...because you thought Sweden was Switzerland!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Monopoly - and Mellanopoly

As we were cleaning out Marcus' dad's old storage room looking for old stuff that used to belong or have been handed down to Marcus, we found, among other interesting childhood memorabilia like old handwritten projects (in the days before everybody had printers), a very old Monopol board in a yellowing box.

It's the very same thing as Monopoly, but in a Swedish version licensed under a company called Alga-spel. The streets here all correspond to actual areas in Stockholm, with "Centrum" as among one of the most expensive places to live.

Everything about this board is so vintage-y (or retro-y?). The Chance and Community Chest cards look like they've just been created with a typewriter – they look a bit like those old library catalogue cards from the past, but in faded pink and blue!

The houses and hotels are all made of wood. The playing pieces are plastic; only the train and the limousine remain from the set, though.

When I was in high school, my siblings and I used to have a tradition of playing Monopoly after dinner while waiting for the New Year. There was lots of banter and laughter – until people started getting bankrupt. Obviously, at one point in time, the richest players would continue to get richer as they accumulate assets and buy the others, who also have to pay more and more rent, off the game. Makes you hate capitalists, really.

As for me, I loved playing the game – when I was earning the most money, of course.

The guy in the middle is RJ, our family friend, who was happy being the small-scale capitalist. It wasn't going that well for my brother, on the other hand, as it was for me.


About a year ago, surfing for some Sweden-related sites, I ran across this fun online magazine for non-Swedes, The Turnip, which now seems discontinued. (The yellow turnip, or rutabaga, is also sometimes called swede). Most articles there poke fun at very typical Swedish things from the foreigner's perspective – kind of foreigners' "inside jokes", in that some require some familiarity with Swedish objects or culture to see the humor in them. Among the things that made me laugh was their new Swedish take on Monopoly, the Mellanopoly – "the Swedish property trading board game where the aim is to have roughly the same as everybody else"!

Mellan means "middle" in Swedish. The rules of this "new" game, which you can read about in full here, make reference to the so-called Swedish model, believed to be the third way between capitalism and communism, of giving security to all citizens through high taxes ("Super Super Tax" in the board). Swedes are believers of equality and fairness – sometimes exaggeratedly so. So, the game also pokes fun at the Swedish jantelagen, a belief that everyone should strive to appear like everybody else. "Perfectly normal, successful Swedes go to great pains to appear to be no better than anyone else because this would not be fair or equitable," my Swedish culture book reads. "It extends to the way people dress, their cars, their demeanor in public, and their inability to accept compliments gracefully."

Just look at Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA and one of the richest men in the world at one point in time. In an article about frugal billionaires, I read: "Even though he is worth approximately $31 billion he still wears very casual low cost clothing along with decorating his home with low cost furniture from his store. In addition, he still drives a 1993 Volvo!" From another article: "An April 2008 article in London's Daily Mail described the Swedish billionaire, with his faded coat and scuffed shoes, as looking like 'another pensioner scraping by on a tight budget.' Kamprad takes pride in furnishing his home with IKEA items he assembled himself". He also insists on traveling economy class with the rest of his employees. What's good enough for his employees should be good enough for him, he thinks. Or vice versa: he doesn't think he deserves anything more than what an ordinary employee does.

Is that Mellanopoly, or what?

Kidding aside, Filipino politicians who actually do think they're something could learn a thing or two from Ingvar. Do the filthy rich really have the right to flaunt their assets (if they were indeed accumulated in a fair manner), when there is tangible social inequality? Like the way Monopoly works, generations of rich groups will continue to have an advantage over generations of others who have virtually nothing, which really makes one think of what assets we "deserve" from birth, inheritance, or socialization. Are higher taxes, and consequently, less money for each individual's personal spending in order to give security to others the solution? Probably only if people, not least the politicians who manage the tax money, have a philosophy of mellanopoly, I think.


Marcus and I have since played two games on the old Monopol board, both of which I had won. Because we were only two players, it became obvious that the game was steered by chance, mostly through what we drew from the Chance and Community Chest cards, but also based on who lands on whose property more times until the game becomes too unequal. I was pretty happy with myself, but if you're the bankrupt one too many times, I can understand the game play does get pretty damn irritating.


Blogger Leplume said...

What you're describing, isn't that something like what is meant by "lagom"?

6:00 AM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

It's a bit related; "Lagom" is also one of those Swedish values, which means "just right" or "moderate". So, one takes just "lagom" amount of something one is offered, or does something in moderation. "Lagom" doesn't have the somewhat self-effacing (or overly-humble?) connotation as "jantelagen" though. The back side of jantelagen may be similar to the Japanese proverb that the nail sticking out gets hammered (say, if someone decides to flaunt a bit). But one can flaunt "lagom" much! ;-)

9:22 AM


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