• Sweden's news in English
 

The top six ways the US and Sweden differ

The Local · 29 Jul 2014, 09:02

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 news from Sweden, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Refugee crisis
Foreign minister: EU's 'credibility' is at stake
Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallström. Photo: Adam Ihse/TT

Foreign minister: EU's 'credibility' is at stake

1 day ago

UPDATED: Margot Wallström, Sweden's Foreign Minister, has warned that the EU's global credibility is at stake if it does not act now to tackle the refugee crisis.

Refugee crisis
Nordic tourists rush to help refugees in Greece
A truck taking donations from Swedes and Danes to Greece. Photo: Ving

Nordic tourists rush to help refugees in Greece

18 hours ago

Swedes and Danes are heading to Greece with bags of unwanted clothes and other goods to help newly-arrived refugees.

Sweden charges Rwanda genocide suspect
Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre in Rwanda. Photo: Ben Curtis/TT

Sweden charges Rwanda genocide suspect

17 hours ago

A Swede of Rwandan origin was has been charge with genocide and war crimes.

The Local Music
The Local's top Swedish songs for September
Swedish singer Noonie Bao embracing the autumn. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

The Local's top Swedish songs for September

21 hours ago

The Local's music guru, Paul Connolly, has picked out Sweden's eight best new tracks to help ease you into autumn.

Underarm hair post gets Swedes in a tangle
Ida Nygren Hansson was shocked when a friend confided that her daughter had asked for help to shave under her arms. File photo: Communist Casino/Flickr

Underarm hair post gets Swedes in a tangle

21 hours ago

A Swedish woman’s outraged Facebook post about her friend’s 12-year-old daughter being pressured to shave under her arms has gone viral.

Opinion
'Sweden was right; the UK should be ashamed'
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron at a conference earlier this year. Photo: TT/Mindaugas Kulbis

'Sweden was right; the UK should be ashamed'

19 hours ago

The "open hearts and open arms" of Swedes have warmed The Local's Northern Sweden reporter Paul Connolly this week. But he's becoming increasingly ashamed of immigration policies back in his home country, the UK.

Refugee crisis
How to help refugees if you live in Sweden
Asylum seekers in Halmstad, Sweden earlier this year. Photo: Anders Andersson/TT

How to help refugees if you live in Sweden

1 day ago

As images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a Turkish beach spark debate around the world, The Local looks at some of the ways you can help refugees if you live in Sweden, which is continuing to take in more asylum seekers than any other EU nation.

Russia blocks Sweden from Chagall art loan
Chagall paintings on display in Paris in 2013. Photo: Remy de la Mauviniere/TT/AP

Russia blocks Sweden from Chagall art loan

1 day ago

Russia has blocked Sweden from borrowing Marc Chagall paintings for an upcoming exhibition of the artist's work, the Millesgården Museum in Stockholm has announced, as a diplomatic dispute continued between the two countries.

Video
Avicii in 'violent' video push against trafficking
A screenshot of the 'For a Better Day' video.

Avicii in 'violent' video push against trafficking

21 hours ago

Swedish house DJ Avicii has turned his attention to fighting child trafficking and made his debut as a director with a pair of disturbing videos.

Teen who 'joined Isis' returns to Sweden
Isis fighters seen here in the Anbar province, Iraq. Photo: Ritsaiph/Wikicommons

Teen who 'joined Isis' returns to Sweden

1 day ago

A teenage boy who disappeared from southern Sweden in the spring and is thought to have joined Isis (Islamic State), has returned to Sweden.

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS

National
Do you know which song was Sweden's biggest summer hit?
National
Who is Sweden's secret anti-immigration blogger?
Gallery
People-watching: September 2nd
National
VIDEO: Swedish longboarder builds dreams with viral film
National
Hairy Swedish knickers on display
Blog updates

4 September

Editor’s blog, September 3rd (The Local Sweden) »

"Dear readers, As images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a Turkish beach sparked debate..." READ »

 

18 August

Preteritum eller presens perfekt? (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hello everyone, It’s grammar time ! I got an interesting question about the past tense vs present..." READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
'It gives you the guts to believe in yourself'
National
Swedish billionaire blasted for 'lonely' Twitter rant
Sponsored Article
Nine places where Stockholm needs more English
Gallery
Property of the week: Stuverum, Västervik
National
Swedish ship rescues 5,295 refugees
National
TIMELINE: Everything you need to know about the Julian Assange case
National
'Sweden Democrats will run the country'
Gallery
People-watching: August 28th-30th
National
Swedish bin men hailed as heroes after rescuing doomed kitten
National
This Swedish teen was told she was 'too big' to be a model
Gallery
People-watching: August 26th
National
Rescued baby lemur gets new Stockholm home
National
Stockholm Fashion Week turns island into Mars
Gallery
Property of the week: Stora Essingen, Stockholm
National
Swedish crayfish thieves caught red handed by officers
National
Veil soon to be lifted on new Millennium sequel novel
Gallery
People-watching: August 21st - 22nd
Cecilia Larsson Lantz/imagebank.sweden.se
Presented by Stockholm Academic Forum
International students welcomed to Stockholm
National
The Bridge: What does the third season have in store?
National
Lucky escape for Swedes after 'dead' bear launches attack
National
Syrian asylum seeker comic: 'We don't prefer Sweden any more'
Lifestyle
Baby joy for Swedish crime queen and her wrestler boyfriend
National
Soldier accused of faking first Isis attack in Sweden
National
Fire alert as Sweden sizzles in summer heatwave
Gallery
People-watching: August 19th
National
Meet the Swede who is crazy for Norway’s mass killer
National
Swede's review of night in drunk tank goes viral
National
VIDEO: Swedish teen melts hearts with this incredible Idol audition
Society
What's a Swedish crayfish party?
National
UN: Sweden can't be left to shoulder migrant crisis alone
Gallery
Property of the week: Skogås, Huddinge
National
Men outstrip women for first time
Society
IN PICTURES: Wooden town resembles 'war zone' after huge fire
Gallery
People-watching: August 14th-16th
Sport
Swedish referee shuts viral Facebook page explaining his decisions
Business & Money
A studio in Stockholm or a castle in the countryside?
National
How did twelve skeletons end up beneath a Swedish castle?
Gallery
People-watching: August 12th
National
Millennium sequel author labelled 'grave robber'
National
Two metre long python stops traffic in Malmö
Sponsored Article
Getting pregnant the Swedish way
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

3,209
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