I moved to Sweden 20 years ago on what was supposed to be an 18 month contract with Mobil Oil. But you know how life can go – young and single in a fantastic city like Stockholm. I’m still here! – Unsurprisingly, it’s love that’s kept me.
I’m from Norway and as I only moved over the border, you probably wouldn’t expect that many differences between Swedes and Norwegians. We even share the same jokes including the usual ribbing jokes about neighbouring countries. The funny thing is that it’s the same jokes used in both countries, just the name of country joked about changes. Ask any Swede or Norwegian if they know any jokes about a Swede, a Dane and a Norwegian and they will most likely answer ‘yes’.
Lazy Norwegians and industrious Swedes
You would probably expect working anywhere in Scandinavia to be pretty similar. But there are some surprising differences. For example, Norwegians are considered to be lazy by Swedes, not working a minute longer than they need to. Swedes, on the other hand are considered to be industrious by Norwegians and have a great work reputation in Norway. Generally speaking, they have that service mind-set that doesn’t come as naturally to Norwegians.
Meetings where a decision needs to be made are another example of differences. In Sweden, everyone should have their say and it takes a long time to reach a decision. Things go faster in Norway and decisions can be made a little more spontaneously, even if discussions can sometimes continue after the decision is made.
Swedes dread conflict
Swedes are more international while Norwegians are a little more nationalistic. It probably comes from Norway’s long ties with Denmark and also our former union with Sweden. Another difference is that Swedes are big believers in informing everyone and sharing information. They are also much more conflict averse than Norwegians and feel very uncomfortable when conflict arises.
When it comes to holidays, Swedes are far more likely to plan their holidays to fit in with work, whilst in Norway, free time is considered to be holy.
It’s all in the planning
Swedes are also masters of decentralising and planning in minute detail, which drives its neighbouring countrymen mad. It’s the group that decides in Sweden. In Finland, to the east of Sweden, it’s a completely different style of leadership. Finns have a tendency to ignore protocol and get straight down to business under the direction of a strong and more hierarchical boss.
So there are quite a few differences between the Nordic countries. Personally, I like all these different country characteristics and national traits such as the Danish laid-back style and the Finnish straight talking style.
Reaching out to Swedes
Swedes are great but can seem a little cool and distant. However, if you make the first move and try to start a conversation, they usually respond well. My Swedish friend Lotta is constantly surprised when I say hello to people we meet along the way when we’re out for a walk. It really gives her a kick and she always comments that it’s great that I do it and gets a little inspired to do the same. I’m pretty much alone in this behaviour but if you greet people with a smile and say hello, they usually greet you back, even if they seem somewhat startled. I honestly think that they appreciate it and I enjoy doing it. One other thing I should mention here is that it’s usual to greet those you don’t know with “hej hej” but you say a drawn out “heeej” to friends.
Some tips on learning Swedish culture
Two tips on learning more about Swedish culture are to check out the following TV programs
This show is about an American who moves to Sweden and features both hilarious culture clashes and some beautiful Swedish landscape – both entertaining and informative and well worth a watch. https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=welcome+to+sweden+trailer
This program, now in its third season, follows a group of Americans of Swedish heritage visiting Sweden to discover their roots and the Swedish way of life.
I hope you enjoy them.
A little about me, Ine Seidel
I got ”stuck” in Sweden by marrying my Swede and having 2 kids, now in their teens. I really enjoy living and working in Sweden and work as a SAP application specialist at Axfood. AFK I love skiing, travelling, hanging out with friends and working in my garden. Watch out if you’re planning a short stay…Sweden has a strong sticky effect. Beware too of Norwegians in town – especially at Skansen on May 17th when we celebrate Norway’s National Day with a parade in Stockholm.
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