I was grateful to see Andrew Ferren's NY Times' piece about the beaches in the South of Sweden. Press is good. Still, I was a bit taken aback by his accounting. I have a house in Malmö, and although there I have heard the phrase "Gold Coast" to describe a spectacular stretch of valuable frontage, the thought of a local using "Our Hamptons" as his or her private sobriquet for Falsterbro, as Ferren suggests, made me, well, giggle. On that rare occasion when a citizen is adding a famous moniker, it is more likely to be the Swedish Riviera, and even then he or she is probably channeling Basil Fawlty and not drawing visual comparisons with Cannes. They are Swedes, for godsakes. They get Eurail passes for their second birthday.They learn to walk, then hit the Jetway. They've been to the real Riviera, they know the difference, and they don't make flippant or blowhard comparisons. (Although, actually, I could imagine them making broad reference to help a foreign journalist get his bearings.)
So no. Swedes aren't going to be privately calling their favorite beaches the Swedish Hamptons or the Skåne Bora Bora. Instead, they will appreciate the uniqueness of what is theirs: beaches that are clean and wide, loaded with soft sand, and edged with dunes and grasses that offer enclaves of privacy and protection. Add a sun that during the summer never wants to set into the horizon, and a sea front, from the city to county along the entire width of the country's southern shore, loaded with drop-dead gorgeous regular, everyday people.
Now where have I seen that combination before? Oh, right. Nowhere.
Ferren spent a fair bit of ink suggesting that there is a great class distinction and it is the upper class that enjoys the beach life most. Well, citizens earn different incomes and have different tastes, but with income tax rates up to almost 60%, and VAT, property taxes, and something called a "You simply have too much" tax on top of that, the class warfare that does go on is about as heated as a solid game of table tennis. While he wastes time on status, he fails to mention that no one can own the land along the beaches. It belongs to the public. So anyone who wants to go to the beach, anywhere, can. (Unlike the Long Island State Park Commission and Robert Moses' efforts to keep the poor off the New York coast.)
He thought everyone at the beach was rich, but perhaps Ferren was confused by all the the polo shirts and linen dresses. That was more a function of a smartly orchestrated socialist state. So much of the big ticket living expenses (e.g. child and health care, education, retirement) are provided for in Sweden. After-tax dollars are limited, but instead of being satisfied with buying a lot of the cheapest garbage available, there is a widespread appreciation for design and structure that is both beautiful and functional. Even those with the least amount of spending power are serviced by companies with the philosophy: good design for all. That's why Swedes have Ikea and H&M and we get camo bras from Walmart and spray cheese from the Dollar Store. As a general rule, the Swedes don't buy crap.
Ferren needs to go back. He needs to spend more time in the design shops. He needs to find a dune to fall asleep in, have sex in. He needs to walk for miles along the beaches and, like a Swede, say very little. In fact, he needs to say very little for days while his skin hardens as it soaks up every second of the sun, appreciating that in a few months the sun will disappear for most of the day. Only then can he begin to write accurately about the beaches for us.