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CULTURE

‘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. 

@liamkalevi

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.”

@liamkalevi

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.”

@liamkalevi

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?”  

@liamkalevi

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.”

@liamkalevi

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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CULTURE

‘Don’t wear bright colours’: Eight tips on how to dress like a Swede

Swedes have an international reputation for dressing well, with Scandi style a popular trend outside Sweden. The Local asked Swedes and foreigners living in Sweden to try and figure out the best tips and tricks for how to dress like a Swede.

'Don't wear bright colours': Eight tips on how to dress like a Swede

Black is best

When asking several Swedes their top-tips on how to dress like a Swede, many agreed – wear black.

Young professional Tove advises to keep it “all black, minimalist”. Uppsala newspaper columnist Moa agrees: “Wear a lot of black clothes and DON’T wear sneakers or ‘comfortable’ shoes, like running shoes, with dresses.”

Black is a neutral colour and, in general, if you get the neutral colours right you have got a long way in following the Swedish style. 

Neutral colours and a lot of knitwear is a good starting point. Photo: FilippaK/imagebank.sweden.se

Stay neutral 

Sweden might be saying goodbye to hundreds of years of neutrality by joining Nato, but Swedish fashion maintains its strong neutral stance when it comes to colour combinations.

Generally speaking, in autumn and winter Swedes tend to wear darker colours, as Sharon put it: “lots of beige, grey, black and ivory knits or wool. Jeans black or any shade of blue. Black tights with white sneakers for skirts and dresses”.

“Swedes in general will wear black and navy together which I’ve not seen before,” she added.

However, as the weather gets warmer, things change, as half-British half-Swedish Erik explained: “in summer/late spring Swedes change shape and personality,” adding a bit more colour to their wardrobe.

“Lots of colours yet still somewhat monochrome,” he said.

Most Swedes don’t wear a tie at work. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Follow the news trend, drop the tie

Nils, a reporter and presenter for public broadcaster SVT in western Sweden, does not always wear a tie in front of the camera – and he said his colleagues on national news don’t wear ties either.

“It’s not a must,” he said.

A blue shirt, no tie, top button open, beige chinos and a grey dinner jacket is the look he chose when presenting the evening news a few weeks ago.

Nils Arnell presenting the news on SVT Nyheter Väst. Photo: Nils Arnell/SVT

On a day to day basis Nils, who stressed that he’s “not a fashion expert”, gave the following advice: “As long as you manage to dress in a neat style, you can get away with quite a lot.”

“A white t-shirt and an overshirt work well in most situations and look stylish.”

Stay classy, even in class

Engineering student Erik (not the same Erik quoted previously) recently returned to Sweden from a one-year exchange at Birmingham University, where he noticed a big difference in student style between the two countries.

“The first thing that comes to mind is that on university campus there are so many people wearing work-out clothes, at least where I was”, he said.

“In Sweden, it’s more common to wear jeans than tracksuit bottoms, compared to the UK”. 

It’s also common to see a difference in styles even between departments at Swedish universities. The law and economics departments, for example, tend to wear more formal attire with a higher number of students wearing shirts and polos than, say, social sciences or engineering students.

Many students seem to wear a toned-down version of what they might be expected to wear in their future workplace.

When in doubt, think Jantelagen!

Equality and conformity are important concepts when it comes to many aspects of day-to-day life in Sweden, including the clothes you wear.

This doesn’t mean you have to do exactly the same as everyone else, but more that being too flashy or over-the-top can be frowned upon.

This can be traced back to Jantelagen, “the law of Jante”, a set of 10 rules taken from a satirical novel written by Danish author Aksel Sandemose in the 1930s, which spells out the unwritten cultural codes that have long defined Scandinavia.

Jantelagen discourages individual success and sets average as the goal. It manifests itself in Swedish culture not only with a ‘we are all equal’ ethos but even more so a ‘don’t think you are better than anyone, ever’ mindset.

And this is seen in Swedes’ attitude to clothing, too. Flashy, expensive clothing with obvious logos or brands designed to show off your wealth breaks the first rule of Jantelagen: “You’re not to think you are anything special”.

‘Stealth wealth’

This doesn’t mean that Swedes don’t wear expensive clothes, though. They’re just not in-your-face expensive.

Felix, a podcaster from Stockholm describes it as “stealth wealth”, saying that Swedes would have no problem buying and wearing “a black jacket without any tags for 10,000kr”. 

Despite living in Sweden his whole life, he said that it’s not always easy to get the style right.

“I’m struggling myself,” he admitted.

He suggested taking a look at fashion blogger and journalist Martin Hansson for inspiration on how to dress. 

“Do NOT use bright colours,” Felix added.

Birkenstocks with socks. Photo: Carl-Olof Zimmerman/TT

Footwear

Most of those we asked said that Swedes are a fan of white trainers, most commonly Stan Smiths or Vagabonds.

With the shoes being popular all year round for men and women, this can cause issues at house parties – as Swedes take off their shoes when they come inside.

This inevitably results in confused guests at the end of the night trying to figure out just which pair of white trainers belongs to them – and trying to find one missing shoe the next day because someone accidentally walked away with one of yours is more common than you might think. 

Vans trainers are also popular amongst more alternative crowds (black of course). At work, dress shoes are popular in the winter and loafers or ballerinas in the summer.

In the summer months, you’re likely to see Birkenstock sandals on men and women. Most Swedes wear Birkenstocks without socks – unless they’re off to do their laundry in their building’s tvättstuga.

Birkenstocks are also popular as indoor shoes all-year-round, both at home and at work. It is common to have a “no outdoor shoes” policy in gyms, schools and some offices. This is to avoid bringing a lot of dirt indoors, especially in the winter months when there is snow, rain, grit and salt on the streets.

H&M’s then-CEO Rolf Eriksen wears colourful socks at a press conference in 2006. Photo: Björn Larsson Ask/SvD/SCANPIX/TT

Don’t forget the socks!

As you often take your shoes off indoors in Sweden, your socks are visible.

This has led to an unexpected trend for colourful socks with interesting patterns, which are a great way to break the monotone of neutral colours and conformity by expressing your personality – in a lagom way, of course.

A pair of colourful socks or a playful pattern will get you noticed and likely be a conversation starter at a dinner party.

What’s your best advice for dressing like a Swede? Let us know!

This article is based on the responses we received from Swedes and foreigners in Sweden on what they think you should wear if you want to follow Swedish fashion trends.

If you have any tips of your own which you think we’ve left out, let us know! You can comment on this article, send us an email at [email protected], or get in touch with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram: @thelocalsweden

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