Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Entertaining Canadians in Stockholm

I was entertaining three Canadians who were in town for a couple of days. It was speckled with “ehs” and discussion of hockey. It was like a living stereotype. I know plenty of Canadians who do not like hockey, nor do they say “eh,” but it was because of this living stereotype that I was so intrigued by the reactions they had to Sweden.

We ended up at dinner where the main topic of conversation was Sweden. Swedish culture. Swedish history. Swedish. Of course, there were the classic comments, the women are all beautiful, no one will look at me. But then there were a couple that threw me for a loop.

The first being that Swedish bars and restaurants are filled with co-ed bathrooms. This was news to me because I have only found one restaurant and one bar with co-ed bathrooms. In nearly three years. I tried convincing the Canadians of this, they weren’t having it though. Even the lobby of their hotel had co-ed bathrooms.

Then there was the view of Swedish men and women. Generalizations and stereotypes don’t take long to form. I do it all the time. It a good way to categorize things, to bring some sort of order to the individuality of everyone that I cross paths with. So despite having only been here for two days, there were stereotypes and generalizations being made.

Men in Sweden were dominating and rude, while women were meek and subservient. I think my jaw might have actually dropped. It was the first time I had ever heard Swedish men and women described that way. I am used to the strong willed women of Sweden. I am used to the soft spoken men of Sweden. I am not used to rude men and meek women.

The whole discussion reminded me just how easily our views are shaped. The importance of experiences in everyday life. That circumstances can lead us to conclusions that may not necessarily be true.

I’m not saying it will ever change the way I interact with different cultures, but I do think it made me more aware of the way I form my own stereotypes. And even after so long here in Stockholm, how stereotypes still dominate my life, both from the way I interact with Sweden, and how others interact with me as an American.

Welcome to Sweden. And the stereotypical Swede.

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  1. I don't think I've ever seen a same-sex bathroom!

    I agree with you about Swedish men and women.

    I don't know where they must have been.

  2. ya, a lot of bars, schools, etc are all co-ed. my college bathrooms are co-ed. i cant believe you haven't noticed it.
    well I'm glad my people entertained you so. even though their stereotypes were completely incorrect hahahaha (( well.. some of them )) :D

  3. I've been reading your blog for a while now and love it. My father was Swedish (now a Canadian Citizen) and I am first generation Canadian (hoping to get my dual citizenship someday). There are many Swedish stereotypes that I bug my dad about, but I know full well that that's all they are. I was over there last August for a month and loved it. I must not say eh! enough as I was asked many times if I was American.
    I never found any co-ed bathrooms, thankfully.
    I didn't deal with many swedish women (although I'd fall under the category of strong willed and aggressive!), but I did find the men I encountered to be very passive, almost infuriatingly so. Then again there was the one time I made the mistake of smiling at a guy in a pub... I suppose it really comes down to the person and situation.
    Anyway, I love reading about a north american perspective of sweden, so thank you!


  4. Fun to hear different perspercitves....I think you find different sorts of ppl in all societies...its like the Type A's n B's ...they exist everywhere...same goes with passive/dominant men/women. But its always good to hear other ppls' views of same thing every once in a while...so one doen't get stuck with stereotypes.
    Anyways....always nice to read your blog....gives me a number of deja vu 's...as I used to live (be an immigrant) in Sweden for many years....n then moved onward to Canada. Have recently started to use the eh's as well (n more frequently so) :)))

  5. ^ anon
    It's fun to say Eh!!!

    To be honest, the first week in Sweden, I observed the same thing as those Canadians did. I thought women were passive and timid, where as men were confident and unconfined. i quickly learned otherwise.
    but you are right anonymous, there are different types everywhere.

  6. That's rather cool man. I must say I never met a Canadian before, maybe it's because I never asked you know. But I hear they're a great bunch, hope they win a few Gold medals this year.

    anyway I believe the bathroom at the Stockholm bar Indigo is co-ed cause a year and a half ago I remember there with a few pals just going in for a piss and I believe a girl had come out only secs before or 1 was in line in front. I can't remember cause I drank a few pilsner and started losing my concentration.

  7. If there is something that always bugs me as a swedish man it's when foreign people believe that we're timid, lacking confidence, passive, shy etc when it comes to women (and generally I suppose).

    This just because we're not "all over" any woman in our vicinity. As if we're supposed to go nuts (!) for some reason.

    Maybe it's just that we don't find "you" that interesting? :)

  8. I can understand how inaccurate stereotypes can be formed after only a couple of days (inaccurate imho). I've lived in different places for years and never really cracked all the unspoken cultural rules and behavioural codes. (You can tell from my spelling I'm Canadian too, eh.)

    I think locals everywhere will treat you differently if you have that wide-eyed, fresh-off-the-plane vibe. When you give a sign that you know a bit about the local culture and pronunciation of food items, people are a bit more relaxed about the interaction.

    Did they try the fil? :)

  9. I hopped over here as quick as my crappy Internet connection would take me when I saw the title of your post. Because, after all, I.Am.Canadian. Domineering Swedish men? Now THAT's a LAUGH. Seriously, LOLing I am. Oh you fellow Canadians, you got it all wrong there. WTF? I could go on and on and on and on and on some more about my stereotypes regarding Swedish men. Tight sweaters with high collared shirts and tailored pants and slick-backed longer hair aside, many of these men not only look as if they've been cranked out of an assembly line but...well, I can't go on because I'm far too passionate about "Swedish Men" and not in the good way. But to be fair, let's talk about Canadian stereotypes. Yes, we do say "eh" a heckuva lot. Guilty as charged. And because we're Canadian, we're also stereotypically hospitable, friendly and polite (much to the general chagrin of the Swedes). I'm still not sure exactly how patriotic we are though these Olympic Games have brought out the Maple Leafs in all of us. We love us some hockey. No question. Our nation will be heartbroken if we lose the Gold this year (which some are predicting we will). To finish off, here is a link to the absolute best commercial that ever aired on Canada, only to be topped by the monologue/poem delivered by that chubby native guy at the Opening ceremonies. Here is Joe: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRI-A3vakVg

  10. SwedishJenn: Please, please, please get out of Stockholm. Men there are a kind of their own. Women too for that matter.

  11. Oh and I agree with Sthlm. Just because we're more relaxed around women doesn't mean that we're shy and passive.

  12. @Anonymous: LOL! I have seen it and lived it. Though I should say not everyone is like this, that's where stereotypes come from :-)

  13. @SwedishJenn:

    "And because we're Canadian, we're also stereotypically hospitable, friendly and polite (much to the general chagrin of the Swedes)"

    Don't know why that would be to any chagrin of us Swedes. Friendliness and politeness are valued greatly in Sweden too. It's not like we're a bunch of inhospitable, mean, unfriendly and rude people, is it? it's just that we have different ways of expressing it and different social conventions. I can't imagine Swedes being generally annoyed about people being friendly and polite, quite the contrary, that is often how people from other cultures describe Swedes, from what I've heard, anyway. maybe it's that you come through as overly friendly, pushing and invading of someone's personal space? Maybe it's the perceived pushiness that annoys Swedes, not that you're friendly and polite, surely...

  14. Yeah honestly I'm getting a bit tired of SwedishJenn's constant bitching about us Swedes. Take a look in the mirror.

  15. @Linus – seriously, the bathrooms comment shocked me.

    @Lost – Im stan by my statement, they just aren’t that common. I mean, I walk around in a daze a lot, but I tend to know when Im in a mens bathroom. The urinals tend to be a dead giveaway.

    But now Im starting to question myself…

    @anonymous (Jess) – the situation really does make a difference, and I think that’s what became so obvious to me in this case. Even after years of being here, certain things have been colored by very small samples of experiences.

    @ anonymous – absolutely, and obviously it is easy to group people within stereotypes, but in the end, everyone really is an individual. No matter how hard I try to generalize.

    @Lost – maybe its something that grows on you. An acquired taste if you will. Kind of like blodpudding.

    @Kevin – see and that’s why Im starting to question myself. The pilsners.

    @Sthlm – I don’t know that its to women, but just in general. Alcohol induced doesn’t count.

    @A3000 – excellent points, and they didn’t try any fil, but we did get some storstarks in them and even a raggmunk for dinner.

    @SwedishJenn – that chubby native guy was pretty glorious. I think his chubbiness made him even better.

    @anonymous – Stockholm is special.

    @anonymous – fair enough.

    @SwedishJenn – agreed.

    @Robban – oooh, I like it. Its that disconnect between the north American culture and the Swedish that causes the problems and perceived unfriendliness. Eh indeed.

    @anonymous – cant we all just get along?

  16. Molson Beer eh

  17. Hey Hairy
    I'm really curious were your Canadian friends male or female? I've met a couple of men from Sweden and they don't fit all these stereotypes I keep hearing about Swedish men. Canadians are all different, just like I'm sure Swedes are and yet there may still be some similarities that are threaded through, like the more common use of 'eh?' here in Canada. Still, even that is not used by everyone all the time.

    The funny thing about that ad you posted is that it was written by an American Advertising Company.

  18. I recently met a Chinese guy who recently arrived in Stockholm, and who told me that he thought that all Swedish men were very hairy and talked a lot. I immediately asked if they were drunk, and wondered "even when they are drunk they become normal, not talkative" And that the women were very "unruly" which made me wonder about some of the Swedish women whom I know who are the most ostentatiously quite ladies I have met in my life. Made me think about this blog somehow! Certainly made me promise to myself that I will not give in to the temptation of forming Stereotypes within days of visiting a new country

  19. @ HAIRY:

    I will So prove you wrong. next time I'm in a co-ed bathroom I'm gonna take pictures of the door.

    and hopefully, I wont get arrested.

  20. @Sthlm, Maybe it's cause a foreign male might say to himself "Swedish women are soooo HOT" and yet he can't find any Swedish guy to actually enjoy himself in the vicinity of a Swedish woman.

    All I know is from my experience that guys outside Stockholm were very normal, relateable types whereas the Stockholm guys were "fashionista types, gelled hair, tight tight pants and a sorta arrogant feel"

    But it's all good.

  21. Now as an American I find the thoughts or generalizations to be kinda funny. Like I said I never met a Canadian nor been to Canada but someday maybe. In Stockholm I met tons of Brits and even a few Aussies and a New Zealander and even a few Americans but never a Canadian. That sucks. Where are you guys?

  22. Kevin Johnson:
    Looking at it that way I can understand what you mean. But the hot women are normality for us so there's really no reason to go overboard. :)

    Which type of guy you can relate to will of course depend on where you come from. As I'm born and raised in and around Stockholm I probably have different eyes than you but I see a lot outside of the "Stureplan brat" that you describe.

    I'm a little surprised that all the Stockholm knockers have missed out on the worst kind of people though. The "small town people" (small town = not Stockholm in Sweden) who thinks they're following the trends and go 'round looking like a douched up version of a Stockholm brat 5 years ago. :) Have a google at "Partille Johnny" for example.

    Anyways, stereotyping is human nature. But sometimes I think it gets a bit on the negative side here when it comes to us Swedish men.

  23. I keep hearing about the shy Swedish male, but my Swede is just the opposite. When we met, he was the one who approached me. He pursued me in the beginning as well, and he actually had to do quite a bit of work. (I resisted because I knew he was in the US temporarily and was going back to Sweden.) He has been reasonably assertive throughout the relationship, and really not all that different from the American men I have dated. I have also found him to be very straightforward and not at all into game playing, moreso than the typical American male, I would say. (Not that I have heard that Swedes are into gameplaying in relationships - I haven't - I'm just saying.) So what's up with that? Have I found the one Swedish male that is the exception to all the rules? Or is this what Swedish men are like in dating once you take away the cultural barriers? Oh, and for the record, he is from Stockholm and does not have orange skin, slicked back hair, or very tight jeans. So maybe other Swedes would consider him a freak. :o)

    And Hairy, co-ed bathrooms are becoming more common in the US, too. Off the top of my head, I can think of several bars in my area that have them. More of that "you've been gone from the US for too long" thing.

  24. Oh, I also wanted to ask. Last night in the Olympics, in the women's downhill skiing, there was a Swede who had a really bad fall. I can't remember her name, but she was one of the last to go and before she the fall she was on track to win silver. I have not seen anything reported about her in the US press since the fall. Is she ok? She got up afterwards, but it looked like a really bad spill. Just concerned...

  25. Her name is Anja Person, she's alright :)

  26. Thanks Nile, glad to hear she is ok!

  27. She won bronze in slalom today

  28. @Sthlm,

    well of course there are more types and I agree with your stereotypes. I guess maybe deep down we foreigners are still expecting to meet those Gigantic Viking like descendants who kick ass ala Olof Mellberg ;)

    but like I say. It's all good. I have a gf and she's Danish/Swedish so I rather find Swedish men to be cool guys. Once it takes them to continue a conversation. I'm wishing you guys luck in the Winter Olympics but lets all pray for our Canadian brothers out there :P May they come out on top, well not over us Americans :D

  29. NEED HELP!!!! Wanna ask this swedish girl out on swedish.... need help with pronouceing it!!! HELP!!!


  30. Just say: Hej, haru lust att knulla?

    It's very easy to pronouce.

  31. I was just telling hubby about this post and figured I should check back in after my uh...commentary?
    @Robban: I agree with you wholeheartedly. Perception is key isn't it? A Canadian's definition of "Friendly" will or may come across as "Pushy" to a Swede whereas a Swede's definition of "Friendly" might not come across at all to a "Canadian". Again, speaking in generalizations here. I've admitted before that I need to tone it down where my uhmm "personality" is concerned in order to attract friends here. Been experimenting. A few fails so far :-( but here's to hoping.

    @Anon: I'm just as free to bitch as you are. This and other blogs like it (though this is so great) aim to help us all better understand the culture we currently find ourselves calling our own. I get just as much flack as a Canadian, especially with the fact that we're a pretty chubby nation, like our neighbours to the south. Oh and have you visited peopleofwalmart.com? Though American-based, not too far off. So I can laugh at myself just the same.

    @Juni: I never noticed that! Too funny.

    @Everyone: Cheering my heart out for Swedes this year, except in hockey of course :-)

  32. Ok, now feeling a little bad that I'm being perceived as putting down my hosts all the time. So here's a positive comment about my home country to balance out the "negative".

    Swedes seem to be GREAT parents. Mommies and Daddies bundle up the babes and take them out all the time. They play in the snow with their children, bike with them, take them on vacations, dress them in P.O.P and generally just make the time for Job #1. This is a very family-centric country and that's one thing I love about Sweden and the Swedish people.

    Look at poor Elin, as an example of a Swede living in America. Say what you will about her husband but those kids seem to have a wonderful, doting mother. A (stereo)typical Swedish Mom.

    So there :-) and sincerely.

  33. Great ending. The life is the best teacher itself. i'm happy to see someone with some sort of same concerns.

  34. @anonymous – isn’t Molson teamed up with coors now?

    @Juni – a mixture. One man, two women. And that’s the thing that I have noticed, there are ways to group everyone together, but there are exceptions to all of those stereotypes.

    @Merlin – I may or may not have been the hairy talkative guy. I will neither confirm nor deny. I’m sneaky like that. Much like the Mossad.

    @Lost – do it. Not get arrested. But take pictures.

    @Kevin – oooh I like the theory. And trust me, the Canadians are around.

    @Sthlm – the Stockholm brats make me surprisingly happy. Mostly because I am laughing at them. And I like to laugh.

    @An American – I contend that the Swedes who are willing to go abroad, are a bit different than those who don’t. Nearly all of my Swedish friends are ones that have traveled extensively.

    I also contend that the co-ed bathrooms are not common in Sweden. But maybe I just have tunnel vision on my urinals and don’t notice any sort of shared bathroom. Ill be on the lookout when I head back to the US next time though.

    And that was Anja Pärson. She managed to get bronze the net day. Which, because I am so slow in responding to these, is old news now.

    @Nile – and you already answered her. Good work.

    @An American Girl – and I am just typing for the hell of it at this point.

    @anonymous – everyone is so very helpful. Good work again.

    @Kevin – Olof has a glorious beard.

    @anonymous – I say just stick with the English. They all speak English anyway.

    @Timad – ahh, I hope our lax defender checks that term out before using it.

    @SwedishJenn – always good to get some follow-up commentary. And some positive comments. But knowing how you feel, the bad stuff tends to make for the funny stuff.

    @Tod – experiences eventually work their way into the person we are.

  35. Hey, I'm a Canadian university student. You mentioned before that you went to university in Sweden for a while I believe. I was thinking of doing an exchange with Uppsala University. Good idea? Yes or no? Are they nice to international students at all?

  36. @Tod - now lets just hope this Sweden experience makes us awesome.

    @anonymous - absolutely. I did a semester there and had a blast.