• 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
Man jailed for six years for asylum home arson
The district court in Västmanland. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

A court in western Sweden has sentenced a 28-year-old asylum seeker to six years in jail for starting a fire at the asylum centre where he lived.

Volvo on hunt for 400 new engineers in Sweden
Want to help build one of these? Photo: Björn Larsson Rosvall/TT

Want to work in Sweden?

Swedish hearts fail on Mondays and at Christmas
Tell me why I don't like Mondays. Photo: Marcus Lindblad/SvD/TT

July is Sweden's most heart-warming month.

Woman told she's not Swedish enough for a job
A sun bather wears a Swedish flag hat to celebrate National Day. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Sweden's discrimination watchdog is on the case.

Really hungry elk wreak havoc in Swedish forests
Om-nom-nom. Photo: AP Photo/Becky Bohrer

"It's an emergency situation."

Swedish hotels cash in on business travellers
Visitors are flocking to Malmö. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Business travellers have been flocking to city hotels in Malmö, Gothenburg and Stockholm this summer.

Opinion
'More men must stand up against abuse in Sweden'
Equality Minister Åsa Regnér. Photo: Bertil Ericson/TT

Sweden's equality minister Åsa Regnér on why the government is introducing a new strategy on male violence against women.

Swedes discover secret 150-metre-long cave
Per Bäckström on his way into the cave. Photo: Alexander Bennerstål/TT

They are believed to be the first people to venture into this hidden cave on the Baltic island of Gotland.

No arrests after boy's death in Gothenburg grenade attack
The scene at the apartment in Biskopsgården two days after the attack.Photo: Adam Ihse/TT

UPDATED: Almost 200 people paid their respects at the funeral of an eight-year-old boy killed in a Gothenburg grenade attack. But police told The Local they have yet to make any arrests in the case.

Swedish couple banned from owning animals kept 100 cats
Not the cats mentioned in the article. Photo: Drago Prvulovic/TT

Animal protection officers seized around 100 cats from the couple in Halland.

Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
National
How good is Sweden for expat life?
Sponsored Article
Why you should learn to trade (and just how easy it is)
Gallery
Property of the week: Landskrona, Skåne
Gallery
People-watching: August 26th-28th
Blog updates

23 August

A Summer in Sweden (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"For our first year here in Sweden we decided to have all our holidays in Sweden.…" READ »

 

22 July

After the horror, carry on regardless (Globally Local) »

"This time last week, we were just digesting the horror of the Nice killings, in which…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
Travel
What are Sherpas doing on Sweden's highest mountain?
Sponsored Article
Malmö to host global skateboard championship
Gallery
People-watching: August 24th
The Local Voices
'I want to be a businesswoman but I don’t care about money'
National
Experts: Gothenburg grenade blast is 'part of a cycle of violence'
Sponsored Article
6 simple travel hacks that will make your life easier
Gallery
Property of the week: Karlsborg
Sponsored Article
Five easy ways to travel more often
National
Why Sweden could change its criticised detention laws
National
Watch this dog's reaction when she tries Swedish fermented herring
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Gallery
People-watching: August 19th-21st
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
National
How to find student housing in Sweden
National
VIDEO: Swede films first Northern Lights of the season
Sponsored Article
The mystique of Asia - in the middle of Stockholm
Gallery
People-watching: August 17th
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Society
Swedish population nears ten million
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
The Local Voices
This Syrian artist found love in a Swedish library
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
National
Sex pigs halt traffic after laser attack on Pokémon teens. Only in Sweden.
Sponsored Article
6 simple travel hacks that will make your life easier
Gallery
Property of the week: Hammarby Sjöstad, Stockholm
Society
Drunk knight detained in Stockholm
National
Can you solve this Swede's strange Star Wars mystery?
Gallery
People-watching: August 12th-14th
National
Swedes cheer first snow of the season
Gallery
People-watching: August 10th
The Local Voices
Gabriel mastered Swedish and got accepted onto a medicine degree in just 7 months
3,376
jobs available