Still I felt the need to challenge my son's skepticism. "All right," I said, "if America isn't #1, who is?"
My son thought about this for a few minutes before bursting out with, "Sweden!"
"Sweden," I repeated. "You think Sweden is the #1 country in the world?"
"Well," he said cautiously, "maybe not historically. I don't know much about Swedish history. But I bet they're better than us in terms of their economic and environmental policies!"
"When have you ever heard or read anything reported about Sweden's economy or environmental polices?" I asked.
"I haven't but that's the point!" he said defiantly. "You told me that the news media doesn't give very much airtime or print space for reporting good news and they like to spend lots and lots of time reporting all the bad news. They almost never even bother to report on Sweden at all so it must be a pretty awesome place where lots of good things happen and bad things almost never do!"
"Ah," I said, thinking I had found the flaw in his logic. "The thing about America is that we can be kind of egocentric. If something is happening in another country, good or bad, and it doesn't effect us economically or militarily you probably won't hear about it in the American media."
My son narrowed his eyes and leaned forward. "Chi-chi-chi, le-le-le. What do a bunch of Chilean miners have to do with our economy or our military?"
"You never hear about Swedish miners being trapped in unsafe mines because it probably doesn't happen!" my son continued, not giving me time to regroup. "The only people who ever can find anything to report about Sweden are the people who work for the Travel Channel or guys who work for some family channel like Disney or PBS or something and even then all you see are a bunch of happy, Swedish people being super nice and polite. They say Canadians are nicer than Americans but I bet Canadians are a bunch of jerks compared to the Swedes!"
This gave me a moment's pause. I felt I was losing this argument...to an eleven-year old. I searched my brain for the last time I had read anything in the media about Sweden. It had been in an article about Alexander Skarsgård who plays Eric on True Blood. I have a huge crush on Alexander Skarsgård so that article had indeed made me very happy. I also have a Swedish friend, Janica, who I know from our days in New York during our college years. She's now designing jewelry back in Sweden and she recently sent me a necklace she had made. That had made me happy too. And it's certainly true that nothing that has happened in Sweden has ever made me unhappy. In my entire life I have never said, "Damn it, the Swedes are really messing everything up!" So maybe my son has a point. If nothing else I am clearly incapable of proving him wrong.
So perhaps, when I can, I'll take Janica up on her repeated invitation and make my next international trip to Sweden. If I do go I plan to find out if any Swedish miners have ever been trapped anywhere and if the majority of Swedes are truly nicer than our mild mannered neighbors to the North.