When place marketeer Julian Stubbs first came to Sweden, someone told him that ‘Stockholm is the Venice of the North’. In his marketing brain that meant that ‘Stockholm is a second rate Venice’. He says that the starting point for his involvement in the development of Stockholm's new tagline was that Stockholm needed something crisp and clear, something that they could own.
Since 2006 Stockholm uses the tagline ‘The Capital of Scandinavia’, which was developed by Stubbs. In real life Stockholm is only the Capital of Sweden. Other capitals in Scandinavia were not amused. So why this colonialist claim?
During the 17th century most of Scandinavia was part of the Swedish empire. This situation changed in the beginning of the 18th century, when the Swedish borders returned to, more or less, where they are today. Norway was part of the Swedish empire longer. They shared the same king, but formed officially a union with Sweden and had a great deal of independence. Full independence by Norway was gained in 1905. Today, Stockholm is no longer the capital of Scandinavia.
'The Capital of Scandinavia’ brand is built on three distinctive legs, the first two are: ‘the culture capital’ and the ‘business capital’, which, according to Stubbs, are better in Stockholm than in other Scandinavian cities. The third leg is that Stockholm is ‘the geographic centre point of our definition of Scandinavia’. I don’t really know what definition Stubbs has of Scandinavia, but I think that Örnsköldsvik, a small town some 500 km to the north of Stockholm, would stand a better chance. This is if we don’t count Iceland, because in that case the Capital of Scandinavia would be somewhere in the Norwegian Sea.
When I first arrived in Stockholm, over a thousand international students and I, were welcomed in the main hall of the university. We got a lecture about the spirit of the Swedes (and Scandinavians in general), which, according to them, can be summarized quite easily as ‘Jante Lagen’ (Law of Jante).
This law seemed quite harsh to me in the beginning, as I was confronted with the following list:
- You're not to think you are anything special.
- You're not to think you are as good as we are.
- You're not to think you are smarter than we are.
- You're not to convince yourself that you are better than we are.
- You're not to think you know more than we do.
- You're not to think you are more important than we are.
- You're not to think you are good at anything.
- You're not to laugh at us.
- You're not to think anyone cares about you.
- You're not to think you can teach us anything.
Soon I learned that these laws are not absolute, and that Swedes are actually warm caring people, do not think they know everything best and are even have some self-irony. As I understood, the Law of Jante should be interpreted as ‘Don’t be an arrogant douche’.
‘An arrogant douche’ is exactly what Stockholm sounds like, using this pompous tagline. But it is not what Stockholm is. Most of the people that I have met here are modest. Maybe not according to Scandinavian standards, but at least much more than in other places in the western world.
Stockholm, ‘the capital of Scandinavia’, therefore seems as an outdated phrase. So like Stubbs who has three reasons why it’s good, I have three reasons why it’s not: it’s incorrect, it doesn’t capture the Stockholm spirit, and it’s outdated by over a hundred years.