‘Why is it funny to point out something that everyone already knows about Swedish culture?’

What's the worst social offence you could commit in Sweden? How do Swedish people react when they run into each other on the street? These are some of the cultural quirks TikTok marketer Liam Kalevi delves into in a series of viral videos.

Liam Kalevi
Liam Kalevi. Photo: Society Icon

The 23-year-old started making TikTok videos while in lockdown in a cockroach-ridden apartment in Barcelona in March 2020. 

He’s made over one hundred TikTok videos in the last year and a half, showing off his talent for impersonations of European accents. Those videos have notched up a total of 9.1 million likes on the platform, and he has even been featured on Sweden’s official Instagram page. 

His most popular videos are skits imitating various languages deciding on words or on different cultures clashing, although his favourite is one about people who read horoscopes. 


Awkward #comedyskit #sweden #scandinavia #language

♬ original sound – Liam Kalevi

Kalevi grew up in one of the most multicultural households you can imagine, with a Finnish father and a Kenyan mother who spoke six languages between them. He spent four years in the UK before moving back to Sweden when he was five.  

“My mum comes from a very warm culture and she’s very outgoing and an extrovert. And my dad… isn’t.” 

He started out imitating his parents’ accents which grew into doing impressions of random people he’s encountered around the world. 

“I just did what came naturally to me and made up random sketches.”


SUOMI 🇫🇮 #tiktoksuomi #tiktokfinland #finland #lol #comedyskit

♬ original sound – Liam Kalevi

The videos are low-budget affairs, with Kalevi performing all the parts, sometimes using towels on his head instead of wigs to differentiate between characters.

Now back in Stockholm, the popularity of his videos has surprised him, and has even landed him a job at microinfluencer company Society Icon as their head of TikTok marketing.

“In the past week, three people came up to me on the street and said ‘I like your videos’.”

He thinks that the funniest thing about Swedish culture is the fear of conflict and the uncomfortable situations this can lead to, like when you eat terrible food at a restaurant but can’t bear to tell the staff.

“A lot of the comedy I make stems from the awkward situations because everybody is kind of concerned about what the group will think.”


True or nah? 🇸🇪 @hailemariam.b #sweden #comedyskit

♬ original sound – Liam Kalevi

He says his comedy “is kind of for everyone”. His videos don’t laugh at a culture, they laugh with it. You’re always in on the joke too. 

“When you make comedy about a nationality then everyone in the nationality can relate to it, whether you’re young or old.

“If you can relate to something, you feel like you’re a part of something. This is like our thing now. It’s something to do with community.”

A big part of Kalevi’s humour is finding a weirdly specific characteristic that lots of people take for granted. Despite being born in Sweden, English is his first language, and having a little bit of distance helps him notice the silly quirks of a culture that might not be obvious to the average Swede.

Still, he says he doesn’t know why people think his videos are so funny.

“Why is it funny to point out something that everyone already knows?”  


Please treat the butter with respect. #butter #comedyskit #sweden #sverige

♬ original sound – Liam Kalevi

But every culture has something funny about it, he says. He doesn’t think that Swedish culture is any funnier than others.

“Kenyan culture is funny in a completely different way. People are extroverted, pushy. They want their kids to be doctors. It’s the other extreme.”


Sorry for the horrible Danish accent 😭 #tiktokdenmark #comedy

♬ original sound – Liam Kalevi

He likes that Swedish people are not pretentious, but adds, controversially: “I think Swedish pizza is better than Italian pizza. It’s more down to Earth, more genuine.”

He stands by his love for Swedish pizza, even when it has banana and kebab and meatballs and fries on top.

“I’ll go on record to say that Swedish pizza is better than Italian pizza. Kebab pizza is top tier pizza in my opinion.”

He has not yet been to Italy.

Follow Liam on TikTok here and Instagram here

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The Swede, the Dane and the Norwegian: who’s the butt of Nordic jokes?

The Swedes joke about the Norwegians, the Norwegians about the Swedes, and the Danes about both, or perhaps neither. But the mostly friendly joshing between Scandinavian countries is more recent than you might think.

The Swede, the Dane and the Norwegian: who's the butt of Nordic jokes?

In Sweden, they’re Norgehistorier (“Norway stories”), in Norway Svenskevitser (“Swede jokes”). The Danes tend to reserve their Aarhus-vittigheder for people from the country’s second biggest city.

These jokes are the equivalent of Irishman jokes in England or Polish jokes in the US. Indeed, they’re very often the exact same jokes with just the nationality changed. 

According to the Swedish folklorist Bengt af Klintberg, rather than having roots deep in history, these particular jokes are of a surprisingly recent vintage, the relic of a trend that swept the world in the 1970s. 

“This was an international joke fad that started actually in America,” he told The Local. “The American ‘Polack jokes’ spread to Europe, and in England, they were talking about Irishmen, in France, Belgians, and in Germany, about people from Austria. Very often the neighbouring country is accused of being stupid, and both the jokers and the the victims know that this is not true. You should not take them seriously.”

The joke war 

When these jokes started becoming popular in the early 1970s, tabloid newspapers picked up on the fad, with the Expressen newspaper reporting at the start of 1975 that “all the jokes now are about crazy Norwegians”, and printing a number of examples.

Norway’s Verdens Gang (VG) tabloid responded by asking readers to send in jokes about Sweden, and Expressen hit back by declaring a so-called Vitsekriget. 

“They called it a ‘joke war’ between Sweden and Norway,” af Klintberg remembers. “Everybody felt it was quite all right to tell jokes about stupid Swedes and stupid Norwegians, because we all knew that we are neighbours and we like each other, and that this was just some sort of teasing.” 

It was a high-profile, if short-lived, cultural phenomenon. 

VG collaborated with Expressen to have its readers’ Svenskevitser published in Sweden. Expressen collected a list of 1,000 Norgehistorier which it sent to be archived by the Nordic Museum in Stockholm, while the equivalent museum in Norway archived 300 Svenskevitser. 

On May 30th, 1975,  Arve Opsahl, the Norwegian actor and comedian appointed as “general” to lead the Norwegian side, signed a peace agreement with the comedian Jan “Moltas” Erikson, who represented the Swedes, officially ending the hostilities.

The jokes, however, lived on. While perhaps not as common as they were in their heyday, schoolchildren in both countries still learn them, and you can find online lists of Norgehistorier and Svenskevitser, and children’s books full of favourites (see here and here).

The Swedish folklorist and artist Bengt af Klintberg. Photo: Atlantis Bokförlag

Examples of Svenskevitser

Here are some examples of (typically quite unfunny) Svenskevitser and Norgehistorier, with an English translation.

Hvorfor har svenskene med seg en bildør i ørkenen?

slik at de kan åpne vindue viss det blir varmt.

Why do Swedes always take a car door into the desert?

So that they can wind down the window if it gets too hot.

Det var en gang en svenske som var ute og kjørte bil da en nyhetssending kom på radioen.

Reporteren: Vi melder om at en bil kjører mot kjøreretningen på E6 i nord-gående retning.

Svensken: ÉN?! Det er jo flere hundre av dem!

There was once a Swede out driving a car when there was a warning sent out on the radio: We are warning that there is a car driving in the wrong direction on the E6 in a northbound direction. 

One? exclaimed the Swede. “There are bloody hundreds of them!”

Examples of Norgehistorier

Vad kallas smarta personer i Norge? Turister 

What are clever people called in Norway? Tourists.

Två norska poliser hittade en död man framför en Peugeot 

Hur stavar man till Peugeot? 

Jag har ingen aning. Vi lägger honom framför en Fiat i stället!

Two Norwegian policeman found a dead man in front of a Peugeot.

“How do you spell Peugeot?” says one. 

“No idea,” says the other. “Let’s leave him in front of a Fiat instead.”

The Swede, the Dane, and the Norwegian

There’s a variety which combines all three Scandinavian nationalities, a little like the “Englishman, Irishman and a Scotsman” jokes popular in the UK, with the Norwegian the butt of the joke in Sweden and the Swede in Norway. 

Sometimes these, like other Norgehistorier or Svenskevitser, settle with characterising the neighbouring country as stupid, like this one: 

Det var en gang at en svenske, danske og en nordmann var ute i skogen og gikk tur. Nordmannen var døv, dansken var blind og svensken var lam fra livet og ned og satt i rullestol. Etter en stund kom de til en magisk grotte i skogen, der hver og en av dem kunne få oppfylt ett ønske. Først gikk nordmannen inn. Etter en stund kom han ut og utbrøt lykkelig: “Gutter, jeg kan høre!” Etter ham gikk dansken inn og kom ut like fornøyd: “Gutter, jeg kan se!” Sist men ikke minst trillet svensken inn. Etter en stund kom han ut og ropte: “Kolla grabbar, nya hjul!”

A Swede, a Dane and Norwegian were out hiking in the woods. The Norwegian was deaf, the Dane blind and the Swede disabled and in a wheelchair. They came to a magical cave where each of them could make one wish. First the Norwegian went in. “Lads, I can hear!” he exclaimed. Then the Dane. “Lads, I can see!” Then finally, in went the Swede. After a while he came out and shouted. “Look guys, new wheels!”

But they can also sometimes refer to national stereotypes, such as this one, which is used in the introduction of Joking Relationships and National Identity in Scandinavia, an article on Scandinavian jokes published by Copenhagen University sociologist Peter Grundelach.

“Two Danes, two Finns, two Norwegians, and two Swedes are shipwrecked and cast upon a deserted island. By the time they are rescued the Danes have formed a co-operative, the Finns have chopped down all the trees, the Norwegians have built a fishing boat, and the Swedes are waiting to be introduced.”

Grundelach took the joke from The Scandinavians, a book by Time Magazine correspondent Donald S Connery, who explains the joke (which shows signs of Danish origin) as follows:

“Among the Scandinavians themselves…it is popularly held that the Danes are fun-loving, easygoing, shallow, shrewd, not altogether sincere and not inclined to too much exertion; the Norwegians are sturdy, brave, but a little too simple and unsophisticated…the Swedes are clever, capable, reliable, but much too formal, success-ridden and neurotic.”

Jokes on real national stereotypes 

The Scandinavians was published in 1966, so that joke predates the Joke War by nearly ten years, and according to af Klintberg, the relatively few jokes Scandinavians made about each other before this time tended to build on stereotypes, such as that Norwegians are ridiculously nationalistic (which annoyed the Swedes and Danes, who had both controlled Norway in the past), Danes are workshy and pleasure-seeking, and Swedes are uptight and moralistic.

“They dislike the Swedish for being the big brother in the Scandinavian context and also that always try to be a moral example,” af Klintberg says about the Danes. Swedes on the other hand, he adds, tend to slightly envy the Danes for being more fun-loving. 

“We talk about ‘the Danish smile’, det danske smil,” he said. “And this shows that the Swedes sometimes would like to be a little more like the Danes, who do not take alcohol as seriously as we do.” 

On the other hand, Danes, with their more continental habits of alcohol consumption, once laughed at Swedes for rolling about drunkenly after coming off the boat from Malmö or Helsingborg. 

“What’s the difference between Swedes and mosquitoes?” goes a Danish joke Grundelach cites in his article. “Mosquitoes are only annoying in the summertime.”

Danes and Swedes’ jokes about the Norwegians tend to revolve around their excessive national pride, and also around their simplistic, literalistic use of language.

“A joke that was told already at the turn of the last century is about a Norwegian who comes to Copenhagen and looks at the Rundetårn [a famous round tower in the city], and he walks around it and then says: ‘In Norway, we have towers that are much rounder’,” af Klintberg reports.

Literalistic language 

Finally, both Danes and Swedes joke about what they see as the overly literalistic compound words which they imagine exist in Norwegian, with a collection of words in skämtnorska, or joke Norwegian, sometimes expressed in joke form, such as this Danish example, which literally translates the lim in Limfjord, the fjord in northern Jutland as “glue”: 

Hvad kalder nordmændende Limfjorden? Klisterkanalen.

“What do the Norwegians call the Limfjord? The glue canal.” 

Danes and Swedes both like to claim tongue-in-cheek that the Norwegian word for shark is kjempetorsk, which means “giant cod”, or that the word for “popcorn” is eksploderende majs, literally “exploding maize”

For af Klintberg, this is a way to hit back at the efforts writers such as Henrik Ibsen and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson made at the end of the 19th century to establish Norwegian as a literary language separate from Danish. 

“There has been a language war in Norway. The goal was to have a real Norwegian language, not a language that was a kind of dialect of Danish.” 

So, finally, why does no one joke about the Danes?

In his article, Grundelach, points out the strange asymmetry in Scandinavian humour, that while the Norwegians and Swedes joke about each other, and the Danes a little about both Swedes and Norwegians, no one seems to joke much about the Danes. 

As a Dane, he could have argued that his own people were more respected or liked. But he instead comes to the opposite conclusion, citing a survey from 1990 showing that Norwegians and Swedes tended to prefer one another to the Danes.  

“These data indicate that Norwegians and Swedes feel mutually closer than they do to the Danes, and this may at least partially explain the reciprocal (symmetrical) nature of the joke-telling between the two countries,” he explains. “Denmark seems to be a less significant country for the other two nations, which may explain why there are few jokes about the Danes.”