Dagen H

This was a major deal for millions of people at the time.

I’m always a little bit startled when I only just learn something that was a major deal for millions of people at the time. It makes me wonder what else I’ve been blissfully ignorant of. A lot, I’m sure. That’s unsettling.

And so it was that a friend told me that Sweden switched from left hand traffic to right hand traffic on September 3, 1967. It was called Högertrafikomläggningen, which translates as “the right-hand traffic diversion” and is fortunately referred to as Dagen H (Day H) for short.

The reason Swedish Parliament chose to make that change, despite the public not being too keen on it, is that all the neighboring countries were driving on the right, and oddly enough, the vast majority of Swedish cars had the steering wheel on the left already, so right hand driving would give them a great deal more visibility.

It cost a lot to make the change. 350,000 signs had to be faced in a different direction. Stop lights had to be moved. Intersections had to be changed, and road paint had to be altered. Even bus doors had to be put on the opposite side of those vehicles.

It took even more prep work than I’m describing, but ultimately they made the change in very orderly fashion. If yours was one of the few essential cars on the road at 4:50 am on Sunday, September 3, 1967, you had to come to a halt. You then moved your car from the left side of the road to the right, and you waited until 5:00 am, to give everybody time to do the same. And then off you went, driving on the right. Ta-da!

Discovering this made me wonder how many other countries have changed their driving sides. It seems that 165 countries drive on the right side, and 75 countries drive on the left. (I wasn’t expecting so many lefties, but there you have it. They account for about 1/6th of the land area, and 1/4th of the roads.)

But of all of those, most have stayed with the side they started with. Who can blame them. But there have been 52 countries which switched from driving on the left to driving on the right. On the other hand, there have been, believe it or not, five countries that have switched to driving on the left. The change seems to have been made either due to a change in their colonial status, or a desire to be able to buy cheaper cars from their left side driving neighboring countries. The five that made the switch, because I know you’re wondering, are East Timor, Namibia, Nauru, Samoa, and Suriname.

An interesting little tidbit that I came across is that here in the US there was no fixed rule until a keep-right law was passed in 1792, and then it only applied to the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike. New York didn’t hop on the bandwagon, so to speak, until 1804. New Jersey did it in 1813, and Massachusetts in 1821. And even though the US Virgin Islands are a US territory, they drive on the left. That’s unusual, because most colonial entities follow the way of their occupiers. Go figure.

I have never driven on the left, and would be afraid to try. My mild dyslexia confuses me enough without making that change. I’ve only visited a left hand driving country once, and that was to change planes in England. I had to take a shuttle to my next plane, and as I had just gotten off a transatlantic flight, I was pretty exhausted. So when I looked up to see another shuttle coming at us on the “wrong” side of the road (from my perspective), I nearly screamed.

I bet they get that a lot.

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Dagen H.

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It’s a very sad moment when the world loses a wondrous sound.

Starting in the middle ages, and right up until the current era, you could go to the mountainous forests of parts of Sweden, Finland and Norway and hear haunting melodies, each one unique to itself, echoing through the hills and valleys. These were the shepherds, traditionally women in those areas, calling to their cows, sheep, ducks or goats. Any creature with sense would gladly come home to those beautiful voices, as would I.

Now that I’ve heard these gorgeous sounds, like yodels from another realm, I can’t get them out of my head. They are siren songs. They’re primal. They reach the marrow of your bones. For a great example of Kulning, go here. If, after that, you are as hungry for more as I was, and if you’re patient enough to wait through the Swedish narrative, you can hear many more examples in this video.

Sadly, this way of life is dying out, and the valleys are much more quiet and introspective than they once were. Kulning has turned into an art form that one can experience in live performances, but if you’re lucky enough to actually see cows being sung home, it will be a rare treat, indeed.

It’s a very sad moment when the world loses a wondrous sound.

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Was this a country I never heard of? How is that even possible?

I saw that word for the first time in my life at the Nordic Museum here in Seattle. And there was a beautiful flag underneath. It was in a display, right next to similar displays for Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland. Was this a country I never heard of? How is that even possible?

Upon further investigation, I learned that Sápmi is the land of the Sami people, and it stretches over vast swaths of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. There may be as many as 135,000 Sami people roaming around out there. And they have been around since prehistoric times, inhabiting the area for at least 5,000 years. Again, how had I never heard of them?

Turns out I have. But in elementary school I was taught that they are called Laplanders, or Lapps. Apparently these are actually derogatory terms.

I was taught that they herded reindeer. That fascinated me. But currently only 10 percent of them are doing this, even though, in some regions, they are the only people allowed to do so. They also herd sheep, and are known for fishing and fur trapping as well.

Over the years, they have suffered the same indignities as other indigenous people. Land encroachment. Suppression of their language and culture. Forced relocation and assimilation. Sterilization (which went on until 1975). Children taken far away to missionary schools. The fact that they have their own parliaments, university, anthem and flag tells you much about their ability to resist such outrages.

The Sami people have contributed much to science, exploration, literature, art, music, politics and sports. Theirs is a vibrant culture. Sadly, due to the suppression of their many languages, all their languages are considered in danger of dying out, and that usually is a death knell for a culture. But I genuinely believe that the more of us that learn about and celebrate these fascinating people, the more likely that their culture will continue to survive for future generations.

Don’t you just love learning something new?

The Flag of Sápmi

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