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Ten signs you’re becoming more Swedish than the Swedes

Has your definition of concepts such as nice weather or a crowded environment changed? Do you find yourself basking like a seal when the sun reappears in March after a long dark winter? You might be turning into a true Swede.

Ten signs you're becoming more Swedish than the Swedes
An outdoor beer when it's only 10 degrees outside? No problem. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Swedish has started polluting your native language

Have you started saying ‘oj!’ in your native language in situations where it doesn’t make sense?

Do you overuse the words ‘precisely’, ‘absolutely’ and ‘exactly’, saying them in English where you’d say ‘precis’, ‘absolut’ or ‘exact’ in Swedish? If you haven’t noticed this, your English speaking friends or family back home probably have, although they may be too polite to point it out to you.

If you’re a native English speaker, Swedish grammar has started rubbing off on you, and you find yourself in the dark as to where the adverb in a sentence is actually supposed to go.  

Your definition of ‘nice weather’ has changed

In a similar vein, your definition of nice or warm weather has changed.

Previously, you wouldn’t have dreamed of eating outside or leaving your jacket at home in 15 degree weather, but Swedish outdoor serving areas with their patio heaters and warm blankets have changed this, and you find yourself suggesting eating lunch in the garden or on the balcony at temperatures you never would have ventured outside in in your old life.

You get overwhelmed by even quite minor crowds

Living in Sweden – a geographically large country with a relatively small population compared to many other countries – your definition of a crowd has also changed.

You consigned yourself to never getting a seat on public transport in your home country a long time ago, but you’re genuinely shocked when there’s standing room only on the Stockholm metro, a Gothenburg tram or a bus in Malmö.

This has only been further emphasised by more than two years of pandemic-related avoidance of crowds, which means that when you’re faced with an actual crowded situation, you need a couple of minutes to get used to the fact there are so many people in such close proximity.

Seals basking in the sun in the Stockholm archipelago. Photo: Lars Pehrson/SvD/TT

You bask in the sun in spring like a seal 

Around March or April, when the sun starts to return to Sweden after months of dark, grey weather, you’re likely to see Swedes sitting on park benches with their eyes closed and the sun warming their faces.

If you come from a country with a lot of sun, you will most likely think this is odd, but I’m sure many of you who have been here long enough will appreciate how nice it is to feel the sun on your face in spring after a winter which has left you extremely vitamin D-deficient.

Your definition of ‘cheap’ has changed

Similarly, you’ll be shocked by the low prices in many (although admittedly not all) countries, particularly in restaurants.

You do the mental arithmetic in your head and are shocked when you discover that you can buy an entire meal in a nice restaurant – with a drink – for under 100 kronor.

Were things always this cheap, or are you just used to Sweden’s high prices?

Stacks of delicious cardboard. Photo: Ulf Palm/TT

You genuinely enjoy knäckebröd

Despite previously dismissing eating Swedish crispbread as a culinary experience similar to eating cardboard, you now find yourself craving it when you’re not in Sweden.

What’s more, putting a second piece of bread on top of a sandwich now increasingly just looks weird

Plus points for Swedishness if you find yourself searching in vain for a wooden butter knife and resigning yourself to using a metal one, like some sort of uncultured swine.

You almost break up with your partner when forced to share a duvet

Although this is common in some other countries, Swedes expect two adults sharing a double bed to each use their own duvet. Somehow, this has not become common practice worldwide, meaning you may be forced to share a duvet when spending the night in another country with your partner.

Your habit of using two duvets in Sweden means that you spend the entire night waking up every time your partner moves, and are considering never talking to them again by the the time you wake up.

You proudly translate the names of IKEA products for your friends

A newfound pride in your adopted homeland means that you feel at home when you spot branches of IKEA or H&M abroad, and get excited whenever you see someone in your home country wearing Haglöf or Fjällräven products.

Your friends at home get you to translate the names of products at IKEA, although their excitement is somewhat dampened when they discover that most of the names are really quite boring in the original.

You are shocked by the low quality of housing elsewhere

Swedish homes are unsurprisingly, considering the weather, very well insulated, and heating systems such as fjärrvärme mean that, at least in inner-city apartments, your heating usually just works.

Not all countries can boast such a good quality housing stock, meaning you might need to get used to the lower standard (and the lower indoor temperature) in your home country (not singling any countries out here, but the author of this article does happen to be British)…

You do a double-take when you see alcohol for sale in supermarkets

Sweden’s relatively strict alcohol laws mean, if you drink alcohol, that you’re used to planning ahead for any events, such as dinner parties or birthday celebrations, where you might be expected to bring booze with you.

Visiting friends abroad, you might have to remind yourself that yes, you can just pick up a (chilled!) bottle of white wine or a cold six-pack from the supermarket on the way to a party on a Saturday evening, instead of having to plan ahead to buy and chill it in advance.

Member comments

  1. Uh, I don’t think I’ll *ever* get used to how warm Swedish homes are in the winter. As far as I’m concerned, 21c is too warm for anything more than a t-shirt and shorts! I much prefer to keep my home around 16-17c 😀

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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.”