Eleanor Margolis: sapphic cynic at large

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2am in a gay bar in Stockholm is the best time to discuss the NHS

If you’re a Scene Lesbian, whenever you’re abroad, you feel obligated to have a quick look at what gays do for fun wherever you are.

A rousing speech on the dangers of Swedish nationalism is a bit of a turn-off. Photo: Getty
A rousing speech on the dangers of Swedish nationalism is a bit of a turn-off. Photo: Getty

There’s nothing sexier than socialised health care. Free education comes close but state-funded hospitals are the welfare state’s lacy knickers. Possibly. OK, maybe not. But it’s around 2am and I’m in a gay bar in Stockholm, discussing the NHS with a Norwegian woman. Ms Oslo is in her mid-forties; with her cropped blonde hair and polo shirt, she’s the sort of 1990s tennis lesbian I hardly ever get a chance to speak to in London, mostly because we inhabit different parts of the Scene.

According to my slapdash pre-Stockholm-trip googling, Torget is Stockholm’s version of somewhere like GAY in London: well established, cheesy and reasonably friendly. I’m the youngest person in it.

“So, how long have you been in Sweden?” I ask Ms Oslo, hoping to steer the conversation towards something more discussable over thumping Europop.

“Seven years now,” she says.

“Wow. So I’m guessing you like it here.” (Keep it boring.)

“It’s nice,” she begins. “I can’t stand the Swedes, though. Bunch of Nazis.”

I feel a Holocaust conversation brewing.

“Really?”

Why am I encouraging her?

In some of the best English I’ve ever heard, Ms Oslo proceeds drunkenly to outline the history of the Swedish far right – from Nazi collaboration to the various modern-day nationalist movements.

Ten minutes later, to the music of “Dancing Queen” (really), I’m trying to examine the chain of events that led to a Norwegian woman and me shouting about fascism in a Swedish gay bar.

If you’re a Scene Lesbian (even a reluctant one like me), whenever you’re abroad, you feel obligated to have a quick look at what gays do for fun wherever you are. There’s always a flicker of hope that you are about to strike glittering gay gold.

I was optimistic about Sweden. I imagined a rainbow-kissed utopia of tall, liberal Norse women: possibly the kind of thing Hitler would have had in mind, if he were a left-wing lesbian. Perhaps I was hoping for an army of gay Saga Noréns (the blunt bombshell from The Bridge). I’d let them take me hiking in pine forests. We’d drink from Thermoses together.

As it goes, I can’t see myself having a laugh in the wilderness with Ms Oslo. All this Nazi chat has me edging towards the toilets, where I’ll need to devise an escape plan, possibly by way of the window like in films. She’s affable, as is the Stockholm gay scene as far as I can see. But I’ve always wanted to steal into the night. And, with Ms Oslo still delivering a rousing speech on the dangers of Swedish nationalism, that’s exactly what I do.