Welcome to Sweden vs. Real-Life Sweden: Ace of Base Edition

Slate's Culture Blog
Aug. 7 2014 7:45 PM

Welcome to Sweden vs. Real-Life Sweden: Ace of Base Edition

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All that he wants is another license.

Courtesy of NBC.

Welcome to Sweden, NBC’s summer sitcom starring Greg Poehler (Amy’s brother) as a Midwestern accountant named Bruce who moves to Sweden to be with his girlfriend Emma (Josephine Bornebusch), was just renewed for a second season. My wife Kristine, who was born and raised in Sweden, and I have been comparing our own experiences to the cultural clashes presented in the show.

For our purposes, little of note happened in last week’s episode, which was about Bruce trying to find a Swedish job. Bruce needed to get a driver’s license in order to get that job and the woman at the counter informed Bruce that, as a foreigner, he had to take a driving test, because “the Swedish government has decided there should be zero traffic-related deaths in this country.” Both Bruce and I found this target to be incredibly naïve. “Why wouldn’t that be the goal,” my wife replied. “Why would the goal be 200 deaths? Who sets the goal wanting people to die? I don’t know why that’s a weird thing to you.”

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Neither of us knew this, but Sweden actually enacted a plan in 1997 called “Vision Zero” to cut down on traffic deaths and it worked wonders. Only 264 people died in road crashes last year in a country of 9.5 million, and New York mayor Bill de Blasio has adopted parts of the plan as his own.

Episode five, which airs Thursday night, involves Bruce trying to fit in and make friends in Stockholm. The show begins with Bruce interrupting a conversation about a dying person—it’s in Swedish, so he doesn’t know what it’s about—in order to do a Swedish Chef impression, because he’s bored. “Hurdy-hurdy-gurdy! That’s all I hear when you guys are talking back and forth,” he says.

“That’s something you would say,” my wife notes. It’s something I did say! When we first met I brought up the meatball-cooking, borking chaos muppet and asked Kristine what she thought of him. “I don’t see how it’s funny,” was her deadpan response.

Later we see Bruce playing video games with his one friend, Hassan, an Iraqi immigrant who hates Americans and thinks Bruce is Canadian. Emma walks in on this scene and is annoyed that he’s not spending this time studying Swedish. Kristine is also annoyed at Bruce, and possibly at memories of me playing video games with my friends in our home. “You’re an adult man, you’re not supposed to play games meant for children,” she says.

In the next scene, Emma is singing along to a recording of “All That She Wants.” “Oh my god, kill me now, as if she would listen to Ace of Base. That’s just too cliché,” Kristine says, before realizing this is a tactic on the character’s part to help Bruce. “Oh! She’s trying to immerse him in Swedish culture.” All is forgiven.

Emma points out that the group had the most successful debut album ever and Bruce is incredulous. I ask Kristine if the fact is true. “How would I know? The only thing I remember about Ace of Base is that the dude used to be a neo-Nazi and then he said he wasn’t anymore. Then they were invited to parties with Johnny Depp.”

There’s one last important representation of Swedish culture near the end of this episode. Bruce walks into a party and forgets to take off his shoes. Later the host starts yelling in Swedish, “Who the hell is wearing shoes in here!?” The shoe thing is a very big deal over there, even if Kristine thinks it’s being exaggerated in this instance.

“Remember that one time that Keith’s cousin walked into our house with his shoes, and I told you to tell him to take his shoes off. I didn’t scream at him!” Kristine says. She didn’t scream, but she did instantly recall that one specific occasion five years later after the smallest reminder. “Of course I remembered it,” she says. “He walked from the living room, through the hallway, into the kitchen. I had to clean all over.”

The show ends with a preview of next week’s episode in which Patrick Duffy and Illeana Douglas guest star as Bruce’s parents. Kristine is excited by this. “Oh, it’s Bobby Ewing!” I ask her if they had Dallas in Sweden. “Of course we had Dallas. How do you think I learned English? Watched it every weekend with my mom as a kid,” she says. “Now Bobby Ewing is going to visit us! Finally, after all these years.”

Jeremy Stahl is a Slate senior editor. You can follow him on Twitter.

 

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