Being Swedish 101

5 september, 2016, 10:21 International Lämna en kommentar

The swedes are very much like any other people. But there’s a few things about Swedish culture that makes us stand out. When you are new in Sweden these phenomenon and behaviours may be a bit hard to grasp and embrace. So here’s Lösnummers crash course in being Swedish, where we walk you through the most important steps to becoming a true Swede!

Attention! This text is written tounge-in-cheek and is not meant to be taken too seriously. Each lesson has some truth to it, of course, but it’s all based on generalisations and stereotypes. Every Swede is, obviously, different! We hope you will get some useful tips and some good laughs from it!

Lesson 1: We’re not as hostile as we seem
(But don’t sit next to us on the bus unless you’re pregnant or elderly)

Though it’s hard to admit, Swedes aren’t the most social people. At least not when interacting with strangers. If you smile at us on the street for no reason, we will emediately start wondering if we know you or wether you were flirting with us or if our hair looks funny. And you’ve probably heard before that Swedes rather stand than sit on empty seats next to strangers on the bus. We’re not hostile or unfriendly, it just takes a while to earn our trust. With that being said, there are always exceptions! And students are one group that really stand out from the crowd in this sense. Swedish students (especially Örebro students, if you ask us) are very friendly, helpful, open-minded and curious! As for the non-student population in Sweden, they could all need a bit more spontaneous socialisation, smiles from strangers on the street and people sitting next to them on the bus. So go out there and warm them up, we promise they won’t bite!

Lesson 2: Jantelagen – the law of not thinking too much of oneself

Swedes DO NOT brag. It’s simply impossible for us to speak overly positively about our own accomplishments and ourselves. This unwritten law is so deeply rooted in Swedish society, that it has even got it’s own name: ”Jantelagen” (The jante law) . When people break Jantelagen in front of us we will get extremely uncomfortable. In a university context, this is well illustrated by the way you NEVER tell your classmates that you got the highest score on an exam or that a teacher had only positive comments on your paper. It’s simply considered rude. If you did get a high score on your exam and get the dreaded question from a classmate, make sure to sugar coat your answer as much as possible. ”I got the highest score, yay, I’m the best” is a great example of a Jantelagen-breaking display of self-admiration, a big NO-NO. ”Well, I did get quite a high score, but it was pure luck!” is more like it! If this just doesn’t work for you, breaking Jantelagen won’t get you into any actual legal trouble, but do it at your own risk of social alienation!

Lesson 3: Fika

Swede’s take our ”fika” (a cup of coffee with something sweet like a cinnamon bun to go with it) very seriously. In every work place there’s fika-breaks and fika-rooms, we catch up with our friends over fika and fika works great as a first date activity! And if you’re wondering why there’s so many pauses in our lecturers and seminars at uni, their sole purpose is to give both students and teachers the time to go satisfy our fika-cravings that’s been built up over the last hour or so. Simply put: when in Sweden, you can go fika or you can go home.

Lesson 4: The Swedish obsession with weather

Before you decided to come here, you were probably informed (and maybe even warned) about Sweden’s rough climate. And living in a country so hard-hit by mother nature’s most extreme weather conditions, we have all developed an obsession with weather. You will notice this on social media as soon as the first snowflake falls in November. Instagram-photos, Facebook-statuses, Tweets, they will all be dedicated to this one snowflake as if it’s Gustaf Skarsgård fallen from the sky. And then you will notice it even more in March when the first warm rays of sun hit the outside-benches on campus. Students will crowd every elevated horizontal surface from Musikhögskolan to Novahuset to try and soak up some sunshine, even though the snow goes up to the windowsills and the air is absolutely freezing. A few weeks later (it’s still freezing) people will start showing up in light jackets, Converse, in some cases even shorts, to greet the oncoming spring! Weather changes in general just makes us go crazy.

Lesson 5: Lagom

Lagom is a Swedish word, but it is also a huge part of the Swedish identity. Lagom could be translated into something like: ”Just the right amount of something, not too much and not too little”. It’s a very commonly used word, maybe because it’s so useful, but maybe even more because it so perfectly describes the Swedish ideal about almost everything: Things should be just lagom. Not extraordinary, but not boring. Not super expensive, but not cheap. Not tremendously successful, but not a failure. It might seem hard to fit into this quite narrow definition of lagom, but don’t worry. What’s lagom for one person might not be lagom for someone else. And again, there are always exceptions. Most Swedes love to step out of the lagom-zone every once in a while. Just not too often. And not too far. Lagom.

Other good-to-know things about swedes

  • We will charge you for your plastic bags in the grocery store.
  • We can speak English really well. Since English is a mandatory subject in our schools you won’t have any problem communicating with us until your Swedish is steady. You will even be able to talk to 10-year-olds.
  • You can only buy alcohol at Systembolaget, a state owned company which has monopoly on alcoholic beverages over 3,5%.
  • The clubs in Örebro closes at 02.00.
  • If there’s an unexpected snowfall, prepare yourself for complete traffic chaos. The buses will be off time, the trains will stop going completely and cars will crash due to the slippery roads. (Yes, we may be exaggerating a little, but not as much as it sounds).
  • We will look at you funny if you don’t take off your shoes when entering our home.

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Maya Larsson


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