Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Self-Aware Swede

Swedes are quite self-aware. DCP and I have had plenty of conversations with Swedish people about the non-smiling nature and reservedness (sounds like a real word right?) of the Swedish people. Especially here in Stockholm.

No one smiles or says hello when out and about, or on public transportation. Or on elevators. Granted elevators are just a really awkward experience usually. Do you strike up a conversation with someone who might get off in three floors? Or do you stare straight ahead at the wall in the tiny 6x6 foot moving box? Anyway, it’s a noticeable phenomenon. And something most Swedes seem to realize.

In fact, sometime in the fall a woman even tried to explain this in Swedish in an opinion piece in one of the free newspapers. Her reasoning was that Swedes are just so relaxed that it would take too much effort to smile and say hello and that would only make them tired and stressed. It was an awful article. But interesting because it furthered the idea that they realize there aren’t that many smiles for strangers.

What is so interesting is that so many Swedes I have discussed this with seem to think it is too bad and that they would like to see more smiles and hellos. They realize they are hard to come by. Yet no one seems to make any effort to change it.

DCP swears that you can see looks of shock as Swedes pull away from you if you give a smile or a hello on the train. It’s as if they think you’re crazy. Or drunk. Or maybe just American. But it is amazing. And really kind of sad.

So in the last few days I’ve started nodding and smiling at random people as I pass them on public transportation. It’s a little thing. But it makes me feel like I have some sort of personal connection with someone on my 90 minute commute to work. Aside from one older man I have had no response whatsoever. But one is better than none.

And so maybe I’ll even flash a smile next time. Or strike up a conversation with someone on the train. I might scare them. But maybe they’ll go to work and tell everyone about the nice young man with the strange accent that talked to them on the train. Or maybe they’ll avoid the train at all costs in order to get away from the crazies who ride it. We’ll see.

72 comments:

  1. I gave it a chance, this nodding thing and shy smiles I randomly throw. Then I got tired. Then jaded. And voila, I was swedified! It is an inevitable fact in your swedification process, unfortunately. :(

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  2. I have talked to strangers on the tram...they think im weird, their faces say it all..oh well!

    I have spoken in english to them and i get a great response...in swedish? weirdo on the tram!!!watchout everyone!..sheesh

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  3. I hope you do this and report back. I actually find it a depressant to go without that kind of connection. Something America has given me: I must smile, giggle, talk and laugh. With stranger or not. Life is too short and sweet to not delight in these simple pleasures. Oh, how I wish family and friends in Sweden were more comfy doing this, too.

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  4. It's just so interesting to me that people aren't comfortable doing anything of the sort. Very different than the US. Of course, some might argue that it is fake in the US but I don't really see it that way. I mean a hi is very simple, friendly, and is so easy that there's no need to make it fake.

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  5. Well, in that case you should NEVER visit Finland! EVER! It's even more unfriendly there. As I came here, everyone living in the same building, well 'trapp' actually, were smiling and at least saying 'Hej'. The younger men said even 'Tjena' or 'Tja' of which I was quite impressed. And happy, here younger people seem to respect older and vice versa. I have learnt to greet my neighbours here, it NEVER happened in Finland. Well, sometimes it did, but only after you have had met in some other place before or something.

    BTW, Haven't you read the Samir comic strip in Stockholm City lately? There was a guy who got a response in a train. LOL!

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  6. So is it just a northern thing then? Are the Canadian like this on public transportation? Or Alaskans? Russians?

    I'm impressed by the friendliness of your neighbors though. It's always nice to have friendly faces around while you're heading home.

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  8. NW Canadians and Alaskans are like Americans when it comes to public displays of friendliness/kindness. Maybe even more so, due to cabin fever - which we have in the islands, too! Not that there isn't a quiet loner or two...but friendliness is the norm.

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  9. I should have said...

    They're like Americans in the "lower 48"...

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  10. see that's the sort of behavior I would kind of expect. It's so cold and dark lets go ahead and be friendly and talk to each other. But not here.

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  11. There are degrees to this though. I'm from Gothenburg and we have a hard time with the people from Stockholm because we find them hard to talk to and introverted.

    I remember one time when I was over there on a business trip and a couple of guys at the company took me out to lunch. First, I had to pay for my own lunch which was kind of strange to me, my company always pays for lunch when someone visits us for business. Then at lunch they just sat there basically saying nothing, not even talking to each other let alone me. I was desperately trying to think up new topics for conversation but it just kept dying out because they didn't say much. After a while I ran out of things to talk about so I just had to sit there in silence as well. :-)

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  12. See I kind of wondered about that. This is the first time I've ever lived in a big city so I thought it might just be that. And I've also noticed having spent quite a bit of time down in Skåne that people there are quite a bit friendlier!

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  13. Guess I would stick out like a sore thumb over there. Still missing you guys!

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  14. Or you would bring brightness to the dark winter.

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  15. i agree with anonymous, everyone will tell you that people here in gothenburg are much nicer then stockholm people, no offence hairy...your more american, you dont count..lol

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  16. mrs cecrux and anonymous are definety right, I've never been to Stockholm so I don't really know what you're talking about. I live outside Gothenburg and most people here are just so friendly. Why don't you move over here instead, then you might find some positive things to write about Sweden instead of writing about those introverted Stockholmers :P

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  17. It seems to be clear that Skåne is the place for me!

    Now don't get me wrong though Robban. I quite like Sweden. Even if I complain a bit, especially about the introverted Stockholmers.

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  18. I'm not getting you wrong, "hairy" but take it from me, alright, nobody in Sweden like Stockholm or the Stockholmers, except for the Stockholmers themselves. Sure, it's beautiful but from what I've heard the people there are just so boring, rude and introvert, so I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't like Sweden considering you had pretty much only experienced Stockholm, right?

    PS. No don't go for Skåne, sure the people are nice and all but at times you won't be able to understand what the hell they're saying. DS.

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  19. I'm a Swede and I'm not uncomfortable speaking with strangers.

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  20. @robban - so Stockholm is a poor repreentative of all of Sweden? Yet the tourist board here is trying to play Stockholm off as the capital of Scandinavia. What do you think Robban?

    You're kind of right though about the boring part for sure. So many people seem focused on being introverted that they morph into a blob of boringness. Which is why I've been known to skip and sing ahead of DCP on the walk to the train.

    I love Skåne though. That's where the whole family is from so I have no problem with the Skånsk accent. Familiar.

    @bo - you made my day. Now the only real question that remains. Are you from Stockholm?

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  21. I'm from Stockholm and there is no other place in Sweden I rather live (Of course I haven't been to all the cities and towns, not even Gothenburg). Then again I'm not a city kid since I was raised in the country, outside of Sthlm, but I am a 'nollåtta'. I'm not going to get all defensive over Stockholm compared to Gothenburg or any other city, because almost everybody is proud of the city they come from. Of course many Swedes are more introvert and like their space, but the thing I love about Stockholm is it's diversity. There are all kinds of people, not only the shy ones.

    I've lived in US, and I thought it was all so superficial when someone asked you 'how are you?' and didn't really wait for a answer. Or the only answer they would expect would be 'fine, how are you?', not how you actually feel. But since I stayed there for one year it eventually got to me, I started with it too. :) Sometimes I still think it can be kind of superficial, but it's one thing that I took with me to Sweden. To not feel weird talking to strangers. I loved it when people came up to me in the US and for example commented on something I wore. But I've also noticed that there are those kind of people here in Stockholm, young as well as old. It is getting better. It's probably worse in the north :), I've got a friend from the northern parts of Sweden, and she only talks when she has something to say. She can sit a whole lunch being all quiet, when the rest of us keeps the conversation going. That's just who she is.

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  22. If people are superficial (instead of truly interested in greeting others), that is no fun.

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  23. Yeah, Stockholm is definitely a bad representative of Sweden... most Stockholmers are not only what I mentioned in my previous comments they also seem so anxious to always wear the newest and trendiest clothes and eat the trendiest and most foreign food. They never seem to be themselves. I've never been to Stockholm but I have relatives there and have met quite a few people from there, so I know what I'm talking about.

    jag vill inte förolämpa dig Carin de finns schyssta stockholmare också som inte e alls som jag beskrev dom. Ps. har du inte vart I göteborg? Då ha rdu missat en del. Sveriges trevligaste stad :P ds.

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  24. @carin - you brought up something very interesting that I think is coming up in these comments: people tend to be proud of the city they are from. AS you grow older you have a lot of choice in where you live so it makes sense that people would be proud of their choice.

    @carin and isle dance - you're right. superficiality doesn't work all that well. but even a quick hello is nice and doesn't ever need to be superficial. It's just kind of nice and polite.

    @robban - clearly robban is proud to be from Göteborg... and glad to not live in Stockholm. Which is fair enough.

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  25. Robban, don't worry. I'm not easily offended. =) I respect everybody's opinions, not even me like the typical Stockholmer. :) The one with the typical 'snobbish' (in lack of another word) accent, where expensive clothes and lifestyle is important. Don't really care about that.

    I'm just glad that not everybody want to live in Stockholm. It would make it so much more difficult for me to get an apartment there later. ;)

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  26. Absolutely. Genuinely extending a kind welcome is a wonderful thing. Haphazardly extending one does not make sense. Not extending one is a whole different scenario.

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  27. @carin - well said.

    @isle dance - also well said.

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  28. Before I write anything, I want to say that I like this blog. :) Okay, I have had a situation like this, (Swedes non-smiling and being reserved) when I was on vacation in San Francisco. I was waiting in a 45 minute cable car line (gets pretty busy) and a street performer was going around asking people where they were from etc... I am part Norwegian and happened to be wearing a shirt with the Norwegian flag clearly plastered on it. The street performer went to the couple in front of me, asked them where they were from and they said they were from Sweden. So, the entire 45 minutes in line, these Swedes never said a word to me...they saw the Norwegian flag and glanced at me a few times... plus I didn't even see them smile once. We were on the same cable car and they sat directly across facing me...still no response. I figured, they could have felt funky from jet-lag, lost loads of money in Vegas, didn't like America because it wasn't what they exptected (highly doubtful), or just weren't feeling well. But now, this blog entry has made me re-think the situation entirely...perhaps I should have said hello...

    -Robert, Los Angeles

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  29. I am so adding you to my blogroll.

    As an American who lived in Sweden for a while, I certainly did not mind that kind of attitude. It was interesting to come back to America and get smiles and nods a lot more, but I kind of miss that most people were not loud and obnoxious bastards on public transportation.

    Did you live in Colorado? I read in another entry something about a Colorado-American accent. I am back in Colorado now.

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  30. And to Robert, if he returns to this... I don't see a Swede ever commenting on an American person's shirt with a Norwegian flag on it. I have never heard of someone with close heritage wearing that heritage on a t-shirt, so I would always assume that the person wearing it is a tourist. However, if I saw someone wearing a Gina Tricot shirt? I would know they are from or have lived in Sweden!

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  31. @robert - you may have witnessed firsthand the shyness that is a Sweden. But Jen brings up a good point, they may have just mistaken you for someone who had once been to Norway!

    @jen - Thanks! And you make a good point about public transportation. It is quiet. Sometimes too quiet but when I'm reading a good book it's pretty nice.

    And yeah I'm from Colorado. Home of the World's Largest 4th of July Rodeo. I always love that claim to fame, because who else celebrates the 4th of July in the world?

    @ jen (again) - you bring up an excellent point! I don't think I own any shirts with an American flag on them.

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  32. Did you live in Greeley?! That's where I'm from!

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  33. Well, I don't think we'll ever know if it was shyness or not...

    But Jen, I like your comment about a Gina Tricot shirt! :) Haha.

    I am sure Henrik Schyffert said something funny about Swedes being shy before...does anybody remember this?

    -Robert, L.A.

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  34. I'd run away from you screaming!! (ok, maybe not, but I'd still think you were crazy. And yes, I think at the same time that we should smile more)

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  35. @ jen - sure did

    @anonymous/robert - no idea on the quote

    @ mattias - see? you are the epitome of what I'm talking about then. It boggles my mind. So interesting! Thanks for commenting.

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  36. Well, I will say that like three people in Gothenburg struck up a conversation or said something friendly in my day and a half there, which is three more than ever did the same in my year and a half in Stockholm...

    But I think that's really more a function of Stockholm being a large capital city. I lived in New York for several years, and sure, there are crazies there willing to strike up conversations, or you could easily spend your time walking along, never making eye contact, never chatting in much the way you do in Stockholm.

    Which is not to say Stockholmers were unfriendly - just reserved. As an American, if I were to ask for directions, anybody I asked was perfectly pleasant. I was homesick and sniffling on the tunnelbanan once and someone actually asked if I was okay.

    I think Swedes, or at least certainly Stockholmers, shy away from what they see as unnecessary chatter, which is something I certainly value at times in the U.S. when I'm roped into interminable assaults of small talk. Not once did I ever hear a Swede say "prosit" when someone sneezed - as my host family father pointed out, why? It's not like you're going to die from a sneeze! And he was from Västerbotten, so you can't just blame Stockholm...

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  37. No, Muffy you're right - you can't just blame Stockholmers. It's a known fact that norrlänningar (people from Norrland) are reserved and very quiet. But in southern Sweden where I live it's not that unusal to ttalk to strangers and I don't think people are as reserved as hairy swede says. The west coast and Skåne is a lot more social than Stockholm.

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  38. By the way folks, Alaskans are Americans. Did you mean Eskimos or something. They're probably Americans too since Alaska became a state. I'm from California and people don't think we're Americans either. I wonder why?

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  39. Hee. Yes, of course Alaskans are Americans. However, Alaskan's are (happily) not part of the lower 48. And anyone who has ever been an Alaskan...

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  40. It may not just be all of Sweden that is reserved or just Stokholm, but it does seem that just about everyone agrees that Skåne is a bit more friendly.

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  41. Good points Muffy! But I don't think it's only a big city thing, the further north you get in Sweden the more reserved and "quiet" people tend to be. Gothenburg isn't that much smaller than stockholm and still people are lot more less reserved, as yuo said in your example!

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  42. And, hairy Swede you can't base all your views about sweden what you experience in Stockholm

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  43. Beachkid again asking a question for Isledance. Do you really consider California part of the lower 48? We have virtually nothing in common with the rest of U.S. other than all the people who have moved here. We native Californians tend to escape to Hawaii when we leave. In fact, Californians have automatic residency in Hawaii since so many of us are there. So that upper state thinks of us differently than the other 47. So I'm curious what you think? Sorry to use the blog for this Hairy Swede.But I wanted to contact Isledance. And to all you quiet Swedes, a big smile and loud hi from sunny Southern California. When you need some cheer come visit. By the way, if I lived in the cold and darkness half of the year, I'd be very quiet too.

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  44. California is definitely considered part of the lower 48. Just a freaky part. (I say that with love.) Heee. :o) And of course this does not apply to everyone in California. But in general, California has the rap of being Hollywood. Plastic. Artificial. The place where people go to live some kind of man-made dream. But every state has their own unique identity/stereotype. California is definitely part of the lower 48. Where I'm at, we don't really think Californians are special...but needy/hungry for ??...or maybe we don't really embrace their values because they tend to be so different than "real life" values. But everyone has the right to do as they please. As long as it's legal. And nice. And kind. Oops. I just can't figure out why they invade my island and then complain that there's nothing to buy. Or pretend that it's their island because they show up once a year. Or race to cut everyone off at the boat, without a wave of apology. Hello. Nobody goes anywhere faster by cutting in line to sit on the boat and then land on a tiny island where there's nowhere to drive. Hmmm. (Again, I say this all with love and a good laugh.) :o)

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  45. Well Isle Dance,

    I definitely see your point about the rudeness on the boats. And I apologize for my fellow Californians. I'm surpized they complain about buying things, cos when I go to the Islands (any one of them, and I'm assuming we're discussing the Hawaiian Islands, I can't buy enough pretty things. Of course nothing is as pretty as the Islands. I am one of the anual visitors and hope to retire there. I have it in my will that when I die, I want my ashes spread either on the ocean of Kauai or the Big Island. I haven't decided yet. But you are lucky to live there, especially if it is on an outer Island.

    And true, we Californians are in our own world. But it is one hell of a fun one.

    Aloha!

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  46. Ohhh...I'm not on a Hawaiian island...but good for you! :o)

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  47. @muffy - I actually don't like people saying prosit to me when I sneeze because I would prefer if no one had noticed. haha but I'm a minority.

    As a Stockholmer, I small talk doesn't come easy for me. I do enjoy it sometimes but I feel there should be something more to it than idle talk about something I have no interest in with someone I will not likely meet again. It's a strain to me. I think there is something restless about the american mindset when it comes to socializing, and I will go as far as to say that it seems to me that it has more to do with need for affirmation than politeness. I wouldn't have a problem with giving a compliment to, or recieving one from, a stranger. But I do have a problem with people expecting them. Also, public transportation is a bit of a no-no situation. Consider it: However friendly you are, the person you wish to engage in conversation is trapped. A swede will also have a harder time declining your invitation to talk in order not to be rude. And there is the reason why she will probably just ignore you and avoid smiling. However, I've made a point of always smiling and saying hello to the people in my apartment building, and sometimes I even chat with strangers in the elevator for a few floors.

    It's true about Norrland though. When I was in Sundsvall people sitting in the restaurants were more likely to stare out the window than talking with their company.

    /Dennis, a proud Stockholmer

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  48. Well, I don't know if I'll add anything new to this conversation, but anywhooo:

    It really depends on where you are. And the person. But we are very reserved in general. I'm from Vänersborg, a place where people WILL think you are either crazy or drunk if you talk to them, lol. And why is that? I think it's because the ONLY people who do talk to strangers ARE drunk or crazy/mentally challenged. It's kind of a vicious cycle really. We understand that it's a bit extreme, we wish we were more open and friendly towards each other, but we have no idea how to accomplish it. We are terrified of being seen as weird or abnormal. And we are suspicious, and somehow think that a stranger who starts talking to you might want to hurt you, or stalk you, or violate you. So we get scared and uncomfortable and flee from it.

    In Skåne people seem more relaxed about it. I have a friend who is from Skåne and she talks to random people on the bus and such, and she thought I was weird for thinking that was crazy-behaviour.

    I have had some encounters with strangers who started talking to me that really freaked me out though. This one time an African man (who spoke English, and bad English at that) approached me and asked me which bus he needed to take to get someplace. And that was completely fine. But then he started asking me personal questions, where I lived, if he could have my phone number etc. It was really scary. We ended up taking the same bus, and he sat down beside me, even though the bus was almost empty! And he asked about my phone number again, and I told him I wouldn't give it to him. Crazy! Who gives their phone number to someone they just met?!

    I have also had encounters with strangers who were just annoying. Like... if you sit on the bus/train listening to music, relaxing after a hard day, and some stranger starts talking to you, completely ignoring that you are listening to music. I mean, it's an obvious signal that you want to be left alone, that's just rude.

    lol, I'm so swedish.

    Anywho: I do agree that Gothenburg is waaay better that Stockholm though. I absolutely love that city. And it is really annoying that Stockholm should somehow represent Sweden, because only Stockholmers like Stockholm. I mean, just look at the guys hairstyles, wtf :P! Well, people are different, just. And just because something is popular in Sthlm, does NOT mean that it's popular anywhere else in Sweden. And just because stockholmers do this or that, doesn't NOT mean that we do it anywhere else. I think Gothenburg should represent Sweden instead, they are much more like the 'helhylle svensk'.

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  49. some very good points. I think it is interesting though about the being scared when people talk to you. not specifically you but you know what I mean.

    especially because sweden prides itself, and in general, is considered by the rest of the world to be a very safe place. maybe that is just because people are afraid to talk to strangers.

    I will also agree with you about the train and music thing. there are limits. if you are sitting there with head phones on or reading a book or something, well that is just rude to start talking to that person unless there is a good reason. like help Im having a heart attack, or ohs hit I need to get off this train will you please move.

    it seems in general though, that most people are with you, that Stockholm should not be considered repreentative of swedes. which is interesting because it is stockholm that gets marketed as the capital of scandinavia.

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  50. I think the whole not talking or smiling thing (seriously depressing) comes down the Swedish need to be all the same and never stand out. When you talk to a stranger you are breaking the mold, gaining attention, not melting into the crowd. The Swedes simply do not value uniqueness. They also only wear black all the time. They simply want to mesh into a whole sea of quiet sameness. Talking to strangers means you want people to like you, and wanting people to like you must mean you want to be better than others - not a good thing to them....Anyone agree?

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  51. I can buy into that. jantelagen in action.

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  52. Need help from the Swedes! I live in L.A. California. I have a male aquaintance who has been here from Sweden for three years working for a Swedish company. My ex boyfriend was his Swedish boss. He has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and is dying at home. He won't return to Sweden to be with his family because he wants to be in the warmth and sunshine now. He will likely die here in a few months. He is proud and I want to do something for him traditionally Swedish that wouldn't make him feel uncomfortable or imposed upon. Any suggestions?

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  53. I've been trying to come up with a good idea here and i just don't know to be perfectly honest.

    swedish music? swedish film? maybe some sort of festival? I know berkely has a really good scandinavian studies program at the university so maybe some sort of festival held there?

    not much help Im afraid...

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  54. Good luck! But I know I would feel really uncomfortable is someone came up to me and started talking on the subway in stockholm. Id be thinking, "what the hell does he want from me"?! Because noone ever strikes up a conversation randomly for no reason here.

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  55. but maybe the person is just very friendly. and friendly is, as a general rule, a nice thing.

    but it does kind of smack in the face of the cultural norm her ein Sweden.

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  56. I'm from America and that sounds depressing. I would really dislike being around people like that thinking them mean. It might also have something to do with you living in the city. I find that country people are nicer.

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  57. thats one of the first thing i noticed about sweden as well; as sad as this is to say, its even harder on me, at least your white, i come from a arabic/turkish background, so i LOOk like i dont belong there. it doesnt help.
    i am generally a very friendly person who asks cashiers how their day is going, and tell them to have a great day when i leave, and when i do that, im usually met with blank stairs, or uncomfortable reactions. at times, i do get the occasional proper response back.
    when i do smile at strangers, i dont know if being female has anything to do with it, because dissimilarly to your situation, i am met back with smiles as well. . . though be it, creepy smiles from old men at times... ><

    i have also started conversation, and their formerly weirded-out faces, become big ass smiles. i am 100% sure it has to do with my English. since its the only language i speak, i couldnt even try to say anything in swedish.

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  58. @anonymous - it can be tough getting used to

    @dee - I think it is something that most foeigners notice. especially coming from someplace like the US or Canada.

    you are right though, once you get them started, Swedes are quite nice. so good work with breaking them down and getting that smile out of them.

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  59. You're right Hairy. they do not smile. and this is a part of their culture! you can write about this as much as you want but no one will change! don't let the exclamation mark fool you. it's not surprising! this is the culture, this is a part of their entity. they can't forget it. although i'm not gonna forget individuals who are different, people who do smile and make me feel good and in return i smile them back. Some say it's contagious perhaps it's true.
    peace

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  60. it is a part of the culture. but that doesn't mean it is something I need to accept. and I wont accept it.

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  61. I can only agree that Gothenburg is a much friendlier town than Stockholm. There is eye contact and much easier to talk to people there than in Stockholm. There are historical reasons that Stockholm has been influenced from countries around the Baltic Sea especially Germany and Gothenburg is influenced by Scotland and Netherlands.

    But most Americans are super social experts, they smile and say hello and always find away to strike up a conversation and are surprisingly friendly and they remember your name and you can not remember theirs, it is national sport over there to remember every bodies name. My name is very Swedish, Per, so i introduced myself as "Per, like in pair of shoes, spelled P E R" and I only had to do this once and the person immediately started to use my name in every second sentence. In Sweden we seldom use the other persons name when we speak.

    I was working in Vancouver in Canada, which is more reserved than Dallas, and in the elevator I met a woman and I sad how are you and she sad fine and I asked if she also worked in the building and yes she did and walking out of the elevator I asked here if she would like to have lunch together some day and yes she did, on the lunch she told me she had a boyfriend but ask me to come to here party on Saturday so she could introduce me to her single friends. This happen many times to me over there, never in Sweden. It was like shooting fish in a barrel.

    The sales people in America are outstanding, What can I do for you Sir? If you are a customer in America you are immediately a Royalty person. Very service minded and helpful people.

    It must be a culture shock for most Americans to meet the reserved Swedes, especially in Stockholm, but please do not give up on us we really like a talkative American to help us get out of our reservedness and always feel happy after a pleasant conversation with a stranger.

    Just one more, I heard an American salesmen from Boeing saying that the best time to do business in Sweden was in April-Maj when the spring was "exploding", then the Swedes quickly decided to buy so they could go out and have lunch in the sun.

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  62. I love the idea that april and may are the best times to do business in Sweden. It's probably true, everyone is coming out of the winter funk but they ahvent quite gone into the fall doldrums with the impending winter.

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  63. The Swedish people = The silent people?

    I have traveled all over the world, and I can say that the Scandinavian people (including Finland) are among the more reserved people I have met. It may seem strange too an American, but it's just their culture. But the silence doesn't have to be a bad thing, for example - if you're in a really bad mood or in a hurry, then it's rather nice that nobody tries to start up a conversation with you. And Hairy too be honest, you know the Swedes can talk if they want to. And except for a few (just like in America) most people in Sweden have nothing against talking to strangers.

    And since the majority of the Swedish population are very open minded, well educated, non-religious and are able to take criticism against their country without the "I'm gonna kill you" attitude, it's very,very,very easy to talk to them about everything.

    When living in Sweden (or Norway, Finland, Denmark) you have a choise, either you can mind your own business and no one will bother you, or you can try to start conversations with everybody you meet and most of them will gladly talk to you too.

    And after many trips to this beautiful country, I don't think that they should change their behavior, it's just perfect as it is.

    //The Foreigner

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  64. it is absolutely a cultural thing. and something that the Swedes are incredibly comfortable with. at times though, it can just end up being too much and the isolation that it creates for the influx of immigrants and visitors seems to be forgotten by swedes.

    that being said, theres nothing wrong with some silence every ow and again. it can be quite refreshing.

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  65. I am so glad you wrote on this!!! My american mom and I speak of this all the time to each other. She lived here for a few years back in the early 90's. She is from Myrtle Beach, SC so naturally she is a beach bum, along with silly and an outgoing personality. People here thought she was crazy!! But she said, along with my father that everyone loved her silly and outgoing ways after they got to know her. Same has happened for me, I have the same personality. Very forward and pleasant person to be around. So I have made it a game, for laughs and to keep my friendly sanity; to say hello, smile or talk with anyone I pass by. Maybe not in the streets of STHLM but in my town, Sigtuna, I say hello to just about everyone. And in a matter of 3 weeks I know the man owning the gas station, the neighbors and some of the people that ride the bus same times as I do. But all these people I have met seem to love my American personality, though I can definitely act like a total stoic swede. But I have gotten good feedback from the people I speak to. Maybe it's because I am a young, pretty, and happy looking girl. Whatever it is, it seems to be working! Doesn't matter the outcome, I always end up laughing! It's a great game that my other Swedish-American friends here also play.
    It seems that the older people are more eager and happy to have someone speaking to them than the middle aged and young people. Kind of makes me happy... little do they know i'm also american!! :O

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  66. I have been reading your blog. From what I have been reading I believe my interaction style would fit nicely in Sweden. I am living in Canada and cannot stand it when people run around in the morning at work saying hi in the hospital. It's like what the hell is wrong with all you people smiling and joking? Save all that nonsense for much later! It's all so superficial! My background ethnically is Lithuanian, Irish, scottish and Italian, so maybe its genetic. I listened to a lot of Swedish heavy metal for many years as a teenager and also studied German(fluent) so maybe all that is an influence as well. All the things you describe about salespeople fearing the customer, the concept of personal space, it all seems normal to me, and I grew up in Seattle! What a great blog!

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  67. BRAVO

    I am a metalhead who normally avoids contact, but locals just take it so further.
    Feels like I want to hug you...!

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  68. Is it a genetic thing with Swedes and not smiling? In my youth, I dated a guy whose family was from Sweden, but long ago. Never smiled. Now my daughter is dating someone from the Midwest and he has pure Swedish ancestry and he never smiles. Did it get passed on? I'm on the East coast of the US, so I'm not sure this is typical of Midwesterners or not. It just happens the few people I know from the Midwest are Swedish in heritage. One girlfriend was nice, but spacy, did not smile and was an introvert. I have not met my daughter's boyfriend in person, but every picture... no smile. It's a bit unsettling.

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  69. This is obviously a generalization (as was the post above), but it does seem that people are a bit more reserved here. I both get frustrated by that and embrace it. It's especially true on public transportation, it seems to me, but that might be true anywhere in the world on public transportation. I don't know. Being thrown into a crowded space with lots of strangers for a short amount of time is maybe not super conducive to starting a conversation.

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