• Sweden's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Do Swedes really need help being friendly?

The Local · 12 Feb 2014, 16:07

Published: 12 Feb 2014 16:07 GMT+01:00

 
This week is Friendly Week (Vänliga veckan) in Sweden. I'm not even kidding. Organized by the Swedish aid agency Läkarmissionen, the seven days are intended to encourage Swedes to be a little more friendly to one another on the roads, at work, at home, and online. 
 
It's a nice idea, sure, but why do they need it? Could it be that Swedes are, dare I say it, unfriendly?
 
"Swedes aren't better than anyone else when it comes to being friendly... but we're no example either," explains Johan Lilja, the CEO of Läkarmissionen. 
 
It was Lilja's idea to resurrect the event after it died out in 1998. He figured Swedes needed a helping hand, partly because of a recent spate of online hatred in the country, but also because Swedish people typically aren't so openly affable. 
 
"We are more introverted and I think we generally just need to remind each other to take off our sour faces," he adds with a laugh.
 
Friendly Week began in 1946 after a Stockholm traffic warden reported that out of all the cars that passed him, 12 motorists were smiling, 15 looked "fairly satisfied", and 8,569 looked like they were "going to a funeral". 
 
The agency kicked off the week that same year and it ran uninterrupted until 1998, when fierce competition from Halloween meant that the Friendly Week, which was held at the end of October, was cancelled. 
 
Now that it's back (strategically timed to fall during the same week as Valentine's Day), Lilja says the response has been overwhelming and his phone hasn't stopped ringing.  
 
But why? Is it because Swedes realize they need a kick in the backside to be friendly, or is it because the concept of a specially reserved week to be friendly is just so unusual? 
 
I talked to a bunch of Swedes to find out more, including experts and the friendliest Swede in the country (more on this later), but first, let's examine the word "friendly" so we're all on the same page. 
 
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines it as "acting like a friend", being "kind and helpful", and "showing kindly interest and goodwill". We can rule out that you're friendly with your friends, because that much should be a given. 
 
Friendly means doing kind things to people you don't know. "Doing good for strangers," let's say.  
 
So are Swedes friendly by this definition? I've already concluded in the past that they're not very good at small talk, and that they're more polite when speaking English, but are they friendly?
 
I took to the streets of Stockholm to ask Swedes what they thought. I also asked them for an example of something friendly they'd done recently.
 
The response was surprising. One woman told me that Swedish friendliness depends on whether alcohol is involved. A man said Swedes don't dare to be generous, but were born friendly and that it stays inside them somewhere. A British man told me any friendliness from Swedes is an elaborate act for visitors.
 
 
When I posed the question on Twitter the response was huge. The overriding trend was that Swedes considered themselves to be friendly and foreigners disagreed.
 
An esteemed Swedish ethnologist, Åke Daun, confirms this and adds that it's not in Swedish people's nature to be friendly. 
 
"Many foreign people will say that Swedes aren't friendly because they don't spontaneously talk to people they don't know. You can sit on a train ride from Stockholm to Gothenburg for five hours, very close to someone, and they won't even say hello," he explains.
 
"It's a contrasting picture in southern Europe, for example, where you can't avoid being invited to a conversation. Both parties find it interesting and they get the feeling that they're alive."
 
Does that mean Swedes are missing out on the very essence of being alive?
 
"Swedes have no interest in talking to strangers. They're not into talking to someone they don't know, they want to spend their time talking to someone who shares their own interests," he says.
 
And he's not a fan of Friendly Week either.
 
"The whole thing has very little substance, it doesn't generate any more or any better friendliness. The name doesn't mean anything."
 
So if the expert says Swedes don't talk and the Swedes argue that they're friendly, then what does a bonafide friendly Swede say?
 
I asked Margaretha Strömberg, who in 1998 became the last-ever Swede to win "Friendliest Swede of the Year". The last friendliest Swede in the world. 
Story continues below…
 
"Generally, everyone wants to be friendly, but Swedes can find it hard to show. But I think the Friendly Week is good, though you should really be friendly all year round and not just for one week," she says.
 
Strömberg, 69, was given the title for her help in Armenia in the aftermath of the 1988 earthquake. The locals named her Armenia's Angel. She didn't stop helping either, and still works with bringing over students and teaching them nursing in Sweden today.
 
So what is her advice for Swedes when it comes to being friendly?
 
"You have to be yourself. If you truly wish people well, then you are a friendly person. But you have to mean it."
 
Well there you have it. The general consensus is that Swedes are friendly, but it's hidden somewhere deep down. So, if you're a Swede reading this, or even if you're not a Swede, do something friendly right now. Smile at Sven from sales. Give someone a compliment. Help that old lady cross the road.
 
You only have a few days left. Otherwise you'll have to wait until Friendly Week rolls around again next year. 
 
Or will you?
 
Oliver Gee

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Ibrahimovic confirms Manchester United move
Ibrahimovic playing for Sweden at Euro 2016. Photo: Thanassis Stavrakis/TT

Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has put months of speculation over his future to an end by confirming that he will join Manchester United.

Man detained in Sweden over poison plot
Uppsala University. Photo: David Naylor/Uppsala universitet

The case, which involved assistance from the FBI, regards poisonous substance ricin that was allegedly stolen from Uppsala University to aid a blackmail plot.

Fifty Stockholm heart patients hit by superbug
Staff check air quality in an operating theatre at Karolinska University Hospital. Photo: Gary Fabbri

A potentially deadly antibiotic-resistant bacteria has spread to more than 50 heart patients at Karolinska University Hospital in Solna, Stockholm.

Two jailed for match-fixing in Swedish football
Photo: Björn Lindgren/TT

A Swedish appeals court has jailed two football players and handed suspended sentences to four others for their involvement in a match-fixing scandal.

How many Swedes were unfaithful last year?
Photo: Sandra Qvist/TT

It kind of depends how you define it.

Brexit
'A Swedish passport means more than a British one now'
A Swedish passport. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

The Local spoke to Brits living in Sweden on how they feel about the Brexit vote, one week on.

Want a job? Here’s where Sweden needs people
Nurses are in high demand in Sweden. Photo: Lars Pehrson/SvD/TT

It’s not always easy to find work in Sweden, but there are quite a few professions crying out for new workers in the coming year.

Top Swedish businesswomen slam boardroom quota plan
Antonia Ax:son Johnson opposes the plan. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

It's a slippery slope, they say.

What's on in Sweden
Five great ways to kick off July in Stockholm
A ghost walk in Gamla Stan is one way to kick off July in Stockholm. Photo: Jeppe Wikström/Visit Stockholm

From Vikings to ghosts, music and more: The Local looks at five great ways to kick off July in Stockholm.

In pictures: Eight cool compact Scandinavian houses
Houzz.se editor Sara Norrman rounds up some neat but great Scandinavian houses. Photo: Sommarnöjen

Size isn't everything, and Houzz.se's editor in chief Sara Norrman proves it with this looks at nine brilliant uses of compact Scandinavian houses.

Sponsored Article
5 reasons you should try dating with The Inner Circle
Business & Money
Swedish banknotes expire this week
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
Gallery
People-watching: June 29th
International
Foul-mouthed attack on young Swedish mother in England
Blog updates

28 June

A message for British expats in Sweden (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"The people of the United Kingdom have voted to leave the European Union. As Prime Minister…" READ »

 

10 June

i lördags, på lördag – time phrases for present, past and future (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hejsan! Swedish time phrases can be difficult to master. It takes a lot of practice to…" READ »

 
 
 
Private
The Local Voices
'Having a Middle Eastern name makes life in Sweden hard'
Sponsored Article
International students in Stockholm partner with Nepal school
National
Is this Swede the new Vincent van Gogh?
Politics
Citizenship applications up 500% for Brits in Sweden
National
The humble Swede who sent England home from Euro 2016
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Gallery
Property of the week: Torhamn
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
Private
The Local Voices
'Sweden is the best place for people with special needs'
International
'A morning of sorrow': Sweden reacts to Brexit vote
Sponsored Article
Education abroad: How to find an international school
International
Sweden opposition cools talk of 'Swexit' poll
Sponsored Article
The man behind Sweden's biggest music festival
International
'Devastated' - Brits in Sweden shocked by Brexit vote
Gallery
People-watching: June 22nd
Sponsored Article
US expats: Have you met your tax deadlines?
Private
The Local Voices
'Swedes don't treat me differently because I wear a hijab'
Sponsored Article
Malmö: Home to the best food in Sweden?
Culture
How do Swedes celebrate Midsummer?
Sponsored Article
VIDEO: Why Malmö is the world's 6th best city for biking
Culture
Coming soon: Sweden’s smelly fermented fish
Sponsored Article
5 reasons you should try dating with The Inner Circle
National
Assange lawyer: Sweden should recognize UN opinion
Private
The Local Voices
Why is this Syrian dentist who hugs like a Swede worried about undies?
Sponsored Article
6 simple travel hacks that will make your life easier
Swedish nationalist 'shot and ate' lion and giraffe
Analysis & Opinion
'Sweden's residency revamp is harmful and inhumane'
Photo: The Local
The Local Voices
UNHCR boss: 'It's hard to start your life without your family'
Politics
VIDEO: Brits in Europe say why UK should stay
Photo: Marko Risović
The Local Voices
World Refugee Day: Searching for safety in Europe - in pictures
3,308
jobs available
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
psdmedia.se