The 29-Day Blogging Challenge: Å is for Åsikt (A special blog contribution from my semi-Swedish wife)
The Swedish word for opinion is åsikt. I thought it was an appropriate word to start with for this short series of guest blog entries, since opinions are what blogs are all about.
Coming from a North American background, I find the art of giving one’s opinion without also giving offense to be a delicate undertaking in Sweden. In Canada, we generally say what we think and how we feel, although typically delivered with a dash of Canadian politeness. In my experience at least it seems a bit different in the U.S., where opinions are generally voiced with no thought to how they are received. Free speech and all. I think the recent controversy surrounding the visit of Ann Coulter, an outspoken right-wing pundit from America who was spurned in Ottawa but welcomed in Calgary, says a lot about the political climate in the U.S. versus Canada, and also highlights the differences in political opinion in various regions within Canada.
But back to Sweden. Swedes tend to always want to get along and agree with each other. There are even a number of words in Swedish to reflect this, such as helhetsomdöme (overall opinion) and folkmening (public opinion). We had a very interesting discussion in my Swedish class this week about how to state your opinion without hurting anyone’s feelings. According to Kerstin, the teacher for the class, disagreeing with someone in Sweden is tantamount to personally attacking them. I haven’t really seen this myself, but many of the Swedes I interact with regularly have lived abroad, so maybe they’ve grown a thicker skin. But several students in the class had stories that agreed with this premise, in which a reasonable professional disagreement resulted in days or weeks of getting the cold shoulder at work. The whole concept of lagom is one of the many things I love about Sweden, and I’m also a firm proponent of consensus-based decision making. But really, just because someone has a difference of opinion with you, that doesn’t justify rude behaviour in a professional setting. In my opinion, criticism is a part of any job, especially in science. We exist to be criticized. As long as the criticism is constructive and not an attack on the person, learning to accept and incorporate critical opinions is an important skill to learn, regardless of where you live.