• Sweden's news in English
 

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
Sweden needs lower wages for young: OECD
OECD secretary-general Angel Gurría (centre) flanked by Swedish Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson and Trade Minister Mikael Damberg. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Sweden needs lower wages for young: OECD

Sweden should lower entry-level wages and make teaching more attractive, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recommends in a new economic survey. READ  

Sweden's Volvo to build first car factory in US
Volvo's factory in west Sweden. Photo: TT

Sweden's Volvo to build first car factory in US

Swedish carmaker Volvo Cars has announced plans to build its first factory in the United States, 60 years after it started selling cars in the country. READ  

Britain's Ukip demands Swedish TV apology
Ukip leader Nigel Farage pictured last year. Photo: TT

Britain's Ukip demands Swedish TV apology

UPDATED: Sweden's media watchdog has given public broadcaster SVT a rap on the knuckles for labelling Britain's Ukip an "extreme right-wing populist party" and the party has told The Local it now wants a public apology from the broadcaster. READ  

Eight-year-old's 'killer' attacks husband in court
Photo: Yara Alnajjar's uncle returns to court for the appeal case against him. Photo: Drago Prvulovic/TT

Eight-year-old's 'killer' attacks husband in court

A woman convicted of the murder of eight-year-old Yara Alnajjar threw herself at her husband, the girl’s uncle, in a Malmö courtroom on Monday at the start of a high-profile appeal. READ  

Sweden keeps ban on spontaneous dancing
Dancing protestors oppose the dance permits on the streets of Stockholm in 2012. Photo: Lars Pehrson/SvD/TT

Sweden keeps ban on spontaneous dancing

Spontaneous dancing remains outlawed in Sweden except in venues with special “dance licences” after a majority in parliament voted down a move to free the feet. READ  

The Local investigates
'It was a long journey and some of my friends died'
Princess and Lloyd Justus from Nigeria are seeking asylum along with their baby daughter. Photo: The Local

'It was a long journey and some of my friends died'

A week after the Swedish Migration Board announced it was tripling the maximum number of residents allowed at asylum centres, The Local brings you a special report from inside Märsta, the country's busiest asylum application centre just outside Stockholm, where hundreds of refugees spend their first nights in Sweden each week. READ  

Sweden pledges extra aid for war-torn Syria
Syrian Kurdish refugees who fled Kobani, in a refugee camp in Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border, October 2014. Photo: AP/TT

Sweden pledges extra aid for war-torn Syria

Sweden has earmarked 1.5 billion kronor ($174 million) in aid to Syria for the coming years, the country’s foreign and development aid ministers revealed on Monday. READ  

Push for bullied kids to get more support
A Swedish classroom. Photo: Lena Granefeldt/Image Bank Sweden

Push for bullied kids to get more support

Sweden has a global reputation for promoting children’s rights, but the country’s ombudsman for children argues that school pupils need better protection from bullying. READ  

My Swedish Career
'We give you the chance to drink through history'
Tiffany Alnefelt (left) giving her debut tour: Photo: Private

'We give you the chance to drink through history'

History buff Tiffany Alnefelt, 30, met her Swedish husband while she was studying in Ireland and the pair now run an alternative tour for visitors to Stockholm - via some of the city's oldest pubs. READ  

Swedish talk show in Åkesson storm

Swedish talk show in Åkesson storm

Friday night’s prime time interview with returning Sweden Democrat head Jimmie Åkesson on the Swedish TV talk show Skavlan has resulted in a storm of complaints over the weekend both on home soil and in Norway, where the programme is also broadcast. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Gallery
People-watching: March 28th
National
Travelling over Easter? Don't miss our guide to rail disruption
Sponsored Article
Why Stockholm is the 'Boston of Europe'
National
Sweden remembers Nobel laureate Tomas Tranströmer
Sponsored Article
'Sweden must embrace openness and diversity'
Blog updates

27 March

Celebrating Three Great English Exports In 2015 (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"Deputy Head of Mission Aidan Liddle joins us for another guest blog today. In 2015, England..." READ »

 

27 March

Editor’s blog, March 27th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hi readers, Europe remains in shock following the Germanwings plane crash in the Alps that killed 150..." READ »

 
 
 
What's on in Sweden: March 26th - April 2nd
Stieg Larsson's partner blasts Millennium trilogy sequel
Society
How to never miss your favourite weekly features on The Local
Gallery
People-watching: March 25th
National
Which words are changing in Sweden's latest dictionary?
National
Is this house 'un-Swedish'?
National
Sweden pays tribute to victims of Germanwings Alps crash
National
Neo-Nazi activity rising in Sweden
National
How to make Swedish Waffles
Gallery
Property of the week: Torslanda - Hjuvik
National
Stray dog Arthur moves in with Swedish owners
Sponsored Article
Ten tips for succeeding as a start-up in Sweden
National
Sweden triples maximum limit at asylum centres
Gallery
People-watching: March 21st
National
Why elderly Swedes are among the world's happiest people
National
TIMELINE: Gothenburg shootings
National
Can Sweden's feminist party score success in neighbouring Norway?
National
Why Brits can't get enough of Sweden
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Sweden's solar eclipse
National
What's on in Sweden this week
Royal wedding countdown begins
National
Viking ring reveals Islamic ties
National
TIMELINE: Julian Assange sex allegations in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: March 18th
National
One in three Russian diplomats are spies, says Sweden's Security Service
National
Hitchcock opera set to hit Gothenburg stage
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Northern Lights on show across Sweden
Technology
Why Swedish pop star Robyn is pushing for more girls in tech
Gallery
Property of the week: Umeå
National
Introducing Sweden's Eurovision 2015 entry Måns Zelmerlöw
Gallery
People-watching: March 13th - 15th
National
Why have Swedish prosecutors made a U-turn in Julian Assange case?
Sponsored Article
How Sweden and India can work together
Politics
Who's the new young leader of the Christian Democrats?
Travel
Why are Swedes so obsessed with Mallorca?
Gallery
Princess Estelle celebrates her mother's name day in Stockholm
National
What's on in Sweden this week
National
Obama's anti-Semitism team heads to Stockholm and Malmö
Gallery
People-watching: March 11th
Technology
How a Swedish app is teaching children to empathize
Swedish grandparents put on disguises to snatch baby
National
Why Sweden may not be as gender equal as you think
Sponsored Article
Expert US tax preparation for Americans in Sweden
Sponsored Article
Stockholm job fair helps immigrant entrepreneurs
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

3,437
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