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Swedish Stereotypes Posted by on Aug 12, 2011 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 the Author: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.

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  1. Daniella:

    1. That all swedish men are suppose to be feminists (some may be), when in reality if not the majority of the men in sweden are against feminism. 2. A law in sweden that says that men in sweden have to sit down and pee. (NEVER BEEN TRUE) there has and never will be a law like that in Sweden - that was said by a nutcase feminazi in the documentary: The Gender War 3. Sweden is the rape capital of Europe/the World. (NEVER BEEN TRUE). If global murder-rate figures are problematic, rape-rate figures appear to be almost worthless. Consider, for example, the Index Mundi rape-rate map posted here, which indicates that Sweden and New Zealand have some of the highest levels of rape in the world, and that Egypt has one of the lowest. Although the map comes with a disclaimer,* it is hardly adequate. Could anyone possibly believe that Sweden has a higher rape rate than Egypt? Egypt is currently suffering a rape epidemic so severe that it is becoming a diplomatic issue. Sweden, meanwhile, consistently rates as one of the most gender egalitarian, nonviolent countries in the world. A total of 63 countries don't submit any statistics, including South Africa, where a survey three years ago showed that one in four men questioned admitted to rape. The Ten Worst Countries for Women Today: 1. Afghanistan: The average Afghan girl will live to only 45 – one year less than an Afghan male. After three decades of war and religion-based repression, an overwhelming number of women are illiterate. More than half of all brides are under 16, and one woman dies in childbirth every half hour. Domestic violence is so common that 87 per cent of women admit to experiencing it. But more than one million widows are on the streets, often forced into prostitution. Afghanistan is the only country in which the female suicide rate is higher than that of males. 2. Democratic Republic of Congo: In the eastern DRC, a war that claimed more than 3 million lives has ignited again, with women on the front line. Rapes are so brutal and systematic that UN investigators have called them unprecedented. Many victims die; others are infected with HIV and left to look after children alone. Foraging for food and water exposes women to yet more violence. Without money, transport or connections, they have no way of escape. 3. Iraq: The U.S.-led invasion to "liberate" Iraq from Saddam Hussein has imprisoned women in an inferno of sectarian violence that targets women and girls. The literacy rate, once the highest in the Arab world, is now among the lowest as families fear risking kidnapping and rape by sending girls to school. Women who once went out to work stay home. Meanwhile, more than 1 million women have been displaced from their homes, and millions more are unable to earn enough to eat. 4. Nepal: Early marriage and childbirth exhaust the country's malnourished women, and one in 24 will die in pregnancy or childbirth. Daughters who aren't married off may be sold to traffickers before they reach their teens. Widows face extreme abuse and discrimination if they're labelled bokshi, meaning witches. A low-level civil war between government and Maoist rebels has forced rural women into guerrilla groups. 5. Sudan: While Sudanese women have made strides under reformed laws, the plight of those in Darfur, in western Sudan, has worsened. Abduction, rape or forced displacement have destroyed more than 1 million women's lives since 2003. The janjaweed militias have used systematic rape as a demographic weapon, but access to justice is almost impossible for the female victims of violence. 6. Guatemala: The impoverished female underclass of Guatemala faces domestic violence, rape and the second-highest rate of HIV/AIDS after sub-Saharan Africa. An epidemic of gruesome unsolved murders has left hundreds of women dead, some of their bodies left with hate messages. 7. Mali: One of the world's poorest countries, few women escape the torture of genital mutilation, many are forced into early marriages, and one in 10 dies in pregnancy or childbirth. 8. Pakistan: In the tribal border areas of Pakistan women are gang-raped as punishment for men's crimes. But honour killing is more widespread, and a renewed wave of religious extremism is targeting female politicians, human rights workers and lawyers. 9. Saudi Arabia: Women in Saudi Arabia are treated as lifelong dependents, under the guardianship of a male relative. Deprived of the right to drive a car or mix with men publicly, they are confined to strictly segregated lives on pain of severe punishment. 10. Somalia: In the Somali capital, Mogadishu, a vicious civil war has put women, who were the traditional mainstay of the family, under attack. In a society that has broken down, women are exposed daily to rape, dangerously poor health care for pregnancy, and attack by armed gangs. The ten best countries for women. Measures of well-being include life expectancy, education, purchasing power and standard of living. Not surprisingly, the top 10 countries are among the world's wealthiest. 1. Iceland 2. Norway 3. Australia 4. Canada 5. Ireland 6. Sweden 7. Switzerland 8. Japan 9. Netherlands 10. France 3. Suicide Capital of Europe/the world. (NEVER BEEN TRUE). 4. Low Birth-rate. (NEVER BEEN TRUE). 5. Winter all year around. Nope in Sweden they have spring, summer, fall and winter I could write many more stereotypes but that would take a couple of hours and I'm too lazy to write anymore. I am leaving with saying that there's probably not any other country in the World that has been more misunderstood or has so many stereotypes and rumours as Sweden have. :)

  2. Marcus Cederström:

    There are a lot of different assumptions about women, the way women are treated, and feminism in general here in Sweden, it's true!

  3. Daniela:

    I'm myself is born in Sweden and I agree with most of these stereotypes,you get depressed in the winter,most of the swedes are blond and beautyful and handsome and most of the people are very shy,when you walk in the centrum or at any place you don't have eye contact or look at anyones face,any place other than the face when you aren't talking or you don't know the person,and i don't get why people think Sweden is Switzerland,when i was at Colombia the last summer and when i told anybody i was from Sweden some days pass and they ask me how is Switzerland or in Spanish suiza=Switzerland ,Sweden=Suecia and i be like "Switzerland? You mean Sweden?"

  4. Nick:

    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.

  5. Marcus Cederström:

    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!

  6. Mike:

    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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