As the first day of Rally Sweden (and the brand new World Rally Car era) has shown, the country is full of contrasts. There’s the bleakness of Ingmar Bergman films versus the manic jollity of Abba, the reassuring safety of Volvo versus the frisson of danger that a moose through the windscreen might bring at any moment. Not to mention the surprise of the reasonably unknown Mads Ostberg leading the rally. That’s right; do not adjust your sets.
So, in the spirit of the unexpected, here are 10 more disarming facts about Sweden, in no particular order…
1. Sweden is a very socialist country. This means that as an employee you can take sick leave from your paid holiday if you fall ill during it, and you have the right to camp anywhere in the country that is not fenced in or private property.
2. Rhubarb and blueberry are common flavours of ice cream in Sweden: a dessert that is remarkably popular despite the subzero temperatures.
3. Swedish people have the longest life expectancy in Europe, of over 80 years old. Unless a moose through the windscreen gets them first.
4. Sweden has the highest number of McDonalds restaurants per capita of any country in Europe. Try Swedish food and it’s relatively easy to see why: one local delicacy is made of rotting fish.
5. Sweden has the highest rate of income tax of anywhere in the world, with a maximum rate of 59% - which is why most high-earning Swedes live abroad.
6. Some of the most useful inventions in the world have been Swedish. Had it not been for Sweden, we wouldn’t have the zipper, the refrigerator, the computer mouse, the marine propeller or, of course Ikea, (which first opened in Sweden in 1943). But for every one Ikea, there are 39 McDonalds (see above).
7. Most Swedish people have wooden floors as they believe that mould grows under a fitted carpet. They also believe in keeping houses heated to around 23 degrees centigrade – as even in the depths of winter it’s normal to wander around at home wearing just a T-shirt and bare feet.
8. The words ‘bra’, ‘fart’, ‘sex’ and ‘slut’ are entirely acceptable parts of the Swedish language.
9. The first person to win a rally special stage in a Citroen DS3 WRC was Sebastien…Ogier, on SS6 of Rally Sweden. Yes, Citroen’s up-and-coming star has drawn first blood over his venerable team leader, Monsieur Loeb.
10. Ford won all the stages bar one on the opening day of this year’s World Rally Championship in Sweden. Has it gone dramatically wrong for reigning champions Citroen? So far, we've seen more twists in Sweden than a Stieg Larsson novel…