one day discover a country that they may like for being a bit like their homeland used to be.
Sten Inge Jørgensen is a journalist for the Norwegian weekly newspaper "Morgenbladet". His book "Tyskland stiger Fremd" ("Germany rises up") has just been published
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