The Local List For Members

Seven things I still find weird about the Swedes

Oliver Gee
Oliver Gee - [email protected]
Seven things I still find weird about the Swedes
Here are seven of the many things Australian Oliver Gee still finds weird about Sweden. Photo: AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis

From jajamensan to navigating the most extreme battlefield section of Swedish supermarkets, there's plenty that Oliver Gee still finds baffling about Swedes. Oh, and he has definitely learned who his favourite kind of Swede is.


This article is available to Members of The Local. Read more Membership Exclusives here.

1. Their relentless TV ads for online gambling

For a country that appears to have figured it all out, Sweden sure does produce a worrying amount of online gambling adverts. During a recent trip to Stockholm, I almost choked on my lussebullar while watching a movie on TV during the evening. The ad breaks were filled with gambling ad after betting ad after sports betting ad, on and on, throughout the night. I had to look out the window to confirm I wasn't in a hotel on the Vegas Strip. I wasn't, but the vibe wasn't far off. 

2. The abundance of hunting magazines in their supermarkets

This is one of things I always found fascinating about Sweden – how the magazine racks in supermarkets always contain at least several different hunting magazines. Sometimes there are loads. Sometimes the magazine racks are more like gun racks. I'm not a hunter, but I'm often drawn to these magazines to browse through them out of sheer curiosity. In case, like me, you'd never thought about it before, these magazines show people standing beside dead elks, the pages are full of ads for good hunting equipment, and feature interviews with successful hunters. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure these magazines exist around the world, it's just weird to see them by the checkouts in Swedish cities. 

3. The word jajamensan

This, for me, is one of the most mind-boggling words the Swedes have ever produced. I would never claim to be an expert on the Swedish language, but I'd say the word jajamensan is just a very long way to say the word yes. My rough translation would be yabbadabbadoo. But, unlike Fred Flintstone yelling it in moments of sheer pleasure, the Swedes say jajamensan at the most boring times imaginable. Like: Was the Caesar salad for you, sir? Jajamensan

4. Using random English words

Something that still baffles me about the Swedes is how, when speaking Swedish, they throw in the most inexplicable English bits. You've surely heard them slot in the set phrases like, "Oh my god" or "what the fuck", but some Swedes take it a step further and just pepper their Swedish conversations with words like "amazing" or "crazy", or even worse, they end a sentence with "that's it" or "never again". I've got no idea why they do it, because these words all have perfectly good variants in Swedish. It all reminds me of one time I was in Ukraine and there were all these T-Shirts with extremely odd English phrases on them, like "Space Time Fun" or "Red Makes Party". The Ukrainians had no idea what was going on. Do the Swedes?

5. Swedish swearing habits

I find swearing in Swedish to be a minefield. We all know that the worst word you can say is fitta – which is considered so bad the editors at The Local will probably censor it even though this is an English-language website. But after fitta, it's really unclear which swear words are acceptable and which aren't – and it all depends on who you're talking to. From my perspective, the swear words are all harmless and mostly just translate to "the devil" in some form. But I once said "Vad fan" to a middle-aged Swedish woman and she almost swerved off the road. On paper, it means "what the devil" (or as I thought, the equivalent of "what the heck"), but apparently it's a lot stronger – but everyone says it and you hear it on TV all the time. My tip: avoid any form of swear words at all costs.

6. How different Swedes are when abroad

I've known Swedes through three very different stages in my life.

One, I've known Swedes abroad, with no context.

Two,  I've known Swedes in Sweden, while I lived there.

Three, I've known Swedes abroad again, but this time with the context of having lived in Sweden for four years.

This makes me perfectly qualified to make the following statement:

The Swedes you meet abroad are NOTHING like the Swedes in Sweden. And the Swedes outside of Sweden are more fun. There, I said it. But it's true. Swedes abroad, especially younger Swedes, have a reputation for being crazy party animals, visiting a new country for a good time, some casual sex, and some fun memories. Often the life of the party, they give Swedes back in Sweden a reputation of being wild Vikings. When in reality, Swedes in Sweden are typically quite safe, efficient, shy, polite, and reserved. 

I've learned that my favourite kind of Swede is the one who lives abroad. Not so reserved as they might be at home, and not as wild as they'd be if they were on a backpacking trip in Australia. Somewhere in the middle, lagom. 

7. The battlefield at the pick 'n' mix candy section of the supermarket

Swedes have a strange enough habit known as "lördagsgodis", which means "Saturday candy", and refers to how everyone grabs some loose candy from the store to enjoy with their family on a Saturday night. But what's really weird for me is how seriously this concept is taken. If I were to direct a Blue Planet style documentary about the Swedes, I'd film the lösgodis section of a supermarket on Saturday night. By the end of the night, it looks like a grenade has gone off. Carnage. Candy and paper bags trampled on the floor, missing plastic shovels, empty candy sections, and giddy Swedes heading home with a glint in their eyes for a cosy night. 

Is it a strange habit? Yes. But does it make the Swedes just one bit more loveable? Jajamensan.

Oliver Gee has worked for The Local Sweden and The Local France. He is currently a freelance journalist in Paris and the host of The Earful Tower podcast. Follow him on Twitter here.


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also