• Sweden edition
 
Have Your Say
Do Swedes really need help being friendly?
Do YOU help people in need across the street? Photo: Fredrik Persson/TT

Do Swedes really need help being friendly?

Published: 12 Feb 2014 16:07 GMT+01:00
Updated: 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. 
 
"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
Politics
Nuclear freeze agreed by new government
A nuclear power station in Forsmark, Sweden. Photo: TT

Nuclear freeze agreed by new government

Sweden's Social Democrats and Greens Party have announced a coalition agreement to halt nuclear energy development. READ  

International
Sweden rethinks Afghan translators' asylum
A Swedish soldier in Afghanistan. Photo: TT

Sweden rethinks Afghan translators' asylum

The Migration Court in Malmö has ruled that Sweden's Migration Board was wrong to reject the residence applications of seven Afghan interpreters without assessing their protection needs. READ  

The Local List
Top five winter festivals in Sweden
Speak Percussion will perform at Connect in Malmö in November. Photo: Connect

Top five winter festivals in Sweden

Autumn has swept into the country and chilly days lie ahead. But there are plenty of winter festivals where you can warm up in the coming months. With tickets already selling fast, here are The Local's top tips. READ  

Business
Swedish Saab plant sheds a third of workers
Workers at the Saab plant in Trollhättan. Photo: TT

Swedish Saab plant sheds a third of workers

Swedish car maker Saab has announced it has axed 155 workers, close to a third of its workforce. READ  

International
Sweden's 'most dangerous art' on sale
A Danish site is selling the works that the Swedish state wants destroyed. Screenshot: www.entartetekunst.dk

Sweden's 'most dangerous art' on sale

Work by controversial jailed Swedish artist Dan Park is on sale online and could reach a gallery in Copenhagen, despite a previous exhibition being pulled. READ  

Society
Sweden is 'second best' place to grow old
Pensioners in Sweden. Photo: TT

Sweden is 'second best' place to grow old

Sweden has dropped to second place in an annual index measuring the quality of life of elderly people in 96 countries around the world. READ  

National
Top Swedish skier killed in Chile avalanche
Andreas Fransson, left. Photo: Markus Alatalo

Top Swedish skier killed in Chile avalanche

UPDATED: The bodies of two of the world's top skiers, Sweden's Andreas Fransson and JP Auclair from Canada, were found on Tuesday after they were reported missing in an avalanche in the Andes. READ  

Politics
Coalition promise to boost welfare and jobs
Social Democrat leader Stefan Löfven. Photo: TT

Coalition promise to boost welfare and jobs

UPDATED: The Social Democrats and the Greens have agreed to raise unemployment payments and promised to create more jobs in the construction industry, The Local has learned. READ  

National
Ikea recalls elk pasta
Two types of pasta are affected. Photo: IKEA

Ikea recalls elk pasta

Ikea has pulled two different types of elk-shaped pasta from its stores in Sweden. READ  

Presented by Regus
How to get your own great office in Stockholm
A woman using a Regus workspace. Photo: Regus

How to get your own great office in Stockholm

Stockholm's business climate is hotter than ever, which leaves start-ups and business travellers hunting high and low for flexible office space. The solution is easier than they think. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
Apology for Swedish model's stolen photos
Politics
New coalition agrees on defence and migration
Fastighetsbyrån
Gallery
Property of the week: Botkyrka
Education
New government to make school compulsory to 18
Politics
Sweden Democrat wins Deputy Speaker spot
Blog updates

28 September

Spoiled Doyle (Blogweiser) »

"What you gotta watch out for in Sweden is the good stuff. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Re_EzUe6xpI In Sweden, it’s the good things you have to watch out for. Video on @TheLocalSweden http://t.co/rAb8eGFdTD pic.twitter.com/w37YYwMXy1 — Joel Sherwood (@joeldsherwood) September 29, 2014 " READ »

 

26 September

 (The Local Sweden) »

"Hi readers, Autumn swept into Sweden at the start of this week with snow in the north of the country and flooding in the south. As well as a change in the weather, Sweden’s change in political direction became clearer, with Social Democrat leader Stefan Lofven formally announcing his party would work with the Greens as..." READ »

 
 
 
National
Swedish scientists sneak Bob Dylan lyrics into articles
Lifestyle
The five best Swedish songs of the month
Gallery
People-watching: September 28th
National
When Italian style meets Swedish simplicity
Lifestyle
Review: Sweden's first alcohol-free nightclub
Gallery
In Pictures: The MS Estonia disaster
Lifestyle
Ten things expat women notice in Sweden
Politics
What's next on Sweden's political stage?
Gallery
Sweden's 2014 election: Most memorable moments
Society
What's on in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: September 24th
Seaman Oliver Gee with his first lobster
Lifestyle
How to catch the first lobster of the year
Gallery
In Pictures: Fredrik Reinfeldt through the years.
Society
Plucked out of Canada for love and guitars
Politics
How Sweden Democrats went mainstream
Politics
Scandinavia and Scotland: closer links?
Sponsored Article
How to start a business in Stockholm
Society
Why is Stockholm's Södermalm so cool?
Politics
Sweden elections: Who's who?
Sponsored Article
Introducing… Insurance in Stockholm
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

866
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com
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:
http://psdmedia.se
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
AA-EUROPE.ORG/SWEDEN