The Final Countdown – 4…

Welcome back. Did you enjoy the rest of your Thursday? Good. Because I predict that the rest of Friday will be almost exactly the same except for the spelling. And so it will go until the last miserable second of human existence.

Still… if you’re struggling to pass the minutes between now and your inevitable doom, you could do worse than to spend 10 of them with me.

Should I have worked in marketing, or what??

That intro made me seem rather bitter and twisted about things didn’t it? Well, I’m not. I just sometimes get carried away in the absurdity of language and… stuff. Shall we get on with our list of Things I will miss about Sweden vs Things I have missed about England?

What I will miss #4: Swedish Efficiency

SquirrelSnowman

Yeah. Sorry about the picture. It probably gives the impression that I am joking about Swedish efficiency, but I’m quite serious.

The Swedes know how to get shit done! It’s that simple really. In 1967 they decided to switch from driving on the left-hand side of the road to driving on the right-hand side… and they just did it. Actually, if it were possible to be arrested for oversimplification, that last sentence would have put me inside until apes had taken over the planet and buried the Statue of Liberty on a deserted beach where no-one could find it but Charlton Heston.

What? What do you mean “that’s not what happened”? I’ve seen the movie! How exactly did I miss the point?

Anyway… although I oversimplified things there a little bit, the switch from left to right was a very big step. New roads had to be built; old ones re-designed. And approximately 360,000 road signs were changed during the night. At 4.50am all the traffic in Sweden was stopped and moved over to the other side of the road. It started again on the right-hand side at 5.00am and has been there ever since. You can’t argue about the efficiency of a move like that, regardless of how much I exaggerate its simplicity.

You don’t really have to look back through history though, and quite frankly if you do, you’re likely to find more than a few examples of spectacular fuck-ups… so don’t! But, by comparison with most countries, the Swedes are extremely efficient folk, with no time for pissing around. Some countries are worse than others. I’ve recently heard it said that “Red Tape was invented in Italy”, but I’m just talking about Sweden vs England here, and can tell you in no uncertain terms who comes out on top in the efficiency stakes.

Take this blog post for example: It was written by an Englishman, and couldn’t be less efficient if it tried. It has taken well over 400 words so far, to say what most Swedes could have said in four – “England sucks! Sweden rules!” – and it even has a squirrel picture in it, because the stupid Englishman couldn’t think of a good image to demonstrate efficiency. But, I’m about as well known for word economy as squirrels are for chainsaw ice-sculptures, so let’s not dwell too much on that.

Swedish personal ID numbers are another example of what I’m talking about. Once you have one of these (which is similar to a Social Security number if you’re American, or a National Insurance number if you’re British) pretty much everything is taken care of automatically. There are no more forms to fill in; no tedious waiting for your information to be dug up by the system. You just give them your personal number and a great portion of your life-history just pops up on the screen. Some people will argue that this is a tremendous violation of privacy, and, having seen just how easy it is to get hold of information about people over here, I might tend to agree. But you can’t say it’s not efficient.

However, this particular example of brutal efficiency does have other drawbacks.

What I have missed #4: Flexiblity

SquirrelPiano

Perhaps these squirrel pictures work more with what I’m about to say than I first thought. See, if there were police for blog-posts, the Swedish ones would never have let me stick that image with this post because it doesn’t make sense. But we in the UK don’t much care about whether or not things make sense. If you don’t believe me, consider our ridiculous punctuation rules. See? People ask me how British children ever remember all the rules for punctuation. And the answer: We don’t. We just break them and expect people to work it out for themselves. My own ridiculously excessive use of the ellipsis (that’s this thing ) is enough to drive most punctuation Nazis insane, but do I care!?()*;:…?

That was a “no” in case you were wondering.

If you still don’t buy the whole Brits not caring about things that don’t make sense thing, consider Monty Python. I rest my case.

Alright… we’re not resting it quite yet. Allow me to elaborate a little on that subtitle:

While the whole thing with Swedish efficiency holds up for the most part, it does so because the Swedes have rules, and those rules are absolutely inviolate! In England, there is a little more flexibility.

Now, I’m not talking about big, important rules; the ones enforced by guys with police uniforms. I don’t think there’s much room for flexibility in murder for example. No. I’m talking about the little things.

The Swedish personal number which I mentioned above, for example. Everything moves like clockwork as long as you have a personal ID number. But, if you turn up for anything remotely official without one… no-one has the faintest idea what to do with you. There is no tedious bureaucracy to go through; they just don’t have any sort of system in place to deal with those who don’t have such a number.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there was no accurate Swedish translation of the phrase “Couldn’t you make an exception just this once?” because… NO. They can’t!

In England however, we don’t care where you’re from or how many official documents you have with you; everyone is treated with precisely the same level of incompetence and stupidity.

How does that translate into “making exceptions”? Well… where there are no rules, there can be no exceptions to them. Oh, sure… everyone you call at the insurance company/government agency/airport/bus station will tell you that there are rules. But if you don’t like those rules, just wait 10 minutes and call back. A different person at the same place will have a completely different idea of what the rules are. Do any of them actually know? I doubt it.

So you see, we need much more flexibility simply because we are so inefficient. I’m English, and I just wandered blindly through that blog-post until it seemed to end in roughly the right place. Did it make sense? I very much doubt it.

See you tomorrow.

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