I think I have isolated the most significant difference between life here and life in the U.S. It’s not the free market socialism in Sweden versus the corporate welfarism of the U.S. It’s not the fact that it was 50 degrees here today and over 90 in most parts of the U.S., certainly the West Coast. And it is not one slice of bread to make a sandwich as opposed to two.
The biggest difference I have observed here is how motorists regard pedestrians and bicyclists. For one thing, there are dedicated foot and bike paths everywhere, parallel to the roads or entirely separate and which cut through forests or fields. These bike paths are nearly as wide as a single lane for autos and are separated by a strip at least as wide as the path and often lined by trees. (The kid who took out a tree last week as I reported left 999 more lining the road.) I think about the painted white stripe four feet from the curb that serves as a “bike lane” in the U.S. and now see it is a dangerous joke.
Bike lanes aside, there are obviously places where bicyclists and cars intersect such as at crosswalks or, common in Sweden and throughout Europe, roundabouts or rondellos. It is startling to approach a crosswalk on a bike and watch an oncoming car actually stop to let you cross. It must be a capital offense in Sweden for a motorist to scratch a bicyclist because drivers here are so aware of cyclists that, coming from the U.S., it is extremely noticeable and weird in a pleasant way. I still reflexively pull my brakes when approaching a crosswalk even though I see Swedes powering on through as though the cars didn’t exist. I guess it only takes one immigrant taxi driver accustomed to the streets of Beirut to splatter someone into the ocean but drivers here definitely look out for those less armed. On the main street through the center of town, a primary bus route, pedestrians, bicyclists, cars, trucks and busses intermingle in a way that would be inconceivable to anyone in a comparable setting in America.
Cars do not rule here, pedestrians and cyclists do. Probably more accurately, people tend to look out for one another and this reflects in every aspect of Swedish life and the policies that shape Swedish society. (I am still looking for an explanation to how socialist principles could result in such diverse results as can be found in Scandinavia compared to, say, North Korea or Cuba.)