You know you’ve been in Sweden too long when…


Some Aussie ex-pats developed a list of “You know you've been in Sweden too long when...”. My friend who is acting as my host (and who is himself a U.S. ex-pat) says that the list is astonishingly accurate, and that your reaction to it goes through several phases.

  1. Confusion. You don't know what the list is talking about.
  2. Amusement. You know what the list is talking about and you find it funny.
  3. Realization. You find yourself agreeing with the statements on the list.
  4. Acceptance. This list isn't funny. It's just the way it is.

For example, my friend explained points 73 and 74 to me. In Sweden, when the temperature reaches a certain never-explicitly-stated-but-everybody-somehow-agrees-on-it point, it officially becomes summer and you are not allowed to wear winter clothes regardless of the actual temperature. Similarly, when the temperature first dips below a certain point, it officially becomes winter and you are not allowed to wear summer clothes.

My friend woke up one morning and noticed that it had dipped below freezing overnight. But it was warm when he got up, so he dressed appropriately for the temperature. What he didn't realize was that 0C was the secret "winter point". Everybody was bundled up for the coming blizzard, even though it was no longer freezing outside.

I myself experienced a variation on 249. I was in Åhléns and there was a sign that read, "If you don't see your size, please ask for it." (Paraphrased from Swedish.) So I asked a passing employee if they had this particular pair of shoes available in a size 36. The employee got rather annoyed at me and told me to go stand in line at the register.

Because if you want somebody to help you, you have to stand in line at the register and wait your turn - even though you aren't actually buying anything yet. When you reach the front of the line, the register person fetches the shoe you want. Fortunately, I was satisfied with the shoe she retrieved for me without trying it on (I was buying it for somebody else). If I had to try it on for size, I probably would have had to stand in line a second time.

One of the "Adjusting to life in Sweden" books I read mentioned that the intense "nobody is better than anybody else" attitude in Sweden means that customer service is an oxymoron. If nobody is better than anybody else, then service personnel have no obligation to help you. The book noted, "This may take quite a bit of adjustment for people who come from other countries. Except the British."

Comments (14)
  1. I come from Norway (although I don’t live there now), and it is as you know the neighbouring country to Sweden. So sadly enough, I do recknognise what you are describing here. That’s one of the reasons I’m not going back :D

  2. Jerry Pisk says:

    Being from central Europe I must say that it’s not nearly scandivanian only behavior, I guess most of Europe acts like customers are bugging the sales people. As Thomas, I’m definitely not going back…

  3. Wilhelm Svenselius says:

    I’ve lived in Sweden for 20+ years (since I was born, in fact) and while many of the things and behaviours in the list correspond to "normal" swedishness, the vast majority of list items certainly does not. Unless the author was hanging out with some really weird swedes .. was he in Gothenburg (Göteborg) by any chance? :)

    Yeah yeah, I know. It’s a joke. Laugh. But if the author had gone for quality instead of quantity (note how many of the items on the list refer to the exact same thing?), the joke would have been much better, undoubtably.

  4. Niclas says:

    It’s interesting to read the impressions of people from other countries.

    I’m from Sweden and I don’t think employees behave like that at all stores. If I get no help when I ask for it I simply don’t go there anymore.

    But, Åhléns may be one of those stores though.

    I recommend reading a short funny story by Fredrik Lindström on this subject. It’s called "Kärringarna på Åhléns" and is available in the book "Vad gör alla superokända människor hela dagarna". Also available on audio CD read by the author.

    The book:

    http://www.albertbonniersforlag.se/1100/1100.asp?ArticleId=9100579416

    The audio CD:

    http://www.bonnieraudio.se/

    The author:

    http://www.albertbonniersforlag.se/200/201.asp?AuthorId=2050

  5. Wilhelm Svenselius says:

    Btw Raymond, you must have come across a really anal warehouse employee. You generally should NOT have to stand in line for stuff like that (even at Åhlens). Even someone accustomed to sweden would be offended by something like that. (Where someone = me, of course.)

  6. Androidi says:

    Being finnish I noticed many of the points are accurate, but few seem really weird, even for sweden….

  7. Yup, being Swedish it’s quite fun to see what other people think about us and many things match, but some things seems to be that most ex-pats in Sweden seems to live in Stockholm.

    Göteborg is a lot "warmer" than Stockholm and walking away from someone who politely asks a question isn’t done here (in Göteborg). In fact I was myself chocked when I visited Stockholm and approached several people to ask some question and each time was given a panic-struck stare and then they simply walked away.

    And the thing about not walking on red lights, I’m not sure about Stockholm but in Göteborg we do it all the time. I always think it strange when I go to Denmark and they don’t do it there.

    However the thing about service-mind is spot on. Swedish people could do with a better service-mind.

  8. Luis says:

    I think the list would be extremely correct if it were about Germany! It is amazing how much I started to count on the bus not being 2 minutes late

    I guess we found that the link between Germany and Sweden goes further away than "Everybody is blonde"

  9. Ricardo M. Reyes says:

    Did you notice that had to get permission to link to that page? :)

    Look at the bottom of the page, in the really small font.

  10. Florian says:

    I didn’t get 100: "You get into a Mercedes taxi cab and think nothing of it".

  11. Peter Lund says:

    A Mercedes is a really expensive for executives car in the US, isn’t it?

  12. Raymond Chen says:

    Peter is right. In the US, German cars like Mercedes and BMW are targeted at the very rich.

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