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How Elin Nordegren Woods, known by one name in her native land, epitomizes the Swedish character.
STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Swedes like to say that Elin Nordegren Woods, 29, embodies everything Swedish: humble, shy, discrete, independent, sporty, down to earth and liberal.
Nordegren’s marriage to Tiger Woods, however, has doomed her to a very un-Swedish fame. Here “Elin,” like Madonna, is known by one name only. And when Nordegren and Woods spent Christmas in northern Sweden several years ago, the Swedish press spent hours waiting in temperatures of -28 degrees Fahrenheit for a glimpse of them.
Now at the center of a tabloid swarm following Woods’ car accident outside their Florida home and subsequent admission of infidelity, Nordegren has purchased a home on a remote Swedish island. But will the Sweden that made her shy away from publicity in the first place give her the privacy she evidently craves?
Swedes attribute Nordegren’s level-headed nature and disdain for the limelight to her upbringing in a society based on social democracy and equality for all, including women. Few democratic countries have changed government fewer times than the Land of Vikings: The Social Democratic Party has ruled Sweden for 66 of the past 77 years.
Taxes here are among the world’s highest, offset by the world’s most generous welfare system. Sweden abolished the death penalty 1921, mandates five weeks vacation for all workers, made the firing of pregnant women illegal in 1945, established universal health care 1955 and mandated a maximum 40-hour work week in 1970. The state finances abortion until the 19th week of pregnancy, finances parental insurance, and guarantees 16 months paid parental leave from work of which two are dedicated to the father only. All education, including universities, is free.
Nordegren has remained true to her Swedish values. “The fact that the standard of living gap is more evident in the U.S. than in Sweden feels hard," she told the now-defunct website flickor.se following her move to Florida in 2000 to work as a nanny. "But there is much I appreciate with the U.S., as well. For example, the fascinating cities and the cheerful atmosphere.”
Nordegren has shunned the media, and her family and friends have supported this, refusing to make comments to the media. Until recently, she and Woods were not the focus of tabloid gossip. Discretion almost to the point of shyness is very Swedish. Bragging about money and fame is unacceptable. A 1933, Scandinavian novel about a small town established the informal "Jante Law," a 10-point rule on group behavior: "Don't think you're anyone special or better" is the message.
Swedish fashion icon and photographer Bingo Rimer, who knows Nordegren well, is one of very few friends who has talked to the media about her.
“She was very hesitant with Tiger to start with. It took a year until they became an item," Rimer told the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet. "She is a very good girl, and that was why Tiger was so extremely in love with her. I believe she felt a mental barrier because of his fame. She has never looked for any attention." She once even turned down a Vanity Fair interview and photo shoot, he said.
“Who would turn down Vanity Fair? Not me," Rimer said. "But Elin did. She is a strong woman with so much integrity. She never married Tiger because of fame.”