How to tell if you're Swedish
by Anders Janson
Another response to my How to Tell If You're American page.
Anders lives in Göteborg, teaching Swedish and English to 12th-year students;
before going into teaching he studied Swedish folklore. He's married and has two children.
If you're Swedish...
- You are familiar with a number of American TV shows, because it's cheaper to buy that stuff than to produce domestic originals. You normally prefer British TV and film productions to American, though.
- Hem till byn is a series that has been around since the 70's, not running continuously but appearing again every decade with an update. Nilecity 105,6" (mHz) was a rather avant garde 90's comedy series. Cleo, another comedy series, is running now.
Danish films and TV series are often well made, and suit your temperament.
- You know how (association) football is played: with a round ball, of course.
Ice hockey is not unheard of. If you are male, you can argue intricate points about the rules.
- You get at least five weeks of vacation a year.
- You will make your peace with God and repent on your deathbed, but not before.
You are not unlikely to believe in God in a loose sort of way, but atheism is common.
You are nominally Protestant, belonging to the recently (2000 A.D.) disestablished national church of Sweden,
or you could be a Free Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal or Jew and then you would probably care more about it.
Or you belong to an immigrant minority, in which case you would be Moslem or Catholic and possibly devoutly religious.
A tiresome necessity
- You think of McDonald's, Burger King (there's no KFC) etc. as unwholesome, fast and fairly cheap food, but no bargain.
- You certainly own a couple of telephones and TV sets. Your place is heated in the winter and has its own bathroom. You do your laundry in a machine. You do not kill your own food unless you hunt or fish. You don't have a dirt floor. You eat at a table, sitting on chairs.
- You do not consider insects, dogs, cats, monkeys, or guinea pigs to be food,
but crayfish, crabs, reindeer, and semi-raw or fermented fish certainly are.
- A bathroom may not have a bathtub in it: it could have a shower. It probably has a toilet.
A separate toilet/WC is called by its actual name.
- The telephone system, railroads, and power companies are privately run, but you can easily remember when things were different.
It is a queer sort of privatisation they have staged, for the infrastructure of power, phones and railways is still
monopolised and only the operations side is sold out.
All operators rent the power lines, phone lines and tracks from the formerly state owned monopoly
so the competition is largely an illusion and it has not lowered prices much, if at all.
Car manufacturers - Volvo, SAAB and Scania - were always private, and airlines and power companies used to be owned jointly by national and private interests.
- You expect, as a matter of course, that the phones will work. Getting a new phone is routine.
These days you'd probably get a Finnish or Swedish cellphone.
- It is also routine to do large or regular payments by simply transferring money from one bank account to another, and you are surprised when you hear that Americans still send checks by mail.
- The train system does not seem as reliable as it used to. Trains go faster than cars but they are regrettably more expensive if you travel as a family; you are better off taking your car. Domestic flights are for those who do not pay for their tickets themselves.
- You need to be 18 to get a drivers license. You usually take some paid lessons but can also practice a bit on the side with an experienced driver. Lessons are expensive.
- You can order a beer legally at 18 (and restaurants usually do not ask for your ID) The same rules apply for hard stuff such as whisky or rum. But if you want to buy entire bottles in the liquor monopoly stores you have to be 20 years old and they do ask for your ID.
The Vikings these days only make sewing machines
- You do not care about the European Union unless you have landed a cushy job in Brussels, or perhaps if you are the right kind of subsidised farmer. You may have heard it was all designed to keep eternal peace between Germany and France, which is grand, but not really your business.
Still, it's probably better to be part of it than to be left out.
- You find a two-party system strange: what's normal is parliamentary systems with an entire left to right scale of parties.
You expect only the politicians of right wing parties to be responsive to business, strong on defense, and concerned with the middle class.
Still, all the parties are really out to woo the middle class these days and no big party is overly extreme.
- You will sometimes hear socialism seriously defended. Communism still exists in the minds of some people.
- Besides "black" and "white" there is "yellow". Someone with one black and one white parent might look black, but anyone who speaks Swedish without an accent is culturally Swedish enough and just superficially exotic.
- You think most problems could be solved if only people would put aside their prejudices and work together.
- You take a reliable court system for granted, even if you do not use it. You guess that if you went into business and had problems with a customer, partner, or supplier, you could take them to court. If you went out of business you would certainly end up in court.
- You would respect someone who speaks French and German even if you don't speak them well enough to communicate.
You think the schools should teach kids English, which is probably the only foreign language you are semifluent in.
People can, à la rigeur, travel across Europe using nothing but English, and possibly get by pretty well in the rest of the world, too.
- You think a tax level of 55% is scandalously high. Some pay more, some pay less.
A minimum of 30% is first deducted at the source of income by the employer, the rest is 6-25% VAT that you pay on all purchases. Even the poorest pay this much.
- School is free and university too (there is the option to choose private schools).
If you got a scholarship it would go towards subsistence, not tuition. You normally apply for state loans to live on.
- University is (excluding graduate studies) three years long (= B.A.)
Högskolor, higher schools: (technical, mercantile or medical schools; cf. écoles superieurs, Hochschulen)
are four to six years.
- Mustard comes in jars or tubes or plastic squeezable bottles. Shaving cream comes in cans, or cakes or bars, if you are conservative. Milk comes in cardboard Tetra-brik boxes, but it used to come in bottles.
- The date comes last: 2002-09-05. (no memorable date: disasters seldom happen in Sweden, touch wood)
- The decimal point is a comma.
- A billion is a million times a million, which is hardly ever heard. A thousand times a million is a miljard, which is often used.
Happy Boys & Girls
- World Wars I and II were wars we did not fight. We like to believe that not many could have threatened our chosen neutrality during WW I.
In WW II we would probably have been an easy mark, had we not succeeded in keeping out of it.
The last war (granted all the suffering of course) seems to have ended all right. The whole Swedish nation came together, mobilising to keep the world at a distance.
Instead of insisting on vengeance, the US not ungenerously rebuilt Europe with the Marshall Plan, but you think
Sweden did not get any of it. The battle of Stalingrad, when allied victory first became pretty certain, made lots of people see the error of their ways and after the war the old Swedish focus on German language and culture was quickly exchanged for an Anglo-Saxon one. Sonst würde dieses auf Deutsch geschrieben worden. It is prudent to side with the winner.
- You expect marriages to be made for love, not arranged by third parties. Getting married in the town hall is an option, but not a requirement; many are wed in church:
their third appearance there after christening and confirmation.
You have a best man (marskalk) and a maid or matron of honor (tärna) at the wedding,
who are either your friends or siblings.
If you can you could rustle up some children (brudnäbbar) to carry the train of the bride's frock.
And, naturally, a man gets only one wife at a time.
- If a man has sex with another man, he is probably a homosexual, otherwise he would not enjoy it at all. It is not a crime anymore - it is indeed possible to get a legal registration of homosexual partnership, but churches do not marry couples of the same sex.
- Once you are introduced to someone (well, besides the royals and other lofty figures), you can get away with calling them by their first name. You can call almost anyone "thou" in Sweden, if you keep a polite tone of voice, even if you do not know their first name.
- If you are a woman, you can sit at the beach topless if you care to, but you would probably put something on to go and buy an ice cream.
- You are not circumcised, except for therapeutic reasons (constriction) or religious reasons (Moslem and Jewish men; East African women)
- A hotel room has a private bath.
- Foreign films are subtitled. Dubbing is for children.
- You seriously expect to be able to transact business, or deal with the government, without paying bribes.
- If a politican has been cheating on his wife, you would probably question his ability to govern.
- Just about any store bigger than a convenience store or a tobacconist's will take your credit or bank card.
- A company cannot fire anybody it wants. Instead, many companies hire temps through an agency: permanent employment is being
superseded by this rent-a-person procedure.
- You like your bacon crisp, or not, as you please. Green bacon (salted but not smoked) is traditionally slightly less crisp.
- Labour Day is called 1st of May. Not many march in demonstrations anymore.
You think we're dour, you should see the Finns
- You have probably seen the Hollywood films that were fit to export and then some.
You will have seen several films by Ingemar Bergman and, for laughs, those of Lasse Åberg. Lasse Hallström made a few films here before he went to Hollywood.
- You know "the western canon" of popular music.
You may not play ABBA and Roxette much, but you are proud of the successful export sales. If you do not care about being thought sophisticated you may listen to what is called "dance band music".
- You've read childrens books by Astrid Lindgren. You mostly read only newspapers, unless you have literary interests,
in which case you will have read Strindberg and Lagerlöf, and possibly contemporary Swedish authors such as
PC. Jersild, Torgny Lindgren, Kerstin Ekman and Göran Tunström.
- You count on excellent emergency medical treatment. For planned surgery such as a prosthetic hip joint you will have to queue up for a long time.
- You know you are not going to die of cholera or other Third World diseases. You will probably succumb to an Old World ailment brought on by gluttony and stress.
- You expect very strong measures to be taken to save very ill babies or people in their eighties. You think dying at 65 would be a tragedy.
- You went over Swedish and European history in school, not much Russian or Chinese, but some North American.
- You expect the military to do UN peacekeeping, not get involved in politics. You may be able to name the Commander in Chief, (General Hederstedt) because he is on the news now and then announcing that he is disbanding some regiment or other.
The armed forces are conscripted, but the whole class/year group is not drafted and trained these days.
- Your country has never been conquered by a foreign nation, though it was in a Nordic personal union under Danish rule for a period in late medieval times.
- You are used to a wide, but not ridiculous, variety of choices for almost anything you buy.
- You measure things in metres, kilograms, and litres. There is also a particular Swedish mile of 10 kilometres that others do not use.
- You are probably not a farmer but not so long ago everybody was one.
- The people who appear on the most popular talk shows are mostly entertainers, politicians, or, sometimes authors. The first Swedish Rikki Lake copy just appeared, so we will be seeing a number of rather strange individuals from now on.
- You drive on the right side of the road since 1967. You stop your car at red lights even if nobody is around. If you are a pedestrian and cars are stopped at a red light, you will fearlessly cross the street in front of them.
- The nationality people most often make jokes about is the Norwegians.
You think of Norway as a pleasant, peaceful, but rather dull country, which has suddenly developed inexplicably. They have oceans of low-sulphur petroleum on the continental shelf, which makes them less of a joke these days.
- The Danes are jovial but crafty. They are the ones we always fought wars with; you don't really make jokes about them.
They think they are the most continental Scandinavian country. It may well be so, but who wants to be continental?
- The Finns are taciturn, hardworking stoics who have always shielded us from the Russians and come here to work. Thank you, Finland! Finns think that the comparatively talkative and urbane Swedish men are homosexuals. Swedes in their turn think the same about most southern europeans, who talk fast and cry a lot. These days Finns make fantastic mobile phones.
- You consider the Volkswagen Beetle to be a mediumish car. A Volvo or a Saab is a normal car. Fiat Tipo is small. American cars have become smaller than they used to be. Pre oil crisis U.S. classics are imported and restored by rural swedes who are wannabe rednecks, if that can be pictured. You do not actually get a very red neck working outdoors in Sweden.
- The police are armed, though not normally with submachine guns.
- Nevertheless, there may be parts of the city you want to avoid at night.
- If a woman is plumper than average, it doesn't improve her looks.
- The biggest meal of the day is in the evening, if you are urban or white collar, otherwise maybe at noon.
- You feel that your kind of people are not being listened to enough in Stockholm.
- You would not expect both inflation and unemployment to be very high (say, over 15%) at the same time.
- You would always say that you do not care very much what family someone comes from, but you would secretly prefer them to be as similar to yourself as possible.
Space and time
- The normal thing, when a couple dies, is for their estate to be divided equally between their children. However, these days the estate is not divided until the last survivor dies, unless he or she choses to distribute parts of it; a fairly new law here.
- You think of opera and ballet as rather elite entertainments. It is likely you do not see that many plays, either.
- Changing your name is not too difficult, from what I have heard. It takes a bit of paperwork on the part of the authorities, so it costs you about 120 euro for a new surname. One's first name can be adjusted gratis. You would need to prove your right to claim a family name that is already taken. If you are fabricating a new name, it must not be so linguistically silly, or so obscene, that it would not be fit to bear. You will be advised in the matter.
- Christmas is in the winter. Unless you are Moslem or Jewish, you spend it with your family, give presents on December 24, and put up a tree (Picea abies).
Easter is in the spring. Unless you are Moslem or Jewish, this holiday involves painting and consuming eggs and taking in fresh branches of a birch tree (Betula alba) dressed in feathers.
- You do not think about the church much, since it is not too powerful. You are not yet used to having a disestablished church but you do not think about that much either. You are probably still a (silent) member of the Church of Sweden (Lutheran) but you go there only for christenings, marriages and funerals.
- You would be hard pressed to name the leaders of all the nations of Europe. You may know the capitals.
- Comics basically come in three varieties: newspaper comics, magazines and albums;
You know Åsa Nisse, 91:an, Hälge, Herman Hedning, Tin Tin and Asterix,
but you're not familiar with Mafalda, Corto Maltese, Milo Manara, Guido Crepax, Gotlib, or Moebius.
- You have left a message at the beep once too often, you are bored with it and you are learning to send SMS.
- Taxis are sometimes operated by foreigners, who are slightly ignorant about the city.
- You are a supporter of welfare and unemployment payments, but you think people should earn a living and not take handouts. You would certainly not be in favour of eliminating Social Security and Medicare.
- If you want to be a doctor, you need to pass a kandidat and a magister first,
but I think you can skip the licentiat if you are going for a doctorate.
- There aren't that many lawyers. If you are not in the legal profession, not terribly rich, not divorced and not a criminal, you probably do not know one.
- If you have an appointment, you will mutter an excuse if you are five minutes late, and apologize profusely if it is ten minutes. An hour late is almost inexcusable.
- If you are talking to someone, you get uncomfortable if they approach closer than about 60 centimetres.
- About the only things you expect to bargain for are houses, cars, and possibly antiques.
Haggling is largely a matter of finding the hidden point that is the buyer's minimum, but you are often too shy to do that.
- Once you are past college, you very rarely simply show up at someone's place. People have to invite each other over, especially if a meal is involved.
- When you negotiate, you are polite, of course, but it is only good business to 'play hardball'.
- Some foreigners pay excessive attention to status, or do not say what they mean, and that is exasperating. If you have a business appointment or an interview with someone, you expect to have that person to yourself, and the business should not take more than an hour or so.