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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Stockholm, Sweden is more than 4,000 miles from the Twin Cities. But there’s a closeness between these cultures.

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American studies professor Dag Blanck can attest to this notion.

“Minnesota received many, many immigrants from Sweden,” Blanck said.

In fact, about 10% of Minnesotans claim Swedish heritage, as seen at the yearly summer festival and the popular American Swedish Institute museum in Minneapolis.

Blanck knows a lot about both cultures, and he visits often. He talked with WCCO from his home in Sweden.

“Most Swedes have relatives in America … and are interested in what’s going on in the United States,” he said.

What’s going on here is very different from what’s going on there. Blanck says people are not commonly wearing masks and gloves.

“No, not so far,” he said.

There’s also no stay-at-home order. Restaurants are open, as well as schools.

“Sweden has not gone the route of many other countries over the of complete shutdown,” he said.

But they are social distancing, and like Blanck, many work from home.

“My life is more restrictive. I don’t go out as much. I can go to grocery stores, I go to my café. But I, you know, I haven’t traveled outside of Stockholm for close to two months,” he said.

But he says it’s not an order to stay distanced — it’s more of a suggestion. And he says his people are inclined to follow the rules.

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“This is a part of our culture,” Blanck said. “The big difference in Sweden and the United States is our view of the state and authorities. There is a strong skepticism of central government, of the state in the U.S.”

He also notes that daily press conferences in the countries look quite different. While they are led by elected leaders in the U.S., they are led by doctors in Sweden.

Professor Dahg Blanck (credit: CBS)

“Our prime minister is not up there voicing his opinions about what’s going on, so to speak,” Blanck said.

The idea in Sweden is to flatten the curve without closing businesses — but there are rules.

“In a restaurant, you have to sit down. You can’t go to a counter and ask for food there, or hang in the bar and get a beer there,” he said.

The formula has not been perfect. The COVID-19 death rate in Sweden is 36 per 100,000 people. In the U.S., it’s 27.

As for the economy, the unemployment rate in Sweden is around 8%. In the U.S., it’s 14.7%.

“We have read about hospitals in the Twin Cities laying off health care workers, and to us that seems so strange,” he said.

He believes their health care system is more protected because its public. But does he think Sweden is doing it right?

“I really hope so. It’s too late to change now,” he said.

Time will tell if the two regions with much in common share similar results.

Sweden’s death rate is nine times higher than neighboring Norway, which went into lockdown in March.

While restaurants remain open in Sweden, Professor Blanck says fewer diners are eating out, which has resulted in the service and tourism industries taking a big hit.

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Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield