Introduction to the Strange Swede

To an outsider, the Swedish way about the world can be quite hard to get to grips with. With their timid manners and reticence, the Swedes do indeed exhibit behaviors that for newcomers can, at first glance anyway, appear rather asocial.

Introduction to the Strange Swede
Alexander Hall/
The first and last thing to know about Swedes is their hyperindividualism. Even though Swedes often don’t think of themselves in these terms, a radical sense of individualism, enabled by a comprehensive welfare state system eliminating any need for dependency on other people, permeates the Swedish psyche. Put differently, though largely subconscious, the organizing principle of the Swedish orientation in the world is their conviction that they—along with everyone else—are basically on their own in life.
Importantly, Swedes are not individualists in the normal sense of the word. Rather, they subscribe, however tacitly and subconsciously, to an unarticulated ideology of individualism in the sense of stoic self-reliance and self-sufficiency. The Swedes, therefore, prize autonomy and independence above all. They do not, however, celebrate their freedom from other people as an opportunity for personal gain or self-indulgence, neither as an end in and of itself; for Swedes, the self-sufficient individual is simply a brute fact of existence.
It is this general ethos of individualism which is the main source of many of the Swedes’ curious beliefs as well as behavioral quirks in the social sphere. For example, Swedes want to help other people, in theory, but they’d rather not have to get their hands dirty after having paid their taxes. Also, Swedes, as a rule, dislike engaging in activities where they have to improvise too much, and, therefore, often shy away not only from conflict and confrontation but from any situation pushing them outside of their comfort zone. For this same reason, it is more often than not quite hard for international visitors to make friends with Swedes. Simply, Swedes have an impulse against spontaneity and toward control; they prefer for life to unfold neatly and according to plan.
While all of the above might put an outsider off, even lead them to think of Swedes as intimidating and coldhearted, the curious part about Swedes is that, so long as they are left alone when they so wish—and you approach them with caution and consideration—the flipside of their eccentricity is an underlying sense of care and concern. The main reason for this is that their longing for independence is steeped in a strong sense of collectivism, a deep-seated and culturally shared belief in the inviolable dignity and equality of everyone. In other words, the Swedes’ seemingly excessive preoccupation with their own lives, because it is essentially selfless and coupled with a democratic sensibility, is also a source of openness, warmth, and humility.
For outsiders to come these strange Swedes closer, then, it is key to be wary of their boundaries, and realize that their way about the world is as natural to them as the seasons. If succeeding in this exercise in intercultural understanding, however, the outsider is likely to find that behind the Swedes' shy facade, they are just as curious about you as you are about them.


Lagom: The best way to achieve social health?

Ronoh Philip, who is studying for his masters degree in Infectious Disease Control at Södertörn University, explains why he thinks the Swedish concept of 'lagom' is the best way to achieve good social health.

Lagom: The best way to achieve social health?

During my one week orientation program on August 2019 at Södertörn University, we were presented with many aspects of Swedish culture and practices. One of the new aspects that I learnt was the “lagom culture”, As I quote one of the presenters about applying lagom to our studies, he said: ”Lagom will reduce your stressful burdens of hectic lecture schedules and ensure that you spend equal time of working and socializing in the university.”

So being a student with a background in public health and society, I got interested and searched for the deeper meaning of lagom, and how it can  apply to society and health. I found out that it is a Swedish way of life, it is a concept which means not too much and not too little, just enough. I learnt that it came from a Viking tradition laget om which means 'around the group' and was allegedly used to describe just how much mead or soup one should drink when passing the bowl around in the group.

If this concept is applied to achieve social health goals, it would really fit well. So, what is social health at first? Social health is how you interact with other people and adapt in different situations, it deals with how people in society deal with each other. It is important to note that there is a close link between good social health and improvement of the other aspects of human health, this can lead to the achievement of SDG goal of good health and wellbeing. It also leads to self-satisfaction and happiness; no wonder Sweden is ranked as one the happiest countries in the world. It is ranked 7th in 2019, according to world happiness report. I believe lagom has a big role in this achievement.

In the country where I come from, Kenya, one of the greatest challenges we face in our society, is the ability for people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds to interact and form positive and cohesive relationships with each other. From my perspective, when I finish my studies and return, lagom will be worth implementing in the workplace, the place where I live and the society as whole, as it is the best way of finding simple, attainable solutions to our everyday worries like stress, eating better, having downtime and achieving happiness. It’s a balance of work and life, so everything is in sustainable existence with each other.

My goal during my entire university studies at Södertörn, will be to learn more about the lagom principle and also be able to apply it on our SI NFGL Local Network platform, because it is surely one of the best ways to achieve a good  work-life balance, reaching consensus with my colleagues and adapting a team minded approach in dealing with issues in an organization and the society.