When people find out I’m from Sweden I’m often told how much they love Swedish chocolate.
“Oh, trust me, I do too!” I’ve responded, thinking of the brother of my dear friend who is running a chocolate business making artisan mouthwatering pieces in all shapes and forms.
“But no, wait! You probably meant Switzerland though, right?” I said, the first few times (before I got used to this statement).
And they always do.
I mean, I absolutely love Switzerland and yes, their chocolate is delicious, but just to make sure we are crystal clear on what country we are talking about, let’s take look at the world map.
Sweden is one of the countries that are part of that tiger looking section on top of the globe, also called Scandinavia or the Nordic countries (including what we can pretend is the sun above the tiger’s head – Iceland).
Moving to the US I quickly realize there were things I’d never thought of growing up in the land of the Vikings, that for a non-Swede brought on a giggle or slight jaw drop.
Today, I wanted to share 5 of them with you.
- Lots of Trees but not so Many People
When looking out the airplane window before landing at Arlanda, the airport close to the capital (Stockholm), it seems like you will be dropped off in the middle of the forest.
And you kind of are.
There’s a lot of forest and open fields in Sweden. To be more specific, close to 60% of the total land area is covered in forest.
But somewhere among the pine trees you’ll find the Swedes.
Well, there are busy cities too, of course.
When I was young girl living in the peaceful countryside and well-traveled people were telling me Stockholm is such beautiful but small city, I thought they were just trying to be cool.
“What do you mean, Stockholm is huge and stressful and crazy and…I would get lost in a second,” I thought to myself.
Well, it turns out everything is relative and sometimes you should listen to people who have traveled a lot, ha!
For reference, there are more people living in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, than in the whole country of Sweden. Yup, that’s right!
Lots of trees, not so many people. But again, everything is relative.
The Word That Doesn’t Exist in Any Other Language
There is even a book written about it. The word that doesn’t exist in any other language: Lagom.
Basically it translates into “not too much and not too little”, which in many ways gives you a hint about the Swedish culture.
Everything in moderation is a common motto, which works well for a lot of things in life. From food, like the butter brand named “Latt & Lagom” (light and lagom) to work life balance. By the way, did you know Swedes receive 5 weeks of paid vacation a year?
A word of caution with this little word though.
In Sweden, there’s something called “Jantelagen” (the law of Jante). It’s an unspoken part of the culture that considers being too ambitious or standing out too much (not conforming), as inappropriate and undesirable. One of the silent “rules” are: You’re not to think you are anything special.
So lagom is all well and good, but personally I think it’s sometimes important to aim for the moon too.
Lagom or a lot, you decide.
No Christmas Without Donald Duck
At 3pm on Christmas Eve about half the population of Sweden gather in front of the television to watch Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse and a few other Disney characters.
The show is called “Donald Duck and his Friends Whishing a Merry Christmas”.
For a Swede, this part of Christmas is about as natural as Christmas gifts.
I have no idea, haha! Traditions.
Needless to say, the first Christmas without Donald Duck and his friends AND seeing palm trees instead of pine trees outside, made me really miss my home country.
“Oh, you don’t have to take off your shoes.”
I’m told this a lot when stepping into homes in the US.
Even after 11 years living here, I still find it strange not to.
In Sweden you leave your shoes in the entryway and if there’s a party, there will be piles of them. But off they come.
And don’t expect to walk around in your socks on a soft wall to wall carpet. “Too unhygienic,” say a lot of Swedes.
However, you might find a” trasmatta” (rag rug) or two. Some handmade from scraps of fabric and old clothes, others purchased in a furniture store like Swedish IKEA.
By the way, did you know that all those product names at IKEA means something or is a name or a place in Scandinavia?
For example there’s a candle called “Tindra” which means twinkle and a couch called “Klippan” which means cliff.
There Was a Time You Could Telephone the Country of Sweden
“What? You can’t just pick up your phone and call a country”, you might say.
Well, Sweden thought differently. As the first country in the world Sweden set up its own phone number and invited people to call.
Click here to watch the commercial.
I mean, who wouldn’t like to talk with a random Swede about things like midnight sun, meatballs or fika?
Oh, if you want to learn more about the lovely tradition of fika (sharing a cup together), click here.
Apparently, there were close to 20,000 phone calls received before the phone number was closed and USA was the top calling country.
Pretty funny, huh!
Want to know more about my home country?
Feel free to leave your question below.