Swedish Stereotypes

Posted on 12. Aug, 2011 by in Culture

I love Sweden. I was born there. I spent summers there. I lived there. I worked there. It’s a beautiful country and one that I find myself returning to again and again. It’s a beautiful language and one that I’ve found myself teaching. It’s a beautiful culture and one that I try to promote just about everywhere I go. This blog is one such medium, and sometimes that medium is perfect for discussing Swedish stereotypes. Both good and bad.

There are of course the ones about the Swedish looks. Blonde. Blue eyes. Tall. Beautiful. It seems to focus on women, but men are also included in this one.

There is the utopian society that suggests that every beneficial service is free and that the government takes care of your every whim.

How about the polar bears in the streets of Stockholm? Or the fact that Sweden is actually Switzerland?

The sing-songy language infamously stereotyped by the Swedish chef and his “Bork, bork, bork!” (That’s not Swedish by the way. Not at all.)

Being in Denmark has given me an opportunity to hear some of the negative stereotypes while abroad. Granted, Denmark and Sweden have that brotherly relationship. They tease because they love. Or something like that.

The classic has been the drunken Swede. I can’t tell you how many different variations of this stereotype I’ve heard.  Everything from Swedish speaking police officers being employed at the drunk tank to Swedes falling into the Danish water after a night of drinking. To be honest, I haven’t seen (or heard) many Swedes at all here in Copenhagen.

Then there is the depression. It is just so very cold and dark during the winter that people can’t help becoming depressed.

Swedes are reserved. Depending on where you come from, this might be a good thing. Or a bad thing. So painfully shy that they will avoid any sort of human contact at all costs. Until they have a drink. Then who knows where the night will end up. But if you’re following the stereotypes, then it will probably end up in bed.

The list could go on and on. There is no shortage of stereotypes about Swedes, or anyone really. So many people tend to stereotype because it’s easy. It’s easier to say that all Swedes drink. All Swedes are blonde. All Swedes are shy. That way we don’t have to think on an individual basis.  It’s an understandable reaction. The challenge is of course to overcome that and to not let those stereotypes define who we meet.

What stereotypes have you run into about Sweden? Good or bad? And do you agree?

If you are looking to learn more about true Swedish language and culture, check out our website at transparent.com for more free resources like our Swedish Word of the Day and of course our Facebook community, or take it to the next level with a free trial of our self-guided online Swedish course.  Happy language learning!

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About Marcus Cederström

Marcus Cederström has been writing for the Transparent Swedish Blog since 2009. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Oregon, a Master's Degree in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and is currently a PhD candidate in Scandinavian Studies and Folklore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has taught Swedish for several years and still spells things wrong. So, if you see something, say something.

57 Responses to “Swedish Stereotypes”

  1. Marcus Cederström 31 August 2015 at 7:13 pm #

    The Sweden vs. Switzerland mistake is ridiculously common, interesting that it happens in Spanish as well!

  2. Nick 4 September 2015 at 1:47 am #

    I am a third generation Swedish-American male. My ancestors on both sides came over from Göteborg at the turn of the 20th century. It is interesting to read what other Swedish-Americans have dealt with after a few generations of growing up in America. I think it isn’t outlandish to wonder if the traditions of the old country are passed down through the years. I still have to make and drink Glögg with family and loved ones at Jul every year. We still have to root for Tre Kronor at IIHF World Championships or the Winter Olympics every chance we get. Nearly everyone in my family takes great joy in skating and/or playing hockey on the ice. All of the men in my family love to build things with wood, drink, and shoot the shit with their friends on their days off — but it all revolves around building or repairing something. Over half of my relatives all use tobacco in some form. Not only men in my family but also women have struggled with alcohol and depression. As for the tall, blonde hair, and blue eyes thing — the tall and blue eyes thing certainly applies to me but I have always had dark hair. It seems like half of my family has dark brown hair and the other half has blonde hair. I think we have our own norms around our family members and feel odd when we have to go back out into the generic American world most of the day. I have always been pegged as shy and quiet by most people at work or school but to me it seems weird because these were the manners I was brought up with. I have talked to friends of other ancestries and not many have this same balancing act that we do as Swedish Americans. We make fun of ourselves though. That is the important thing.

  3. Marcus Cederström 16 October 2015 at 2:05 am #

    It’s really interesting the way traditions are handed down, but also how they change. There’s plenty of things that change over time, things in Sweden that are foreign to Swedish America and things in Swedish America that are foreign to Sweden. This is what I spend a lot of my time researching while working on my PhD in Scandinavian Studies!

  4. Mike 21 October 2015 at 1:59 am #

    Yes, we are quiet and reserved. But what du you expect from a people living the lionpart of their life in a cold darkness. It’s all about not waisting energy in nonsence. Think before you talk, twice! Be on time, or someone freeze to death. Know the way before you leave, or be lost in darkness. Plan, work hard in, and enjoy your two months of summer because winter will not wait. Is it a sin then to want a drink or ten? Something that loosens up?

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