Here’s what Swedes say it takes to be truly Swedish

The struggle to try to integrate is one many internationals experience, and Sweden is no exception. So what exactly does it take to be considered truly Swedish, according to the Swedes themselves?

Here's what Swedes say it takes to be truly Swedish
Swedish National Day celebrations in 2016. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

The results of a new survey by the Pew Research Centre help provide an answer, with Sweden among the nations quizzed on the importance of issues like cultural norms, country of birth and language to national identity.

The good news for Sweden's foreign-born population is that one of the the things it's impossible to change is of little importance, with few Swedes making a strong connection between the place someone was born and their national identity.

Less than one in ten (eight percent) of Swedes polled responded that “having been born in our country is very important for being truly Swedish”, the lowest of the 14 countries which were asked the question.

That is also less than the European median of 33 percent, and way below the 52 percent of Hungarians and 50 percent of Greeks who answered that birthplace is very important to be truly considered one of them.

Relatively few say national identity is strongly tied to birthplace

Customs and traditions are also given little importance by the Swedes when it comes to assigning national identity, according to the survey. Only 26 percent of Swedes polled said that was the case, which again was the lowest of the 14 nations asked that question. Hungary had the highest level of agreement (68 percent) followed by Greece (66 percent).

There was however a notable difference in opinion on that issue depending on political sympathies. The survey showed a 24 percentage point difference on the importance given to Swedish customs and traditions by sympathizers of the populist Sweden Democrats (SD) compared to those who see the party unfavourably.

Of those who view SD favourably, 44 percent said sharing national customs and traditions is very important for being truly Swedish, while 20 percent of those who have an unfavourable view of SD said that was the case.

Similar divides were found when responses from sympathizers of Ukip in the UK and the National Front in France were compared with those who see the parties unfavourably.

Europeans favoring right-wing, populist parties more likely to see culture as very important to identity

The survey suggests that Sweden's reputation as a largely secular country is deserved. Only seven percent of Swedes think being a Christian is essential to their national identity, the lowest of the 13 nations asked that particular question. The majority (57 percent) said religion is not at all important to being a Swede.

Age also played much less of a role in Sweden in shaping that view than in many other countries. The 'oldest-youngest' gap in the country (the difference in opinion between those aged 18-34 and those aged 50 plus) on that subject was one of the lowest of the nations surveyed, with only eight percent more of Swedes aged 50 plus answering that Christianity is very important to national identity compared to those aged 18-34. In Greece there was a 26 percent difference.

Older people more likely to see link between Christianity and nationality

So what exactly do Swedes think is important to be considered truly Swedish? Don't be fooled by the Swedish love of speaking English: according to the survey, the majority still think that being able to speak Swedish is key, with 66 percent saying speaking the national language is very important for being truly Swedish. Only two percent said it was not at all important.

The importance given to language was not unique to Sweden however. The majority in each of the 14 countries polled on the question said the same, and the median across Europe was 77 percent.

Language seen as most important requisite of national identity

There does appear to be a generational shift taking place on the issue in Sweden though, with the youngest generation 23 percentage points less likely than the oldest generation to say language is very important to being Swedish. In the Netherlands the difference was 11 percentage points.

The moral of the story? Learn the local language if you ever want to be considered truly Swedish. At least for the foreseeable future, anyway.


IndiskFika: The Indian dance group taking Sweden by storm

IndiskFika are a group of Indians in Sweden with a shared passion: dance. Two of the group's leaders tell The Local how they came to be finalists in Talang, one of Sweden's top TV talent shows.

IndiskFika: The Indian dance group taking Sweden by storm

“We’ve been very passionate about dance from childhood,” says co-founder Ranjithkumar Govindan, who shortens his name to Ranjith. “I’ve been dancing from childhood, like first grade. So once we got into our professional lives and career, I wanted to continue my passion.”

“Like Ranjith, I have been dancing since the age of three, ” adds Aradhana Varma, who joined the group in 2020. She’s been competing in and winning dance competitions back in her hometown of Mumbai ever since. 

With just a handful of members back in 2019, the group now numbers over 50, including dancers, videographers, choreographers, editors, and production crew, and they are still growing.

Listen to Aradhana Varna from IndiskFika on Sweden in Focus, The Local’s podcast. 

Click HERE to listen to Sweden in Focus on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.

Govindan says started by dancing at various events in Stockholm alongside fellow Indian dance enthusiasts before the idea came to form the troupe. “Then, one fine day, me and one of my friends, Vijay [Veeramanivanna], said ‘why don’t we do a cover song?'” he remembers. 

“He’s very passionate about camera work, cinematography. I’m very passionate about dance,” Govindan says of the collaboration. 

Their initial idea was to take advantage of their location in to shoot dance routines out in Swedish nature, in the same way that Bollywood movies sometimes shoot routines against European scenes such as Swiss mountainsides or Italian plazas. 

“Indians are very famous for movies, like Bollywood, so we wanted to do a cover video of a particular song from a movie which was going to be released. Since we are living in Sweden, we have plenty of opportunities to cover good locations and nature, so that was an idea,” he explains.

The name ‘IndiskFika’, (“Indian fika”, a fika being a Swedish term for a coffee break in the middle of the day) came from Govindan and Veeramanivanna’s wish to combine Swedish and Indian cultures. 

IndiskFika performing in the Talang talent show. Photo: TV4

“We started with five to seven people in 2019, that was the first thing we did, and we did a shoot and edited everything, then we realised that if we wanted to release it, we should have a name,” Govindan says.

“So we started thinking ‘what name should we pick for this team?’. We came up with the idea IndiskFika. Everyone knows about fika in Swedish, right?” 

Their videos, some of which have over a million views, became popular both among Indians at home and among members of the Indian community in Sweden, whose interest helped the group grow further.

More and more Indians living in Stockholm started asking to join, and soon they were doing live performances:  one at the Chalmers University in Gothenburg, and another at the Diwali celebrations held by the Västerås Indian Association. 

When the pandemic hit, IndiskFika didn’t let it stop them. They started planning a digital one-year anniversary for the group, and began looking for other groups to collaborate with. 

That was how Govindan began collaborating with Varma, who had been performing with a different dance team. “I had been performing at various events like Namaste Stockholm with a different dance team based in Stockholm since 2017, but during pandemic, everything had come to a halt since it was a tough time for all of us,” she explains.

When new people joined IndiskFika, it gave the group a new impetus. “That’s when the boost started,” Govindan remembers. “We became stronger and stronger. So, so many things happened.”

IndiskFika first came to the attention of ordinary Swedes with an article in Ingenjörenthe members’ magazine for engineering union Sveriges Ingenjörer. Many of the group’s members are IT engineers or students at KTH, the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. “They did an article about us, about the engineers continuing their passion for dance, so that reached a more Swedish audience,” Govindan says. 

This led to more in-person performances, which in turn caught the eye of the producers responsible for Talang at Sweden’s broadcaster TV4.

“The Talang people said ‘we read about you and we’ve gone through all your YouTube videos, why don’t you come and participate in Talang 2022?’. The rest of the story you know. We participated in Talang, and we got a golden buzzer from David Batra in the prelims, so we went direct to the finals.”

David Batra, a Swedish comedian with an Indian father, is known for comedy series such as Kvarteret Skatan and Räkfrossa, as well as Världens sämsta indier (“World’s Worst Indian”), a series where he visits India, alongside public broadcaster SVT’s India correspondent Malin Mendel, and tries his hand at living and working in the country.

Batra is also one of four judges on Talang, whose golden buzzer meant that the dance team were awarded one of eight places in the final – four are chosen by votes and four are chosen by the Talang judges.

The group were among the top eight teams in the finals on March 18th, but for Indians in Sweden, reaching the final was a win in itself. They were invited for a fika with India’s ambassador to Sweden, where they were treated to both traditional Indian and Swedish treats.

The IndiskFika troupe on stage at TV4’s studios. Photo: TV4

Many of the group’s members work full-time alongside dancing, which can be difficult at times.

“It’s not easy to be so dedicated by spending extra effort after office hours, with hectic weekend schedules for rehearsals especially when everyone in the team has a full-time job,” Varma says. “There’s a lot of things that take place in the background from logistics to costumes, hall bookings, co-ordinating everyone’s availability, social media activities and so on.”

Like many foreigners, though, Govindan and Varma have taken their time adapting to life in Sweden. 

“All I knew about Sweden was that it was one of the cold and dark countries,” Varma says. “Eventually you start liking it, and you know, everything is worth it for the summers that you get here. The fika tradition, the amazing work/life balance, the nature, that’s the best part that we have here.”

“I didn’t have much of an idea about Sweden,” Govindan agrees. “The temperature, where I come from, throughout the year is between 25 to 40 degrees. In terms of temperature, nature, the people, everything is different.”

“India is very rich in culture, right?” Varma says when asked about the differences between Swedish and Indian culture. “We have a lot of colours and a lot of different flavours and you know, that’s the kind of performance we gave. That was the plan: to give a very energetic, powerful, and colourful performance.”