• 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

 
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
Will 'hated' dating coach reach Sweden?
Julian Blanc in an image from his Facebook site. Photo: TT

Will 'hated' dating coach reach Sweden?

A viral campaign to stop controversial US dating coach visiting Sweden appeared to have been successful on Tuesday, when scheduled tour dates disappeared from Julian Blanc's website. READ  

Swedish Honeymoon Killing
Swedish honeymoon murder verdict delayed
Shrien Dewani outside the court in South Africa. Photo: TT

Swedish honeymoon murder verdict delayed

British businessman Shrien Dewani will have to wait two weeks to see whether a South African judge throws out charges that he organised the murder of his Swedish bride on their honeymoon. READ  

Housing crisis limiting Sweden's growth
A housing development in Malmö. Photo: Flikr/Anders Bengtsson

Housing crisis limiting Sweden's growth

Sweden's economy won't expand as quickly as previously expected, says the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which has lowered its growth forecast for the country. READ  

'Swedish' street dog becomes global celebrity
Arthur arriving back in Sweden last week. Photo: TT

'Swedish' street dog becomes global celebrity

UPDATED: Tales of a stray dog who latched on to a team of Swedish athletes in Ecuador have been lapped up by international media this week. The Local has learned that a new charity is being launched in the animal's honour. READ  

Sweden reveals 2015 Eurovision hopefuls
Two of the hopefuls. Photo: TT

Sweden reveals 2015 Eurovision hopefuls

The full line-up of contestants hoping to compete for Sweden in the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna has been announced. READ  

Fitness band is Sweden's hottest gift for 2014
Go on, you know you want one. The fitness armband has been awarded the 2014 Christmas Gift of the Year. Photo: Henrik Montgomery / TT

Fitness band is Sweden's hottest gift for 2014

The must-have gift Swedes want to find to find under their Christmas trees in 2014 is a fitness armband, according to a Swedish retail research group's annual 'Christmas Gift of the Year' prediction. READ  

Presented by Stockholm International School
SIS: the thinking behind globalised learning
Stockholm International School director Marta Krajnovic. Photo: SIS

SIS: the thinking behind globalised learning

International Education Week drew to a close last week and, the Stockholm International School (SIS) held an event looking at study abroad, multilingual education, and what really makes a school “good”. READ  

Volvo prepares for 3.7b kronor fine from EU
A Volvo truck. Photo: TT

Volvo prepares for 3.7b kronor fine from EU

Sweden's Volvo, the world's second-largest maker of trucks, is setting aside 3.7 billion kronor ($497 million, €400 million) to cover a potentially huge fine from the European Union for price rigging. READ  

Opinion
'I'm a Swedish 'expat' in my home country'
Tina Miles is half Swedish, half American. Photo: Private

'I'm a Swedish 'expat' in my home country'

Swedes who grew up abroad or spent years away travelling can find it hard to adapt to life in a country with unique traditions and a somewhat shy population, argues Swedish-American Tina Miles. READ  

Sweden accused of '1800s' child cancer care

Sweden accused of '1800s' child cancer care

A number of leading Swedish health professionals have spoken out about the lack of qualified staff in hospitals to help children suffering with cancer, with one arguing that levels of care are akin to those in the country during the nineteenth century. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
'Racist' Black Pete party scrapped in Sweden
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Sweden's 2015 Eurovision hopefuls
Gallery
Property of the week: Rosengården
Imagebank Sweden
Society
Decorating your home for Swedish Christmas
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Sweden's Christmas gifts through the years
Blog updates

25 November

SEXUAL VIOLENCE: IT’S STILL TIME TO ACT (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"In 2013, a World Health Organisation report found that 35% of all women in the world..." READ »

 

24 November

Seeing into the Future of Business: Interview with Antonia Ax:son Johnson (Stockholm in my American Heart) »

"Nobody can change the world more than businesses can. This is Antonia Ax:son Johnson’s mantra and..." READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Family life in Stockholm
Lifestyle
'I'm spreading Japan's 'cute' culture in Sweden'
National
Ebola: Sweden's leading expert speaks
National
Why this Swedish rabbi is facing death threats
National
Fears up to 300 Swedes fighting with Isis
Lifestyle
How to make Swedish mulled wine
Gallery
People-watching: November 22nd - 23rd
Society
What's on in Sweden: November 20th to 27th
National
How to boost your career in Skåne, Sweden's south
Lifestyle
How an Umeå museum is rewriting Swedish history
National
Timeline: Julian Assange sex allegations
Lifestyle
Five unique backpacker hostels in Stockholm
National
Bones show off Sweden's history
National
What new word are Swedes voting on?
National
Why African Swedes are angry about Santa's helper
National
Pine, tar, and tinder: flavours from the north
Gallery
Selfies, solidarity and Hillary Clinton: Stefan Löfven on tour
Gallery
People-watching: November 19th
Society
Why are international professionals leaving Sweden?
Business & Money
Meet the Swedes who made suits for The Hunger Games
Technology
'I'm among the first Swedes with a microchip'
National
What is Sweden doing about bird flu?
Gallery
Property of the week: Eriksberg
National
Vecka45: Sweden's most innovative week
Gallery
In Pictures: The clubs and loves of Sweden's Sven-Göran Eriksson
Society
What's On in Sweden: November 13th to 20th
Gallery
People-watching: November 16th
National
Driving (expats) home for Christmas?
Lifestyle
Make your own Swedish pea soup
Politics
"Totally unacceptable": Defence Minister on Stockholm submarine
Society
The A-Ö guide to making life in Sweden easier
National
How a Swedish party inspired a masterpiece
National
Seen the new Ace of Base yet?
National
Meet the Irish woman thundering into Swedish rock
Gallery
In Pictures: Ace of Base through the years
Society
Ten things you should never say to a Swede
Gallery
People-watching: November 12th
Business & Money
Get your own office in Gothenburg or Stockholm - free for a day
National
Opinion: 'We have to talk about Sweden's Isis fighters'
Sponsored Article
The best options for oversea transfers
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

786
jobs available
Swedish Down Town
Consulting & Productions

We are an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish authorities, Swedish language practice, and general communications.
Call 0731 004 781 or visit:
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:
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
The Local Spain is hiring!
The Local is seeking a new editor for our site in Spain to join our growing team of internationally-minded, driven, ambitious and clued-up journalists.
Details and how to apply