A few weeks ago I wrote a piece in The Local about quirky Swedish habits. As one reader (username: bungle) commented: “I could make a long list against the UK and the US too, but what’s the point?”
The point, dear Bungle, is that these little cultural traits are what differentiate us. And now that our increasingly homogenized planet is bursting with McDonald’s and H&M stores, these quirks should be considered as cultural nuggets.
They’re also fun. Sometimes funny. Sometimes annoying.
And many of these things may either go unnoticed, or we were so busy being a polite observer we might have repressed a laugh when we first saw it, then gotten used to it. By all means, we should encourage expats around the world to enjoy such observations, even if they sound like thinly veiled rants.
The idea isn’t to take them so seriously. Or turn it into a superiority contest. Or suggest that Swedes should be sent off to behavior-modification treatment. Or suggest that we don’t enjoy living here.
There were over 100 comments on that previous article, many with fun insights. I borrowed my favorite from those comments (#1 below) and thought of a few more. There’s no shortage of these, so please list any others that come to mind.
1. Dish rag dangling over faucet to dry. Several made mention of this mildly repellent Swedish custom. Yes, it does seem odd to spend 5000kr on a designer, chrome faucet then cover it with a disgusting dish rag. When I asked several Swedes about this, their first reaction was? “Oh, is that a Swedish thing?” Yes, it is.
2. Lame Mini-Golf (aka Bangolf). Swedes had no problem turning their bowling alleys into hip evening entertainment centers with music and disco-lighting. This same creative ingenuity seems to be sorely lacking in Swedish mini-golf, which is as uniform as it is unimaginative. In the US, at least, nearly every course is a cornucopia of scaled-down world wonders, windmills, smoking volcanoes and skyscrapers with all the twists and turns of an advanced plumbing system. Some even offer glow in the dark courses. In Sweden, mini-golf seems to be the staple of every campground and if it looks as if they all bought the same red metal kit, it’s because they did. Played it once, you’ve basically played the entire Swedish mini-golf circuit. (Note: I’m not much of a mini-golfer or a bowler — this is just an observation.)
3. Loud wardrobe of male news/sport TV personalities. This is not true with all the news and weathermen, but on some of them you’ll see the most bizarre, blinding color combinations. Or combos that might work at a cocktail party or during the Pride parade, but just seem inappropriate for TV journalism. Silver ties with red shirts, fuchsia ties with green shirts. It’s so distracting, who the hell can concentrate on what they’re saying?
4. Too early birthday wake-up. I know my kids love this one. I’m the one in my family who has a hard time with it. I suppose it’s just hard to get into a festive mood at 6am. My English brother in law calls it a bad-breath conference of the sleep deprived. “So when are we supposed to give them gifts?” some Swedes asked. Oh, I don’t know… how about at the birthday party when everyone else gives them gifts?
5. “Fy fan vad vi är bra!” Upon graduation from gymnasium, you’ve probably seen the drunken teens soaked in beer dancing on the back of trucks that slowly drive through the city. No problem with this. The one thing that seems so oddly out of character for the otherwise humble, jantelagen-following Swedes is when they sing “Fy fan vad vi är bra!” (“Goddamn are we great). Swedes would find it distasteful if a Swede sang this after winning a Nobel Prize, so why is it okay following a basic high school graduation?
6. Swedish meteorologists. Now here’s a great job. What other career lets you completely screw up your work about 80 percent of the time and stay employed. Not sure which is worse: meterologists who can’t forecast the weather or those of us who keep returning to check their crap weather forecasts and then making decisions based on them.
7. Customer service. It’s common to hear expats vent over frustration with this. True, Swedes didn’t exactly put the “service” in customer service. It’s not god awful, simply because Swedes tend to be very polite. Same goes for waiters/waitresses at most mid-level restaurants. It’s probably a combination of a lack of financial incentive (lower tipping culture) and simply not being exposed to a culture of waiting/customer service over the years.
8. Opinion void. Next time you’re at a dinner party or social gathering, keep an eye out for a Swede voicing an opinion. Any opinion. On anything. It’s pretty rare. And if they do, not much chance another Swede will dare voice an opposing opinion. It would shut down the party with awkward silence. There is some sort of pre-agreed pact among all civilized Swedes not to disagree.
9. Secret breakfast rules. Swedes will put apple sauce or jam on their cereal (nothing wrong with the taste, just seems weird if you’re not used to it). You see this and get the feeling that anything goes, combination-wise. So you start experimenting a bit. Then they’ll look at you weird if you put cheese on the same piece of bread as liver pate. Or make some other mixing faux pas. It’s as if there’s some secret book of what breakfast items may or may not be combined.
10. Combiningwordsmakesitdifficulttoread. Some of us are really trying to learn this language. We could use a little help. Not much, just a little space or a dash here or there would be nice — so we know where one word ends and the other starts. Otherwise, it’s a bit tricky to figure out words like rusdrycksförsäljningsförordningen or the notorious NORDOSTERSJOKUSTARTILLERIFLYGSPANINGSSIMULATORANLAGGNINGSMATERIELUNDERHALLSUPPFOLJNINGSSYSTEMDISKUSSIONSINLAGGSFORBEREDELSEARBETEN.