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Swedishness Abroad Posted by on May 23, 2011 in Culture

I was in Chicago yesterday. It was a lovely trip that included several old friends, some new ones, and even my mom. All in all, a lovely day. But no one really cares about a trip to a large mid-western city. Especially if it has nothing to do with Swedish. Luckily, this one does. In a round-about global economy sort of way.

Because on my way to Chicago, I stopped at Ikea. Of course. I’m leaving for Sweden in about two weeks’ time, but I just couldn’t bring myself to pass up an opportunity for some delicious Swedish food. While in Sweden I learned a few valuable lessons. Some about the language. Some about growing up and being an adult. Some about traveling abroad. But the one I put to use on Sunday had nothing to do with that. It had to with trips to Ikea. When you know what you want, never, ever snake your way through the entire store following the crowd. Never. There are always shortcuts. Because if you do not take the shortcuts, you will walk out of Ikea with a hole in your wallet and a trunk full of Scandinavian design.

I took the shortcut and twenty minutes later, I walked out with a bag full of Kalles Kaviar, sil, kaffe, Singoalla, lingonsylt. It was amazing. And a little bit ridiculous. But it was not so much the purchases, but it was my reaction to being there. Everything has a Swedish name. Everything has some sort of Swedish packaging. It’s overwhelming, and immediately my language skills deteriorated. Luckily, my mother speaks Swedish as well and so my Swedish speckled English was acceptable. Kind of.

Later in the day, I found myself in an H&M in Chicago. Of course. The ubiquitous Swedish style, which I mercilessly made of fun while in Sweden (the leggings, the super tight red jeans for example), was right in front of me. Aside from the English, I could have been in any H&M anywhere in Sweden. I loved it, and couldn’t resist, I bought a couple of shirts. I did not buy the super tight red jeans. I stand by my earlier statements. Super tight red jeans are ridiculous. I’m sorry.

It’s amazing how much Swedishness has been exported. Because regardless of the international appeal of the products, those same products are very much a reflection of Swedish culture. I am always impressed by the global impact a country the size of Sweden can have. Politically, culturally, even from a fashion and design sense, Swedishness is alive and well in the US. What Swedishness do you see in your country?

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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 a PhD in Scandinavian Studies and Folklore from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He has taught Swedish for several years and still spells things wrong. So, if you see something, say something.


  1. Diane R. Johnson:

    Well, didn’t you go to Andersonville? (Foster & Clark on the north side of Chicago) Granted there’s not nearly as much Swedish influence as there once was, even 20 years ago, but there are are still a couple of Swedish restaurants and a Swedish deli. The Swedish Bakery still exists also, selling some Swedish specialties, though now under the ownership of another ethnicity.

    The Swedish American Museum is worth a visit too. It has a gift shop, changing art exhibits, historical exhibits and a really fun children’s space with a log cabin and a viking ship. There are also resources for genealogical research.

  2. Marcus Cederström:

    I still haven’t made it to Andersonville. But I will.