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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46 Responses to “Swedish Stereotypes”

  1. Lisa 12 August 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    Every time someone finds out I’m Swedish, their instant reaction is “why aren’t you blonde?”. Seriously! Not everyone is blonde and I’m proof, along with many thousands of others.

  2. Klaudia 12 August 2011 at 4:05 pm #

    I LOVE SWEDISH. I LOVE SWEDEN.
    THIS IS THE BEST COUNTRY EVER!

  3. Klaudia 12 August 2011 at 4:07 pm #

    I want to live there (; I really do. I don’t care about stereotypes.

  4. John Challey 13 August 2011 at 1:30 am #

    The “dour Swede”

    I have heard that stereotype all my life – mostly from Norwegians.

    A Google search for “dour Swede” gives over 900 hits, so there must be something to it.:)

    john

  5. Mandi 13 August 2011 at 12:47 pm #

    One Stereotype of Swedes I commonly here, from the same person over and over, is that no intelligent Engineers come out of Swedish Engineering schools. Ridiculous! I have the pleasure to work with a team of male and female engineers who graduated from various Swedish Universities. Not only do I know they are all very intelligent but they are also very innovative. The stereotyper is perhaps assuming that being reserved means the Swedes have nothing intelligent to say- De-bunked!

  6. Matteo 15 August 2011 at 2:39 pm #

    In Spanish “be a Swede” or “Hacerse uno el sueco” is “Playing dumb” or “pretend not to have taken notice of things you actually know perfectly and decide to ignore anyway”

    See: http://www.spanishdict.com/translate/sueco

    I’m afraid I have to agree with this. I am constantly amazed by how young Swedes (especially male) who have the greatest respect for the rules of society and show remarkable empathy for their fellow citizens in their own country, completely ignore such respect and education when traveling abroad.
    I understand that holidays are for unplugging for the daily routine but I always shocked by such behavior.

    While one does not have to generalize (my Swedish friends are the most lovely and nice people ever, regardless of their temporary geographical location) I can very well see why the Spaniards come up with that expression.

  7. Natasza 15 August 2011 at 5:33 pm #

    Swedish guys are, well, girly in their looks. You can consider it a stereotype but just take a look at Swedish streets. Or take a walk to the closest h&m and see “male” fashion there.

    About drinking… my friend (Swede) once told me that prohibition is actually good for them because if all of a sudden they could buy any amount of alcohol they like they will just keep on drinking ;D

  8. Angelica 31 August 2011 at 5:29 pm #

    It’s fun to read the comments above. I definitely don’t agree that Swedish blokes look girly. Maybe the fashion there is a bit different, that’s all.
    About stereotypes, I have to say that my boyfriend does meet the first one listed – tall, blonde, blue eyes and beautiful =)

  9. Blixt 5 September 2011 at 4:12 pm #

    Within my family, I am third generation Swedish. We are tall, blonde, blue eyes, and very reserved in nature. My great grandfather suffered from alcoholism as have uncles of mine. Thankfully, my grandfather and my father mananged to side step that issue. But depression has run in my family. At least as far back as I can experience and has been passed down onto my children to a point. So….as far as the Swedish stereotype…I guess they do apply to my Swedish family.

  10. Henri 14 September 2011 at 7:16 am #

    It was 1988 and in those days we travellled by car from Holland to Sweden. After we had arrived in Helsingborg, passed the customs – always keen on searching drugs in old Dutch cars – we continued our journey to Ljungby. Still in Helsingborg som ‘raggare’ in a nice huge Volvo drove by. The guy in the front seat beside the driver showed us his naked bum. Eva, my all times dearest Swedish friend, was shocked. I just pitied the fact that I didn’t have something like a waterpistol. The Volvo passed by. Yes … they were … Danes.

  11. Henri 15 September 2011 at 7:53 am #

    Talking about steretypes … It was 1988 and in those days we travelled by car from Holland to Sweden. After we had arrived in Helsingborg, passed the customs – always keen on searching drugs in old Dutch cars – we continued our journey to Ljungby. Still in Helsingborg some ‘raggare’ in a nice huge Volvo drove by. The guy in the front seat beside the driver showed us his naked bum. Eva, my all times dearest Swedish friend, was shocked. I only pitied the fact that I didn’t have something like a water pistol within reach. The Volvo passed by. Yes … they were … Danes.

  12. Miisu 2 October 2011 at 3:57 pm #

    I think on steretype is that swedish are really polite and calm. I love Sweden, I love Swedish people. (: I love that they’re tall, that they’re blond and shy. :)

  13. Elisa 10 October 2011 at 12:31 am #

    God, so many stereotypes..I was born in Sweden but have lived almost 20 years in Australia..I still get the “swedish chef jokes”.The swedish bikini team the Volvo jokes etc here in OZ..I am dutch/vallon and Spanish/scandinavian decending..But I still cop all the stereotypes..Do I like the Swedes ?
    No..They treat their own people bad and foreigners nice..That’s why U get so many:Oh I love sweden people..Of course they are nice to U..U weren’t born there..Now after 20 years away people think i have somewhat become exotic and people give me the “dumb Aussie treatment”..
    people are nice to me..Why ? I have become a foreigner to the swedes.. The good thing about them is that most of them are reasonable honest..What you see is what U get..

  14. Hugo 14 October 2011 at 2:46 pm #

    haha, its so funny to read about swedish steriotypes! im from sweden and i just say that the steriotypes are cind of… Wierd…
    some people are blond and some the other stuff but we are not all the same! if you wanna hear how swedish people reakky are add me on skype at Hqqqq8

  15. Berwald 29 November 2011 at 4:53 pm #

    like, M’wife.

  16. MichiganLady 30 November 2011 at 12:56 am #

    Blixt – my Swedish American experience exactly. It’s taken a lot for me to overcome being so reserved that I get left behind in more American social situations! I think that unless you’re Scandinavian American, you don’t get it. You don’t realize I’m being what I was taught was polite; I’m not trying to be cold.

  17. ikinga 7 December 2011 at 10:59 am #

    Well, sadly I have to admit I have run into one of the stereotypes above. I spent time with sweds both abroad and in their country, and they tend to drink even more when they travel. Not all of them are blonde though, but I think the people are really beautiful. And they are so bottle up until they have a drink, then everything changes. As for the fashion, I like it how they dress, I live in Italy and I know what nice clothes means, and they really do dress well.

  18. son of Ajax the Great 14 December 2011 at 5:54 pm #

    there are like 45% blondes in sweden and most of them dark blonde! I like the fact they are shy people that mean I make my 1st move ;) they love the beast!!!

  19. Klara 18 December 2011 at 11:28 pm #

    I’m swedish, I’m tall, I’m blond, I’m a bit shy and sometimes I have a drink or two.

    My friend is swedish, he’s short, outgoing and he never drinks

    Stereotypes are entertaining, but don’t assume that they are true for everyone ;)

  20. mike moore 21 December 2011 at 11:12 am #

    I love Scandinavians, but I think that Swedes can be be a little rigid at times. They are beginning to loosen up though. I think that multiculturalism is responsible for that.

  21. Marcy 4 January 2012 at 3:01 pm #

    I have to concur that not all Swedes are tall, blond and beautiful. However, having lived in Sweden for 6.5 years I can say Swedes are VERY reserved, which can be taken for being cold/unfriendly/rude – people have bumped into me without saying ‘excuse me’ or can’t seem to hold the door for the next person (like in the states). On that note, I’ve noticed that Swedes tend to be far more outgoing abroad. Why? I have no idea. And it seems that for every gathering Swedes need alcohol. One harsh reality is that many Swedes are somewhat xenophbic – quite evident in the job market, treatment and conversations.

  22. Hannah 4 January 2012 at 8:08 pm #

    I’m tall, I have brown hair and green eyes, I’VE never thought I was very attractive but some people have told me otherwise so maybe yes and maybe no. I hate the taste of alcohol and refuse to drink it, no matter the occasion. I’m very quiet at first, but then when you get to know me I have been known to talk A LOT at times. I used to suffer from depression, but in general I am a happy-with-life person

  23. Experience Lund 23 January 2012 at 12:35 pm #

    What about the stereotype that all Swedes are madly into house music? Currently posted that on my blog :) http://experience-lund.tumblr.com/tagged/Activities

  24. Harold 26 February 2012 at 7:12 am #

    I am second-generation American of Swedish descent (from Dalarna). Of course, Americans have stereotypical images about Swedes – yes, the blond hair, blue eyes one is very prevalent. In fact, I do have blonde hair and blue eyes so, as much as I try to convince them this is not always true, they look at me and imagine I am joking. Now, I have a Mexican wife (America being the melting pot of cultures that it is). I have three daughters. You would think they might have brown hair, brown eyes and darker skin like my wife does, right? Nope, all three have blond hair, blue eyes and fair skin. Now, when people imagine all Swedes have the same features, I can’t even make a legitimate argument against it and make people believe me. Go figure.

  25. Lisbet 26 February 2012 at 5:53 pm #

    with respect to the stereotypes, I was raised in the old Swedish tradition of curtseying to elders and using the formal ni instead of du. Good quiet behaviour was strongly impressed on me. After 40 years in North America I am still quiet and unable to extoll myself and my accomplishments. However, I have found that I feel very comfortable in Native American society where respect and listening are important.

  26. Andrew 5 March 2012 at 4:52 am #

    Im tall, brown hair, and blue eyes. If you wanna call me beautiful, go for it. Get depressed easily, never drank before, and can be outgoing when I want to. And I love every second of it.

  27. Del_phine 6 March 2012 at 7:06 pm #

    I spent a year there, and it was really nice for me…as I’m shy, I wasnt a weirdo anymore :-) The only “bad” thing is that it takes so much time to make swedish friends (but once you have one, you can count on him/her) :-))
    I miss the swedish hugs though, here it’s all about kissing everybody on the cheeks.

  28. Jennifer 17 March 2012 at 12:59 am #

    I would like to know more about proper manners when visiting Sweden, as I will be there this summer. Last year I was there for two days, and I must admit that I felt like a loud, obnoxious American. Which I’m not, by American standards.

  29. Neil Whiteman 23 March 2012 at 5:48 pm #

    Hi,

    Im thinking of returning to Stockholm for a short vacation this year. However, the last time i was there was 25 years ago and my memories of it are very happy ones!, very nice & polite people, low crime rate, beautiful, clean & uncongested city. Is it still like this?, i’ve heard stories that its changed a lot socially, now its in the EU, is this true?. Neil.

  30. Hugo 24 March 2012 at 10:25 am #

    Jag älskar mitt Sverige! Världens bästa land!

  31. Incognito 4 September 2012 at 6:32 pm #

    My favorite Swedish stereo type? I’ll go with Ericsson.

  32. Sonia 9 September 2012 at 2:23 pm #

    Well, you have only discussed the positive points. Here are some negative points about Swedes. I lived in Sweden for two years. As long as you are not blonde, you do not belong to this society. They are “implicitly” racists. Well, you may find one or two exceptions here, but the stereotype Swedish people are cold and reserved. If you smile to their cute child, they think you have something bad in your mind. Even when you look at their dog, they behave so that you feel humiliated. They do not talk to foreigners and strangers at all. I never had any Swedish friend. All my life, I never felt so humiliated as I did in Sweden. Sometimes you feel, that you do not exist because they do not look at you, do not talk to you, and simply ignore you.

  33. Margaret 11 September 2012 at 10:19 am #

    I’m second generation Swedish-American, and I’m reserved (that is also a stereotype of my New England region), blonde, blue eyed (though my brothers are brunettes), not much of a drinker, and definitely have a problem with self-promotion ; ). Maybe this isn’t a stereotype, but my Swedish ancestors were very stoic, practical, and self-contained. I see this trait also now with my (swedish) mother, whose life is changing dramatically after the death of my father. Has anyone else observed this?

  34. Lavera Mahdi 3 October 2012 at 8:57 pm #

    Have you ever thought about publishing an ebook or guest authoring on other websites? I have a blog based upon on the same topics you discuss and would love to have you share some stories/information. I know my subscribers would value your work. If you are even remotely interested, feel free to shoot me an e mail.

  35. Estrid 2 February 2013 at 3:35 am #

    All four of my grandparents came to the USA from Sweden in the 1880s, so my sister and I are second generation Swedish Americans. My ancestors all were Swedish. My mother and sister have blue eyes and my sister has blondish hair, even in her 70s (no dye). My father, two of his sisters and I have brown eyes. I had blond hair as a child, but then light brown and now pure white. My sister, husband and I were in Sweden 3 1/2 weeks, staying with a second cousin (sysling) for several days and meeting about 12 direct relatives. They all were very nice and friendly. But when we were walking one day in Stockholm and smiled at Swedish citizens, each and every one looked down and didn’t return the smiles. Until I read here, I didn’t realize that the Swedes are shy and distant until you get to know them. Back to my parents: My mother fit the above description but my father was funny and loved by everyone!
    So, my Swedish family and I are a real mix! Sweden is so beautiful with all the lakes and forests, but I love CA with our Pacific ocean and mountains!

  36. Simon 21 March 2013 at 12:35 am #

    As a Swede I am very proud of my country, but there are some self-imposed stereotypes I have about my own country (both from my own experience and told by others from the “outside”):

    1. We cannot appreciate or pad ourselves on the back if we do something good. Instead we tend to focus on the negative. The same applies also to others accomplishments to some degree. We are not easily impressed and we do not praise people enough when we are. This I think, together with ridiculously few sun-hours makes us quite gloomy and downy.

    2. We are very reserved and suspicious about strangers. We will be polite and generally respectful, but you won’t get close to us easily. It will take a while to gain a Swedes trust and they won’t do much to meet you half way.

    3. We drink, oh god do we drink! We love it and we do it way too much; probably to get out of our shy and reserved shells and to comfort ourselves because of the first point. It is a noticable public health problem.

    4. We live in the illusion that we are such a liberal, socialistic and caring country. This might be true compared to many other countries, however if you live in it all your life and have many friends form minority-groups you will see prejudice and cold hearts all over society and the public discussion.

    5. However there are some bright points; once you have truly befriended a Swede you are now in the inner circle and deeper, more sharing and more self-sacrificing relationships are very hard to find.

    6. We are straight up people. There won’t be a ton of beating around the bush with Swedes and most of us play and appreciate the honest way (unless it would make us rude).

    7. Do we have taste or what? Seriously, for such a small country Swedes have incredible taste in fashion, music, art, you name it and we will know it and have some big names in the industry.

    Well, all stereotypes aside I love Sweden and most of these are gross over generalisations, thou as stereotypes goes, no smoke without fire right..?

  37. Elin 31 March 2013 at 9:36 pm #

    There are somethings here I’m surprised people haven’t mentioned.
    I’m a Swedish girl and I have brown hair and gray eyes.
    But I can’t agree on the 50/50 about blondes and brunettes.
    I feel like It’s very hard to tell which ones blondes and which ones are brunettes in Sweden because you almost never see anyone who hasn’t dyed their hair.

    Oh well for another fact It’s that Swedish can be very racist when it comes to people from country’s in Africa but not the ones from other world parts. It’s often because of the fact that there is a lots of immigration in Sweden.

    And also I think the typical swede has a very harsh personality.
    Whenever you talk to a swede they can be very irritating and self-important.

    Swedish people also hates close encounters. It’s very noticeable while going on the buss, sitting on a park bench or for example eating somewhere. Swedes often tries to be as long away as possible.

    I have to agree on many stereotypical things here though.
    Also one thing I think is funny for some reason is the greeting in Sweden. Unlike many other countries that says ”Hi,how are you?”
    Sweden most likely just say ”Hello” And if the other person says how are you then the other answers but does not repeat the question to the one who asked.

  38. Renie 2 April 2013 at 10:27 am #

    I met a really cute Swedish guy and yes he fits part of the stereotype. He had dark blonde hair, green eyes, tall and was shy until he started drinking with me. Swedish people are intelligent and very polite people. I love them and would love to visit Sweden one day! :)

  39. Oskar Lind 10 April 2013 at 9:16 pm #

    I have brown hair and green eyes, I am tall tho.
    My family have lived in Sweden for almost 26 generations so I am 100% Swedish.
    What Sonia said is just bullshit and it pisses me off.
    For me it is really easy to make friends but I can be shy sometimes. If you see somone with a dog in Sweden there is a 80% chance that the owner will let you pet it!
    The most Swedes I know have brown hair.
    The only thing Sweden has a problem with is graffiti because there is ALOT of graffiti in Sweden.
    Swedish people are defenitly NOT racists, racists in Sweden either don’t have friends or get their ass kicked… Simple as that!
    Sweden is a awesome country.

  40. Iben 17 June 2013 at 8:04 pm #

    As as Dane it’s true that we say, that the only reason that Swedes comes to Denmark for, is to drink cheap beer along with Norwegians, which does that we many times can’t hear the different between Norwegian and Swedish. But we Danes have problems no matter what to hear the difference between Norwegian and Swedish because Norwegian and Swedish sounds the same in Danes ear who isn’t listening to Norwegian or Swedish offen. The stereotype about the look and the behavior have I heard too – and it’s more or less the same that is being said about Danes too :)

  41. Maria 2 September 2013 at 9:16 pm #

    I tend to avoid talking to people on my way home, I’m really socially awkward and…yeah.
    But 9 out of 10 of the people I meet always says “Hi” or “Hello” or at least smile at me.
    Now I’m only eleven (on my twelfth year) so I don’t know if that’s changes their actions, which it shouldn’t.
    But even if I’m really awkward I always try to say hello to people or smile.
    Or wave at cars.
    When I was eight I always got so confused when my dad said hi to a stranger.
    I’m obviously short, I have brown hair and my eye colour is a little hard to tell, so I say it’s mixed.
    Swedish men, or guys or whatever, don’t open doors for woman, or car doors or such things,
    but swedes (of both genders) hold the door if someone’s behind them.
    And if you meet a dog owner, there’s a 90% chance s/he will let you pet the dog.
    My parents love fox terriers and always run up to anyone with one (we also have one now).
    Of course I don’t know if swedes tend to drink a lot.

    There’s a lot of immigration to Sweden, and therefore there’s surprisingly many black people in Sweden.
    We worked with that in school a whole ago, how it’s really hard for them to get a job and how Sweden are trying to fix that, so in my opinion swedes definitely aren’t racists.

  42. Maria 2 September 2013 at 9:22 pm #

    Of course my point of view is pretty pointless, as I’m obviously to young to
    see how swedes really act.
    I mean the people I mostly talk to are my parents and my friends, and it’s really hard to
    judge swedes by how they act, as they’re only twelve, along with me.
    So I guess my point of view is pretty naïve.
    I just felt like telling you how I see it.

  43. elisaveta 6 October 2013 at 5:14 pm #

    That moment when one reads and thinks about Hetalia.
    Sweden.


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