The truth about Swedish stereotypes
by Ulrich Leyermann
Elise is at Plymouth University and is currently studying in Gothenburg, Sweden, on the Erasmus programme. Here she discussed the truth behind Swedish stereotypes and misconceptions, based on her experiences...Before setting off on my Scandinavian adventure back in August, I did a little research about local customs etc, as I’m sure many do as a matter of pre-year abroad priority. I was keen to make sure that I didn’t commit the Swedish equivalent of cardinal English sins such as wearing a scrunchie to a club or openly liking Justin Bieber. Unfortunately, nobody has written a detailed guide to Swedish social faux pas yet, but there was plenty of more general advice, including a list of ‘10 Myths & Misconceptions About Scandinavia’ on about.com. Amongst others, this list included the following:
The weather is rainy and cold. Scandinavia is expensive. All Scandinavians are blonde. They eat moose and Swedish meatballs.
Now, before I go on I must point out that I do actually like Sweden and life here. In fact, I more than merely ‘like’ it, as demonstrated by my most recent tweet which featured lovelife, lovesweden and loveerasmus in quick succession.
Yet, despite my growing fondness towards the Scandinavian country that I now call home, I have to tell you that of the above supposed misconceptions, they are in fact all completely true, with the exception of the moose eating, which I’ve only encountered in the form of pasta shapes from Ikea. Of course, the latter two are not such a hindrance to everyday life; in all honesty, as somebody quite fond of both fair hair and meatballs, I was quite relieved to discover that this stereotype held some truth. The expense of life in Sweden and what seems like endless days of rain do take some getting used to though, but I’m here to tell you one thing, one very important thing: it’s possible. Indeed, it’s more than simply possible to become accustomed to these things; eventually, they add a positive quality to life.
How, I hear you cry, how can a life lived on the very edge of bankruptcy in which you seem to be permanently sporting a raincoat, how can that have any positives? Well, let me first remind you that if nothing else, the poverty and the raingear are taking place in one of the most modest yet most interesting countries that I have had the pleasure of visiting. Furthermore, the quality of life here really does live up to the hype, and whilst your food shop will cost more, it’ll also be nearly impossible for it to feature any Tesco Value beans or 9p Sainsbury’s Basics curry sauce. For some that may sound like real deprivation, but I have a sneaky suspicious that most people participating on a year abroad are eager enough to soak up a new culture that they won’t be the ones who will miss such items too much.
As for the weather, well there are plenty of activities for when the rain falls and the wind blows, which I will be documenting on this site as I work my way through them. Gothenburg, where I am studying, has an immense amount of museums on every subject possible, an array of exciting bars, markets and shopping centres and at least a thousand cafes boasting the best ‘kanelbulle’ (cinnamon bun) in the city and, after all, an afternoon taking a long Fika is the best afternoon of all. By the time you have exhausted all that Gothenburg, or any other Swedish city/town/village, has to offer, if that is even possible, then it will probably be time for the sun to finally rear its beautiful head and I can assure you that after a long spell of miserable weather, you will appreciate a sunny day like never before. I know I do.