Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Blonde Hair, Blue Eyes and Swedish Stereotypes

Sometimes I forget about Scandinavian stereotypes. And sometimes I forget that there is often a basis for those stereotypes. And sometimes it takes a bunch of international student trying to learn a Scandinavian language to point those differences out.

I am somewhere between red-headed and blonde-headed. I do not have blue eyes. I am half-way tall. I am pushing 200 pounds. I have broad-ish shoulders. In short, I can look the Swedish part if needed, although I may be a bit broad overall to be completely convincing. But this isn’t meant to be some sort of weird personal ad, although, ladies, I do enjoy a sad country song. You know, because I’m sensitive.

The point is that a certain look is expected from Swedes, and Scandinavians in general. That look is tall. Blonde or red-headed. Blue eyes. And little kids are expected to be either well-dressed or running around naked with their blonde hair and blue eyes.

So when I found myself in front of a delicious Danish ice cream shop teeming with small children none of this was in my mind. At all. I Was focused on my rapidly melting ice cream and the copious amounts of whipped cream and strawberry jam running down the sides.

What I saw in front of me was background noise. Just a bunch of Danes and Swedes enjoying ice cream and sunlight. As anyone should really. Until one of the several eastern Europeans I was with decided to chime in. About the children. In a good way. But it was a simple comment. Look at all the blonde hair! And the blue eyes! And so I did.

And he was right. They all had blonde hair. And they all had blue eyes. Every. Single. Child. While there were a couple of siblings in the group, not all of them were related. The numerous pairs of harried parents gave that away in a heartbeat.

Today at the beach, in one of those rare summer days when the sun is warm, the water is warm, and the ice cream is cold, there were little kids nakedly running around on the beach. And they were all blonde. Again. Every. Single. Child.

I don’t remember being two years old and running around in Sweden, but I’ve seen pictures. And I fit the bill. I was blonde blonde. Cute too. I don’t know what happened. It all went downhill from about the age of six. When my family moved to the US. Coincidence? Maybe.

But it’s quite the image when walking through town, or sitting on a beach, or riding a train, and realizing that all those kids running around really are blonde. Really are blue-eyed. Really are fitting every Swedish stereotype. It isn’t always that way. It doesn’t always stay that way. But next time you’re out enjoying the Swedish (or in my case, Danish) sun, look around. You may find yourself surrounded by living stereotypes.

Welcome to S(candinavia). And blonde hair and blue eyes.

Subscribe to a Swedish American in Sweden


  1. You and I must go to different beaches. In Malmö, my dirty blonde friend was the only one around at times. And the redneck biker quotient from natives in Skåne blew my mind away. Someone should make a Swedish People of Wal-Mart site!

  2. This post is too true.
    Personally, I love Swedish stereotypes. I am a sucker for it. It is half the appeal. Tall men? Women love that shit!

    OH god, I wish I was Swedish. If I was. I would scream it from the rooftops and milk that stereotype baby till next Tuesday.

  3. HAAAA! OMG yes! Being one of those strawberry blond, hazel brown eye distantly Danish individuals, with a side of German... god yes. My sister are both blond with that typical Danish variation of green eyes ( where I went wrong still remains to be seen, but I digress)

    I look around and wonder hum...but then just try living in Los Angeles with Danish German ancestry and the question always come up with...where is you blond hair and of course the associated tan.. Sighh....

    And now we have come full circle.

  4. I hearz ya, bro. It's so annoying when people constantly ask me, "Are you Swedish?" :P

  5. The family I live with in Umeå fits the stereotype perfectly. All six of them are tall, have blue eyes, and all have blonde hair aside from one. I stand out immensely when I'm around them! :P

  6. Having grown up in Sweden, I've never understood why Americans and others get so worked up about blondes. They are just ordinary girls to me. Unless they are actually pretty, but then that's regardless of hair color. So I guess the stereotype is true--I've always been looking for the non-blondes...

  7. Just ran across your blog.

    My husband (Stockholm-->London) is one of the redheads...and a number of people here have assumed he must be Irish. :) Somebody he works with was surprised to find out he was Swedish recently, since he's not blond--and they actually said this. He's found the stereotype collisions particularly funny, since Scandinavians may have brought a lot of the red hair to Ireland in the first place. I mean, my (largely Native) family in Virginia was chuckling at his looking like central casting's version of a Viking--complete with big red beard--but maybe they didn't get the full stereotype memo here.

    I couldn't help but notice a similar effect to what you mention when we were in Stockholm, BTW. It was pretty striking, compared to either SWVA or London.

  8. Thank you, eklandisk!! With curly brown hair and dark brown eyes, I fit my stereotype perfectly (Bahia, Brazil) and I am glad to hear that not all people prefer blondes. Having said that, I got married to a ... yepp, blond, blue-eyed Swede...
    But he could have just as easily been Eagle Eye Cherry!!! Well... maybe not just as easily, Eagle Eye Cherry must not be an easy catch, hahaha!

  9. I tend to balk at stereotypes, but I saw so many blond children in Sweden - not all, certainly, but enough to be striking. Not dirty blond, not sandy blond, not strawberry blond; I mean platinum blond. And it matters not what the parents look like; you'll see a dark-haired couple and they will still have four blisteringly blond children. Remarkable.

  10. @anonymous – oh man, I would love to see the Swedish version of that site. It needs to happen.

    @confessions – then you would immediately be breaking the stereotype of the reserved swede though and no one would believe you to be Swedish.

    @Debbie – gotta love stereotypes!

    @Samantha – it’s a rough life you lead huh?

    @Jessica – does the non-blonde have red hair?

    @eklandisk – agreed.

    @urocyon – I usually have the red beard to fit the bill as well. Interesting how the stereotypes change depending on where you are and the countries that surround you.

    @asazevedo – did you fall into the stereotype trap as well then by marrying him?

    @capax – I think a lot of those kids lose the platinum blonde as they grow older though. But agreed, there are enough to notice.

  11. I think this is really funny. I live in a community in Nebraska that was settled by mostly Swedes and a few Germans in the 1880s. Even today if you go to any of the schools, there are 9 blond-haired, blue-eyed children for every 10. (My two are also this demographic!)

  12. While it is true that Scandinavian people (along with the Finnish) have the highest rates of blonde hair, not EVERY single swede has blonde hair. Many have brown hair (sometimes even dark brown). While virtually all children have blonde hair in Sweden, it is well known that blonde hair on children often darkens to brown. Therefore children are a very unrepresentative group to use to prove that every single Swede is blonde.

  13. Aren't most Swedish children Arabs and Somalis though?

    1. Go back to stormfront.

    2. Oh look, an anti-immigrant comments dripping with racism.

  14. Do Swedes and Finns really have the highest rate of blonde hair?

    And, of course, this post was not meant to suggest that everyone has blonde hair, just that there are sometimes a whole lot of blondes around you when you're in Scandinavia.

  15. It is completely true about the blond children. I am a Swedish American with medium-dark brown hair. All four of my children were very blond when they were small. People used to see me with them and say, "Oh, your husband must be blond." When I told them he also had brown hair they were so perplexed. "Where did that blond hair come from?" they would wonder. I explained that it is common for children to start out blond and that my husband and I had been blond when we were young. They always seemed skeptical. My Swedish American parents and grandparents, though, just smiled and said, "Such little Swedes" when they saw my kids. �� Now they are teens and their hair has darkened to various shades of dark blond to medium brown.

  16. Yeah, that starting out blonde is super common. It seems like everyone in my family was blonde as a child. And that's only a slight exaggeration.