• 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
'Nazi' question lands broadcaster in hot water
Crown Princess Victoria in Poland on Tuesday. Photo: TT

'Nazi' question lands broadcaster in hot water

Sweden's public broadcaster SVT was facing a backlash on social media on Wednesday after a reporter asked Crown Princess Victoria about her family's history during her visit to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. READ  

The Local List
Ten ways talking in English baffles Swedes
A Viking - sometimes pronounced 'Wiking', in Sweden. Photo: Shutterstock

Ten ways talking in English baffles Swedes

While Swedes are among the world's best English speakers, there are a few common - and often charming - mistakes The Local's team has spotted while chatting to Swedes in their second language (because yes, of course, it is still better than our Swedish). READ  

Arrest over Swedish journalist's Kabul murder
A Stockholm press conference last March on Nils Horner's murder. Photo: TT

Arrest over Swedish journalist's Kabul murder

A suspect has been arrested for the murder of popular Swedish-British national radio journalist Nils Horner last year in Kabul, but in Sweden many questions about the case remain unanswered. READ  

Huge cuts at Gothenburg ball bearing plant
SKF headquarters in Gothenburg. Photo: TT

Huge cuts at Gothenburg ball bearing plant

The world's biggest producer of ball bearings SKF announced massive job cuts on Wednesday even though its net profits soared fivefold in 2014. READ  

Fashion giant H&M to grow as profits soar
H&M's profits are growing. Photo: TT

Fashion giant H&M to grow as profits soar

Swedish fashion giant H&M has announced that its profits for 2014 rose by almost a fifth and pledged to speed up its global expansion. READ  

Swedish drug users ‘need’ syringe exchanges
A needle exchange centre in Malmö. Photo: TT

Swedish drug users ‘need’ syringe exchanges

Needle and syringe exchange programmes should be introduced across the country, to reduce the growing risk of hepatitis C, Sweden’s Public Health Agency (Folkhälsomyndigheten) writes in a new report. READ  

Electrolux profits jump after massive cost cuts
Stockholm-based white goods producer Electrolux. Photo: TT

Electrolux profits jump after massive cost cuts

Swedish white goods maker Electrolux announced on Wednesday that its profits tripled in 2014, as it looks to North America for growth with the acquisition of General Electrics' appliance division. READ  

'We must never forget the Holocaust'
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven at the Stockholm Synagogue commemorative ceremony on Tuesday. Photo: TT

'We must never forget the Holocaust'

Sweden marked the sombre 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz extermination camp on Tuesday at several locations, with Prime Minister Stefan Löfven noting that hate is still a sore reality in Sweden. READ  

Stieg Larsson sequel set for 35 country release
Rooney Mara, star of the English-language film versions of the series. Photo: TT

Stieg Larsson sequel set for 35 country release

A sequel to the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson's best-selling Millennium crime trilogy will go on sale in at least 35 countries from August, the book's publishers have announced. READ  

Top ice stars skate into Stockholm's Globe
Spain's Javier Fernandez is hoping to defend his title. Photo: TT

Top ice stars skate into Stockholm's Globe

Some of the world’s top figure skaters are sliding into Sweden’s capital to take place in the European figure skating championships which get underway in Stockholm's Ericsson Globe on Wednesday. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
Does Sweden help returning Isis fighters more than Swedish veterans?
Gallery
IN PICTURES: January snow snaps
Society
Is Sweden's healthcare system a national embarassment?
Business & Money
FATCA: 'The age of financial privacy is over'
Gallery
Property of the week: Skanör, Vellinge
Blog updates

26 January

The mysterious -s, part 1 (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! How is your Swedish coming along? A while ago I read on a forum on The..." READ »

 

23 January

Editor’s blog, January 23rd (The Local Sweden) »

"Happy Friday from The Local’s team in Stockholm. We can’t wait for the weekend, when we’re planning..." READ »

 
 
 
National
Why Sweden's Left party wants a European 'Red Spring'
Lifestyle
'Life as a Swedish candy-maker is sweet'
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Sweden's hottest new fashion designers for 2015
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Who travels on Stockholm's different subway lines?
Lifestyle
Why this Swedish baby is a US hit
Lifestyle
'Limousine' snowplough for sale
People-watching: January 24th - 25th
Gallery
People-watching: January 24th - 25th
Society
Meet the 'beggars' buttoning up immigration critics
Lifestyle
What's on in Sweden this week
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Princess Madeleine through the years
Features
Learn Sweden's bizarre dating lingo
People-watching: January 21st - 22nd
Gallery
People-watching: January 21st - 22nd
Society
Why Sweden's viral 'genital' video is getting an English remake
National
Why does Sweden's Luleå have a giant ice beaver?
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Who are Sweden's richest one percent?
Business & Money
How a classic Swedish snack got a revamp for 'busy' Stockholmers
Lifestyle
The Local's top Swedish acts for 2015
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Sweden's Årets Bild photography prize winners
Business & Money
'I met my Swedish man in Tokyo's first Ikea store'
Gallery
Property of the week: A cozy apartment in Bromma, Stockholm
Gallery
People-watching: January 17th - 18th
Lifestyle
How to make Swedish gravad lax
Lifestyle
Four hot Swedish home design trends
National
How The Local's video on a strange Swedish sound went viral
Gallery
People-watching: January 14th
National
The Local's guide to Europe in statistics - from Spain to Sweden
Politics
Paris attacks: Knock-on effects in Sweden and across Europe
National
Swedish Muslims react to new Charlie Hebdo magazine
National
The Local talks to Sweden's Home Affairs Minister about Paris attacks
Business & Money
Will Spotify launch on stock market after users rocket?
Accelerated
Texans and Swedes to play ice instruments
Gallery
Property of the week: An 18th century mansion in Stockholm
Business & Money
'Snowboarding drew me to work in chilly Sweden'
National
Are Sweden's royals moving to London?
National
How Sweden's Charlie Hebdo rally broke a winter protest record
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Princess Madeleine through the years
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Stockholm's 'no pants' subway day 2015
Gallery
People-watching: January 10th - 11th
Sponsored Article
Everything you need to know about moving to Stockholm
Sponsored Article
How to jump-start your career in southern Sweden
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

1,108
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
Counselling and Psychotherapy in English
Sometimes living in another culture can cause stress, confusion and feelings of sadness and loneliness. Talking to a professional psychotherapist/counsellor might help you. I am a UKCP Reg. psychotherapist. My practice is in Södermalm, Stockholm.
Contact me to discuss your options