that . . .
In 2010, they widened their net to include computers, ipads and basically any device capable of receiving the Swedish television broadcast. You may opt out of payment or deregister your household, but only if you die . . . or no longer own a TV, whichever comes first.
I discovered the existence of the TV and Radio Tax when Radiotjänst phoned my home wondering why we had not paid our $320 USD. My wife, Kajsa, explained simply, firmly and in Swedish that we did not have a TV. I admit, this presents a rare, yet nonetheless, true scenario. An almost unimaginable circumstance to Radiotjänst, yet eventually they grasped the concept of a TV-free household and moved on.
She triggered long interrogations, the questioning of her national loyalty and the implication we were robbing ourselves – and more importantly our daughter -of great cultural oasis that is Swedish TV programming.
The zenith of Swedish programming, and by far the most popular, is The Melody Festival or Melodifestivalen, as it’s called in Swedish. It is a six Saturday national contest to democratically select Sweden’s entry into the Eurovision Song contest. It’s like American Idol, however, this is forced onto citizens by the government funding.
To its credit, in 1974 ABBA won the Melodifestivalen then Eurovision Song Contest emerging as a world-class super group.
And every year since 1974, like the Chicago Cub’s trying to break the curse of the goat, Sweden hopes their entry will produce another international phenomenon. Hope sings eternal.
Living in San Francisco we met our share of hyper crunchy granola, judgmental, self-righteous, organic-only-please, wood-toys-only-please, pseudo-hippie parents. In comparison, my views are in the conservative spectrum in SF.
While this never did manifest, her family loaned (or forced upon us) a used TV set that they kindly delivered directly into our living room. As they left our house I thought I heard a chant in murmured unison,
“One of us, one of us . . . ”
Eventually, our loaner TV crapped out on us, and we bought a new one. Within days we received a bill from Radiotjänst I ignored it.
As I peered around the room and through the window blinds, I was tempted to pull up the floorboards to search for microphones and cameras like Gene Hackman in the Conversation.
“How do they know we have a TV? Did you tell them, Kajsa?” I accused.
“But how did they find out? You mean the store collected my information and handed it over to the government and they used it to track me down and harass me?”
It felt very soviet era.
“That doesn’t seem ethical.” I protested.
Yet coming from a country that claims neutrality while the top export is military grade weapons, this sort of thing doesn’t seem to have stopped them before.
I still ignored the bill, and eventually Radiotjänst called our home. The female voice on the other end of the phone revealed an age of 22 if a day.
* Television Receiver: receives the basic TV broadcast signal, hence the clever name.
* Monitor: needs a signal feed via a cable from the cable line or VCR. It lacks a receiver.
“Of course. I’m calling from the Radio and TV Tax board and we understand you have a TV.”
“Well, we don’t have a TV, we have a monitor,” I said.
“No, you have a TV.”
“ . . . “
“Do you watch TV?” she accuses.
I counter, “Have you watched Swedish TV? Of course we don’t.”
“Well that does not matter. If you have a TV you must pay.”
“But we don’t have a TV, we have a monitor and we don’t watch TV. We only watch DVDs.”
“If you have a TV then it’s a TV.”
“No it’s a monitor.”
“No, a monitor is a TV, a screen is a screen. If you have a screen you must pay.”
Feeling insult to both mine and Governor Palin’s collegiate qualifications, my fuse is lit.
“Well you should have democratically decided to have some quality programs.” I offer.
Like the O. Henry’s story A Retrieved Reformation where a child locked in a bank safe forces a reformed safecracker to either reveal his criminal background and risk imprisonment or protect himself,
I feel my sin of omission can only save my dignity.
Her youthful, misinformed, arrogant tone set me off, sending me into a ragaholic fit and diatribe in crazy immigrant Swedish ending with “Ring the police! Send them over to my house!”
In the 1980’s Swedes chose to impose a tax on TV. In the 1980’s I chose to not go to New York to pursue acting. On the day of this call both of these choices collided, and my rage sprung from the shame of the cumulative sum of a lifetime of poor choices.
My chickens came home to roost resulting in my daughter thinking the police are coming for her dad any minute.
The sins of the father…..unlike the O. Henry story, I chose to save myself.
My wife returns from the cellar and just looks at me and says “What?”
I mutter, “ Oh nothing….just a sales call. By the way, have you paid the TV tax?”