• Sweden's news in English
 

The top six ways the US and Sweden differ

Published: 29 Jul 2014 09:02 GMT+02:00

I recently lived five months in Sweden, teaching at Uppsala University, travelling frequently to Stockholm, visiting the far north in Abisko and the exploring the medieval ruins of Visby. 
 
Upon returning to my home in Northfield, Minnesota, a small ex-urban college town near Minneapolis-Saint Paul, several contrasts between the America and Sweden struck me. The US and Sweden are two different worlds, in several respects. 
 
Consider the following:
 
Living large
 
In Sweden, I lived in a small university provided house, considered a spacious accommodation. Our US house, however, is approximately twice the size of my Swedish residence.  Americans on average drive much larger cars than Swedes. Most of my American neighbors have three car garages, and across the street resides a family with four automotive vehicles. Americans really do “live large” by Swedish standards.
            
Why the difference?  America’s lower taxes allow individual Americans more discretionary income for home mortgages or for securing loans for multiple vehicles.  Swedes, in contrast, contribute more in taxes for a greater array of governmental services, like extensive publicly-provided health care, family and elder care services, in return for less discretionary income. 
 
Getting around
 
Much of my time in Sweden was spent surrounded by many bicyclists or ensconced on trains and buses.  All of that vanished upon returning to my home in America.  My US environment features transport in large automobiles with mass transit an infrequently available option and bicycling a far less widespread activity.
 
In Sweden, ownership of two cars marks a household as economically elite.  Not so in the US, still very much a “car culture.”  Our two-car garage in Minnesota is the smallest on our street.  
 
American governments do less to discourage auto ridership.  One reason is the widespread popularity of auto ownership in the US, which makes efforts to curb auto use dangerous for any elected official.  Another reason is the abundance of gasoline available at about half of the price that Swedes pay.
 
I found Sweden’s mass transit to operate pretty well, except for a two week disruption of rail service between Uppsala and Stockholm in June that left me pining for an automobile.
 
 
Night and day
 
I arrived in Sweden in January, when daytime involved about five hours of dusk. I left in June, when nighttime consisted of three and one-half hours of dusk. 
 
The long days and long nights resulting from Sweden’s very northerly latitude are challenging for a visitor from one of America’s lower 48 states. It is one Swedish trait to which I doubt that I could ever fully adjust.
 
When should I go to sleep and when should I wake up?  The answer to that question varied greatly with the season in Sweden.  The only effective response to such a seasonal variation, it seems to me, are very dark curtains and very bright sun lamps.
 
Food
 
In Minnesota, one pays no sales tax on food, clothing or prescriptions. The large sales tax in Sweden produced a change in my diet.  I ate far less meat and reduced my portion sizes at meals.  I also dined out less because the average price of a meal out was fifty to one hundred percent higher than in the US. 
 
Substituting my unspectacular cooking for the fine food prepared by my wife, who spent most of the five months back in the US, also led to more meager repasts.  I lost weight and was probably healthier as a result, but did miss a few culinary indulgences.  I ate only one steak during my five months in Sweden, at a student “nation” at Uppsala University at a price well below what restaurants charged.
 
Upon returning to the US, I was immediately struck by the larger number of overweight people.  Swedes, on average, are much trimmer than Americans. 
 
Higher food prices may be part of the reason, but Swedes on average seem to have more physically active lifestyles than do Americans.  They walk and bicycle more, and caloric “fast food” seems to comprise a smaller portion of Swedish diets. 
 
Those reasons, combined with more comprehensive medical care for all citizens, helps to explain why Swedish lifespans are on average longer than those in the US.
 
Extroversion
 
Upon returning to the US, I was surprised to find that people in stores and on the street began talking to me.  The “buttoned up” quality of Swedes yielded very few such casual conversations during my five months in their country. 
 
American extroversion may be more evident in the center of the US than in the urban centers of America’s coasts.  I found casual and friendly conversations a pleasant experience again in the US.  It helped me “reconnect” with my American culture very quickly.
 
 
New York
 
Swedes are highly focused on New York City. I saw more New York Yankees caps in Sweden that I have ever seen in the US outside of New York City.  Living in Sweden, one gets the sense that New York City comprises the totality of Swedish interest in the US. 
 
Americans who do not live on America’s east coast pay far less attention to New York City than do Swedes.  For many Americans, the city represents several less desirable American traits.  That is a perception nowhere evident in Sweden.  And, for the record, I, along with millions of Americans, despise the New York Yankees.
 
In recent weeks I have experienced two very different cultures, indeed. Americans could learn from Swedish innovations in mass transit and health care.  Swedes could use more discretionary income and social extroversion. 
 
I miss Sweden, but realize, having spent several decades in the US prior to my Swedish sojourn, that the US is indeed my cultural home.  My time in Sweden revealed to me just how “American” I am, and I thank Sweden and Swedes for that useful self-knowledge. 
 
Steven Schier is Congdon Professor of Political Science at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.
 

For more stories about Sweden, join us on Facebook and Twitter

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
PM brings up death penalty on China trip
Photo: TT

PM brings up death penalty on China trip

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven broached sensitive subjects such as the death penalty and human right in a Saturday meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping. READ  

Saudi ambassador to return to Stockholm
Photo: TT

Saudi ambassador to return to Stockholm

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Sweden will soon return to Stockholm after a diplomatic spat, Swedish officials said Saturday. But an envoy sent to Riyadh stopped short of offering the Saudis an apology. READ  

Swedish MPs meet Snowden in Moscow
Photo: TT/Right Livelihood Award Foundation

Swedish MPs meet Snowden in Moscow

Three Swedish parliamentarians met with fugitive US intelligence agent Edward Snowden at a secret location in Moscow on Friday to discuss mass surveillance. READ  

Spring budget
Petrol to cost more as Greens get their way
Social Democrat Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson and her Green Party deputy Per Bolund at a press conference on Friday. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT.

Petrol to cost more as Greens get their way

Sweden's left-wing government proposed a hike in petrol taxes on Friday, citing the drop in oil prices and pressure put on it by its coalition partner the Greens. READ  

Swedish Nobel laureate Tranströmer dies aged  83
Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/SCANPIX

Swedish Nobel laureate Tranströmer dies aged 83

UPDATED: Swedish poet and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature Tomas Tranströmer has passed away at the age of 83, his publishers confirmed on Friday. READ  

Sweden Democrat head: 'I'm on antidepressants'
Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson before his sick leave. Photo: Sören Andersson/TT

Sweden Democrat head: 'I'm on antidepressants'

Jimmie Åkesson, who is poised to return as leader of Sweden's nationalist party in April after months of sick leave, has revealed he is taking antidepressants for exhaustion and sleeping difficulties in an interview set to air late on Friday. READ  

Is Swedish super coach Pia Sundhage quitting?
Pia Sundhage, left, celebrating after Sweden beats Scotland in the World Cup qualifier. Photo: Adam Ihse/TT

Is Swedish super coach Pia Sundhage quitting?

Swedish football coach Pia Sundhage's contract leading the women's national team runs out next year. And she has not yet made up her mind as to whether or not she wants to stay on. “If they asked me today, I would say no,” she told The Local on Friday. READ  

Stieg Larsson's partner blasts trilogy sequel
Eva Gabrielsson, Stieg Larsson's former partner. Photo: TT

Stieg Larsson's partner blasts trilogy sequel

The partner of Sweden's best-known contempory author Stieg Larsson has criticised the decision to publish a fourth installment of his Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, written by another author. READ  

Ikea flat-pack shelters set to house refugees
Ikea flat-pack shelters will be delivered to refugee camps. Photo: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

Ikea flat-pack shelters set to house refugees

Flat-pack shelters produced by Swedish furniture giant Ikea are set to provide temporary homes to thousands of refugees in camps around the world. READ  

Swedish PM faces rights pressure in China
Sweden's PM Stefan Löfven talks to reporters outside the Swedish Embassy in Beijing. Photo: Karin Olander/TT

Swedish PM faces rights pressure in China

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven landed in China on Friday for a two-day visit. But on the home front he has been facing pressure to push more to get human rights on the agenda when he meets with Chinese leaders. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Society
How to never miss your favourite weekly features on The Local
Gallery
People-watching: March 25th
Sponsored Article
Why Stockholm is the 'Boston of Europe'
National
Which words are changing in Sweden's latest dictionary?
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 »

 
 
 
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
Politics
Why does Russia blame Sweden for the crisis in Ukraine?
Gallery
Property of the week: Smögen
National
Listen to the English remix of a Swedish 'genitals' song gone viral
Technology
'Swedish women are strong and ambitious'
National
Why are 11 Roma people suing the Swedish state?
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

3,451
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