Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Being Swedified

Sometimes when you live in a country so long, you forget what is different from your own culture. You adapt. You are culturally aligned. In my case, I have become Swedified.

Take 'fjärrvärme'. 'Fjärrvärme' is long-distance heating. It's a way of warming houses and apartment buildings and is very common in central Stockholm.

Long-distance heating usually consists of water that is heated up in factories outside the city. The water is then sent through pipes and out to the buildings. The water circulates in each apartment's radiators and, when it has been used for a long time, gets cold again. Then, it gets sent back to the factory to get heated up again. Logical, huh? And such a natural part of the Swedish infrastructure that I have hardly reflected over it. Until I went to England and told my family about it.

'That's outrageous!!' they said. Surprised by the strong reaction, I asked why.

'Well, if the government or private companies control the heating, they could just turn it down in order to control the public. They could set the heat to a low level in order to increase national work output. It's so communist. It's outrageous.'

I tried to explain that it was a very green way to heat the buildings but couldn't come up with a decent argument.

I tried to explain that when you pay the monthly apartment fee, you get as much heating as you like. But they thought that this was also outrageous - a neighbour could have their radiators turned up higher and they would pay the same fee as those who had their radiators lower. Communist.

I tried to explain it was the same as other utilities in the UK. Like water, electricity and gas. But they didn't get it. Controlling your own heating, they claimed, is a basic right.

I floundered. I couldn't persuade them of the benefits of 'fjärrvärme'.

I like and accept 'fjärrvärme'. I think it is a great utility. My acceptance of it sits so deeply now that I can't explain why it is the way it is. It just is.

I realise I am culturally aligned, at least on this issue. I am Swedified.


  1. In our house, our värme is very fjärr indeed. Brr! (grey N)

  2. Sarah "Communist sympathiser" Mühlenbock23 February 2010 at 21:31

    Give me communist fjärrvärme and triple glazing over a boiler in the kitchen and draughts through the windows any day. If communist means constant warmth and not getting frostbite when you stick your toes out from the duvet in the morning so be it. If I have to pay the same as my upstairs neighbour with a family of four when we are just two, so be it too. And actually we don't, as our living space is smaller, so the monthly fee is lower. And it's only water consumption we're talking about, the heating is exactly the same.
    I don't think it's a question of cultural alignment really, more a case of getting old and comfortable. Basics like keeping warm and free education for all just seem to function here...

  3. I need to put you, Sarah, in contact with my family! Sounds like you've got all the arguments down!!