Upon embarking on any trip, I will inevitably have an experience that helps shed light on the culture of the country I am visiting. These encounters usually occur quite unexpectedly and are rarely the kind mentioned in guide books. Stockholm, unsurprisingly, is no exception to this rule. As I walk south from my centrally located hotel, I come across a large crowd congregating around some exotic looking trees. After a few moments of observation, it finally dawns on me that I am bearing witness to a cherry blossom festival. In some ways this event seems fairly ordinary since it is now late April and festivals like these are being held all around the globe. Despite their universal appeal, however, I never associated Stockholm with this delicate and beautiful tree. I assumed that all of Sweden’s festivals were of a domestic origin and were somehow all related to the Vikings, Thor, or Valhalla. Yet here are hundreds of people, tourist and local alike, smiling, giggling, and snapping selfies underneath these intoxicatingly beautiful trees.
One of the things I look forward to the most in visiting Stockholm is to check out the country’s embrace of modern style. If the Swedish based retailor Ikea is any indicator of what this country is like, I am about to enter a modernist paradise. Yet as I walk around the various neighborhoods of this city, the style that continues to catch my eye is not particularly modern. In fact, this style has its roots in the United States. This style I am speaking of is best represented by the Lexington Clothing Company. Headquartered right here in Sweden, this retailer takes the traditional New England beach look and embraces it by placing it on a wide range of clothing and home furnishings. These are the kinds of clothes I wore as a child growing up on Massachusetts’ south shore. So it is more than a little strange to see so many style-conscious Swedes embracing this preppy American style.
As my stay here in Stockholm comes to an end, I purchase a ticket for a harbor cruise in order to get a fresh perspective of the city. Waiting for our boat to arrive, I to do some people watching to help pass time. Spying on several locals while they take lunch, shop, and hang out with friends, it dawns on me that there are not that many blondes in this country. When I say not that many, I mean not as many as one would assume to find in a Nordic country. When visiting a friend in Norway two years ago, I was amazed by the number of golden haired people I came across. Perhaps 90% of the women and 50% of the men on the streets of Oslo had blonde hair. Here in Stockholm, however, I would put the number at 25% for women and 10% for men. And yet despite these unscientific numbers of mine, the stereotype of the Swedish blonde persists. Regardless of what the numbers actually are, if you have a thing for blondes, skip Sweden and checkout Norway instead.