The Unreserved Swede

Blonde, blue eyed, cool and collected, totally gorgeous, and tall in stature. This is a typical Swede. Or rather, this is a typical stereotype often portraying our Scandinavian friends. When I first arrived here, I was warned that Swedes were very reserved, that Stockholmers were more aloof, and that it was almost impossible to befriend them. It’s funny because Sweden is considered to be more progressive as a country, but its people are sometimes labeled to be as cold as their winter months. We were told Swedes don’t appreciate small talk with strangers and, as a social rule, it is best to remain quiet on the subway out of common courtesy. We were also told however, that most of their social rules apply during the daytime, and less so after a night of drinking. Nonetheless, a quick search for “Swedish stereotypes” provided me with two memes:

After hearing about such stereotypes, for awhile I accepted them and joked about Swedish behavior, because at times in Stockholm, there does exist a reserved energy towards outsiders that may seem less inviting to stereotypically extraverted Americans. But the longer I lived there, the more it felt like home, and the less strange the people seemed to me; and the more I witnessed challenges opposing the stereotype, the more beauty and common humanity in shared behaviors I recognized around me. Throughout my final weeks in Stockholm, I noticed more similarities between our cultures within daily interactions, rather than only focusing on the differences. The Swedes warmly greeted friends in public, chatting away where moments ago they were silently staring at a phone, listening to music, or weaving through traffic. Honestly, how is this much different from most major cities in the U.S.? Perhaps there’s a general buzzing of voices as Americans tend to be very loud in public places, but as far as how people generally interact with each other, most like to keep to themselves when they know no one around. Would you agree?

Other similarities between the Swedes and Americans can be found in their love of dogs and children; though both generally seem more well-behaved in Sweden if you ask me. There wasn’t a single day lacking in strollers or dogs accompanying their owners on public transportation. One difference though in terms of “gender roles” between the U.S. and Sweden, is how many of those strollers were attended to by fathers. Sweden strives for gender equality, and though they are not perfect, it was not uncommon to see men caring for their children in public.

Everyone love babies in Sweden

Going back to stereotypes, when I think of the word “reserved,” it may refer to a more conservative, traditional lifestyle, or it may just be a matter of public behavior. Despite Swedes seeming more “reserved,” one thing that seemed openly acceptable is tattoos. In the U.S., would you agree oftentimes people with tattoos are viewed as less professional or even less trustworthy? In Sweden, it seemed like the majority of Stockholmers had at least one tattoo. Furthermore, the stereotype that Stockholmers dress a certain way, while being true for general trends, did not mean that everyone dressed identically, and those who wished to dress extremely different were able to do so. While appearances seemed to matter, people were still allowed to express themselves how they wished without much of a second glance from my observations. All of the above are simply my own general observations I use to argue against the Swedish stereotype I described earlier. Sure, several Scandinavians sport the blonde locks and baby blue eyes, tall height, and cool persona, but many of the people I’ve passed by do not. There was less diversity in Sweden than some areas in the states, but it wasn’t a community solely consisting of an Aryan race as one might believe.

Aside from these general observations, many more personal examples truly bring to life the people that I found amongst myself during my three months in Sweden.

One example that I have often spoken fondly of is my visiting host mom, Maria. Whether it was dancing in her home or exploring the ABBA museum, she always had an inspiring amount of energy, optimism, and confidence. She and her family were some of the warmest, welcoming people I met in Sweden, thus contributing to my wonderful time abroad.

Here she is unabashedly singing karaoke at the ABBA museum

Though a bit blurry, the next examples capture a less apparent side to the city’s culture. DIS advertises Stockholm as the cosmopolitan and diverse capital of Sweden. As I’ve said, it’s not all city chic and blonde gods everywhere you look. The first photo was at a hip hop karaoke event in an old theatre building being used as a bar. Cool, right!? The second would have been a Snapchat (if it loaded), capturing a guy breakdancing in a circle during a showdown pre Chainsmokers concert. (You can find the video on my Instagram if you’re really curious.)

Hip Hop Karaoke!

Another example near and dear to my heart is the swing dancing community, where I was able to meet some wonderful people through social events, thus solidifying my belief in the power of dance to bring people together no matter where you are or where you are from.

My last swing event in Sweden

My final example is Niklas, our fearless Swedish LLC leader, who was goofier and kinder than all of us Americans combined. Our last event with him in Sweden was at his collective housing, where we shared a vegan brunch with his friends and fellow roommates. It was the best goodbye with the coziest, warmest, most homey vibe to shatter the coldest stereotypes of unwelcoming, reserved Swedes.

It was quite the feast!

Sweden evidently grew on me during my time there, as I realized that going back to Sollentuna after a long day of class or a week of traveling, truly meant I was going to a place I had made my home. I am so grateful for getting to experience Stockholm before coming to Copenhagen, as well as witnessing the biggest blizzard in November for over one hundred years there. (Even if it was on the day we left for Copenhagen, thereby adding some travel complications.) In a way, it felt like Sweden didn’t want us to leave, and saying goodbye in return was more bittersweet than initially expected. I absolutely do not regret choosing DIS Stockholm, and I will remember this semester as some of the best months during my college experience. The people in a space are the reason we love or hate a place, and I love the people I met in Stockholm: friends, DIS faculty and staff, my visiting host family… we shared many warm moments, ultimately proving a stereotype is just that.

Best of luck with your decision about studying abroad and your adventures wherever they may be!

From Copenhagen continuing my own adventures with DIS and Scandinavia,

Liz <3

As a final treat, here is Niklas dancing to Single Ladies by Beyonce…

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