Swedish Language Blog

Deconstructing Swedish Stereotypes – Blue-Eyed Blondes Posted by on Apr 3, 2009 in Culture

Before I begin to talk about those Nordic blondes (or non-Nordic non-blondes, as the case may be), I want to thank you for your emails. It’s really touching to see that so many of you took the time to write to see if I was OK. Some of you heard or read about the chicken with glass bits mystery and wanted to know if that was perhaps the reason for my nearly week-long silence. Thank you! I am fine and haven’t been eating any chicken.

We are actually abroad right now visiting my sambo’s family. It’s his parents’ 40th wedding anniversary – you see, this is something we simply HAD to attend. I’ll be back in Sweden in about two weeks, and I hope that by then the chicken will be safe to eat again. Still, this chicken mess is really strange. For those you haven’t heard – bits of glass were found in frozen chicken, then in fresh chicken, pretty much all over Sweden. Initially, only one producer was affected, but then glass was found in other brands too. Creepy! It kind of reminds me of the Wendy’s chili scandal back in the late 90s (or was it early 2000s?) in the US. Later it was determined that most of those reports of foreign bodies in Wendy’s chili were totally made up. I hope that this will be the case with Swedish chicken as well. In a country such as Sweden, were food safety is taken very seriously, I just simply can’t fathom that all those glass pieces reports are truly genuine.

But, enough about chicken, in today’s post we are going to deconstruct one of the most popular and enduring Swedish myths ever. And since we were discussing immigration recently, I thought it would all nicely tie in somehow.

Ask anyone in North America (just as an example, I am not singling out Americans or Canadians here) what’s their image of a Swedish person, and eight out of ten respondents will come up with something that resembles a member of the Swedish Bikini Team (which, by the way wasn’t from Sweden, but from Michigan). In other words – tall, blonde, blue-eyed. I’ll leave the other characteristics of the Bikini Team alone for now, OK? Women may add chiseled features ala Freddie Ljungberg to the list.

Even Swedes themselves (though they may vehemently denying when talking to non-Swedish-speaking foreigners) tend to see themselves as a nation of mostly good-looking, stoic, taciturn, stereotypical blondes.

But you see, nothing could be further from the truth! These days Swedes come in all shapes, colors and sizes. And surprise, surprise – that tall, dark and handsome guy named Carlos who speaks skånska like a native may actually be a native. Since Sweden so generously opened its doors to immigrants in the early 1970s, many of those who arrived in the country back then had ample time to produce Swedish-born children. Some of those children are already old enough to be having children of their own. Those kids and their parents, regardless of their exotic looks, are as native as those blonde, blue-eyed Eriks and Karins.

One doesn’t have to look very far to find non-Nordic-looking Swedes (ever heard of Zlatan Ibrahimović?), however many expats and Swedes alike frequently assume them to be foreign immigrants. Those first impressions can be so deceiving! For months I thought that my downstairs neighbors were foreigners, simply because they looked so “foreign.” And when the lady downstairs heard me speak English to my sambo, she started to use English when talking to me from that time on. I think it took us good 6 months of chatting in tvättstuga (laundry room) to finally sort it out – I was the immigrant, and she was the Swede – born and bred in Göteborg.

After that encounter, I began to notice a huge variety in the Swedish society. There were native born Swedes that looked Middle Eastern, South American, African or Asian. And they were practically everywhere! Add to that the immigrant population, and Sweden is a far cry from the blonde stereotype that most of us grew up with.

True, Sweden still has a long way to go before it becomes a truly multi-ethnic society like what can be seen in the UK or America. But it’s getting there. Just give it a couple more decades.

PS. Sambo is not a derogatory term, but a short version of “samboende”, which means something like “live-in partner.”

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  1. Luke (Sydney):

    Do they really like to wear jumpsuits and white jeans? 🙂

  2. Kenia:

    Hello Anna!

    Good to hear that you’re ok, you see, I suspected you were abroad =)
    The blue-eyed-blond may not be the actual stereotype, but it’s way hard not to think of it when talking about swedes, you unconsciously tend to do it. And it’s indeed SO cool! =D
    What about April’s Fool Day? Is it a big event over there?


  3. Karen:

    No, don’t tell me. I am American born but my father came from Sweden as did my maternal grandparents. My heritage is 100% Swedish. I have blue eyes and blond hair. All my life people have told me I look the stereotypical Swede. I actually had a paternal grandmother and a maternal grandfather with dark hair. I have to say though that I have always been secretly proud that I looked so Swedish. Even though I am over 65 I am still a natural blond. I know the reality has changed and here in the US we have generally been mixed up for years in the melting pot and I guess it is inevitable that it should happen in the country of my ancestors.

  4. Egh:

    Noo! That is so wrong. True Swedes don’t look like Middle Easterners or something like that. Duh!

  5. Cecilia:

    So, let me get this straight. You didn’t deconstruct any myth of a “good-looking blond” Swede of Swedish ancestry. In fact, you imply that immigrants are not as beautiful. Nice.

  6. mangoberri:

    THANK YOU SO MUCH! My ancestors immigrated here from Sweden and they all had brown hair, and I currently still have brown hair! Tack :)!

  7. Alex:

    Zlatan`s a Bosnian immigrant, not a Swede.

  8. shyam:

    “True, Sweden still has a long way to go before it becomes a truly multi-ethnic society like what can be seen in the UK or America. But it’s getting there. Just give it a couple more decades.”

    What you are advocating is the destruction of the Swedish nation by that paragraph. I’d be glad if that day never arrives. I’m not a swede but an Indian from India…And I think that turning the beautiful nation of Sweden into a multicultural jungle is disgustingly abhorrent! Sweden is the land of the Swedes as has been for thousands of years and shall remain so for thousands more! Long live a Sweden of ethnic white Swedes!

  9. Karro Jansson:

    You cant compare Swedes with “Swedes” Whos parents come from a other countries. And i have stereotypes. Swedes who are “ethnic” nordic Swedes can have Brown hair top, before this immigrant wawe about 30 years ago. Many are blonde here and Some are not. People from north sweden who have lived in the same village for more then 400-500 years can be Brown there are sami people up there. We Swedes think you yanks are fat and are uneduacted and have alot of stereotypes about us. There are swedish people who are Christians. We can tan topples and bath nude without any people get a heart attack like theyve seen justin bieber.

  10. Gregory L:

    Don’t believe the stereotype! I’m 100% Swedish, but born in the USA. All 4 of my grandparents were born in Sweden around 1900. I have brown hair and brown eyes, but my sister is blonde and blue eyed. I know the King of Sweden had brown hair at one time, but I believe royalty are mixed ethnicities from other European countries. There was a brunette woman in the group ABBA, but I believe her ethnicity is Norwegian and German.