This page is dedicated to my friends in Sweden. And for those who do not live in Sweden, I hope that this helps in understanding our Viking friends.
Swinglish (n): a bastardization of Swedish an English. incorporating the most difficult pronunciations and rules of both languages into something that no one can understand.
The size of Sweden
8.9 million inhabitants occupy the fourth largest country in Europe. If you were to swing Sweden round at 180° using the southernmost tip as the axis, you could reach central Italy, no problem. Mind you, the Sami (Laplanders) would want to know what they were suddenly doing in Naples. Distances in Sweden are so vast that people have to fly or travel by sleeper. This means that not many Swedes actually know what their country looks like. They either fly 10 000 metres above it or sleep through it.
The southern part of Sweden is the most densely populated and is inhabited by people called Scanians, a kind of Swedish-speaking Dane. They are proud to tell you that they were once part of Denmark and that they have absolutely nothing in common with the rest of the country. Indeed they are geographically closer to Berlin than to Stockholm. The southern part of Sweden is the gateway to Europe and the rest of the world. Or at least to Copenhagen for a good night out.
The north of Sweden is inhabited by northerners (Norrliinningar) and the Sami (Laplanders), an ancient hunting and fishing nomadic people who live in tents and speak a Finno-Ugric language they themselves can hardly understand. This is perhaps why they hardly say anything at all. Norrland, as this area is called, stretches across 60% of Sweden and is so sparsely populated that the inhabitants hardly ever meet anyone to talk to.
In central Sweden lies the capital, Stockholm. Stockholm is inhabited by ‘zero eights’, so called because of their telephone area codes. ‘Zero eights’ have a reputation for being like sea-gulls, they scream and cause a mess wherever they go. Well, that’s what the Swedish-speaking Danes say in the south. The people of the north haven’t said a word. As usual.
The geography book tells you that, although the country is on the same latitude as Alaska, Sweden has a mild climate and the Atlantic Gulf stream gives warm winters. The truth is that there are two types of winter in Sweden. A grey one and a white one. Swedes survive the winter only by dreaming of what they are going to do on that summer’s day.
Sweden – a peace-loving nation
Sweden is a peace-loving country. There is, after all, such a thing as the Nobel Peace Prize. Having invented dynamite, gelignite and nitro-glycerine, and other substances enough to blow the earth out of the solar system, the Swede Alfred Nobel got a guilty conscience and used his profits to set up the Nobel Foundation.
The Swedes are neutral because they say they are. They are the conscience of the world and therefore only sell peaceful weapons. Preferably to be used as fireworks.
For most Swedes Europe starts on the other side of the Sound in Copenhagen. Sweden joined the EU in 1995, although most of them would have preferred the EU to join Sweden on their terms. 99% of the Swedes are now soberly against the EU as it is no longer possible to buy tax-free spirits and cigarettes when travelling from one EU country to another. For, up to now, it has always been the duty of every Swede to buy his ration both on the way out and the way back. Once at the hotel in one of Europe’s exciting metropolises, Swedes used to gather, lock themselves up in the room and drink duty-free booze out of the toothbrush glass. The fact that bar prices in Europe are usually considerably lower than even Swedish tax-free prices never occurred to them.
As Victor Borge, the Danish entertainer once said. Some things are better in Sweden than in Denmark. The Swedes have better neighbours.
Norway is very sparsely inhabited and has an average of three inhabitants per mountain. Norway always regarded itself as the little brother of Sweden until someone pointed out that if you flattened all the mountains, the country would be fifty times larger than it’s big brother. That and earning zillions of dollars from North Sea oil has done wonders to raise Norwegian self-esteem.
Swedes are liberal, yet they always vote for the social democrats. That’s because they are so conservative. Or, as the well-known saying goes, the Swedes are a colourful people. They think blue, vote red, and eat green.
Governments in Sweden have spent years convincing Swedes that their money isn’t really their own. But the Swede is a person of great initiative and has developed a few ways of keeping a few crowns for himself. Nobody is allowed to get rich. If people in other countries see someone drive round in a flashy sports car, they may exclaim ‘Wow! What a cool guy!’ In Sweden, they’ll say ‘What a tax dodger’.
Business climate in Sweden
In the USA business, people go to their therapist’s after a nervous breakdown. In Sweden people running their own businesses go to their accountant s.
Swedish business culture
Swedish managers want to be normal people and one of the team. That is why they like to be called by their first names; Bengan, Muggan, Bosse and Kalle by their staff. They never shut their office door and they even queue up in the same canteen as the workers and eat the same food. They like to think of themselves more as a coach than a commander.
Swedish management delegates responsibility and authority throughout the organisation. Over 80% of Swedes have some form of vocational training and staff are therefore quite capable of taking initiative and participating in the decision-making. For foreigners, it’s sometimes difficult to know who’s in charge around here. Lasse, in his open-necked, short-sleeved, yellow shirt and white socks and sneakers, doesn’t really look the part.
Sweden gave the world ball-bearings, safety matches, adjustable wrenches, safety belts, Tetra Paks, Volvo and Saab. It also makes and exports Absolut vodka, which is rather ironic as the Swedish word for teetotaller is ‘absolutist’. Ikea, of course, is also Swedish. If the Swedish social democrats created the welfare state, commonly referred to as ‘the home of the people’, then Ikea furnished it.
The bible of the modern Swede is his Filofax. Everything he has to do for the next six months is meticulously written down. Take kids to daycare, drop off suit for cleaning, ring dentist, meeting with the sales team, fax figures, lunch with Bengan, meeting, pick up a car, drive home, take off shoes, shout at kids. It’s all in there – every movement. All planned and organised down to the very last minute. If a Swede misplaces his Filofax then he loses direction in life – he simply does not know what to do next.
Everything is planned weeks in advance and written down next to the times it has to be performed. Flexibility is not the name of the game here. Once written in, then they will be done. Swedes are impressed by Filofaxes which are full and overflowing. A chock-a-block Filofax is a status symbol. The next time you want to arrange a meeting with a Swede, watch how he instinctively reaches for his Filofax, opens it in January and flicks through week after week, month after month of crammed appointments finally to stop in October some time.
Then something strange will happen. Your Swedish business partner will mutter something like ‘Is week 37 OK? I can squeeze you in in week 38’. Swedes count weeks. Each week has a number. Ask the average Swede when week 29 is and he hasn’t got a clue. But that gives him another excuse to reach for his Filofax and start flicking through. He’ll find that it’s in July, in the middle of his holiday and therefore he couldn’t care less what the number of the week is.
Swedes write the date backwards. Year first, then the month and the day. Nobody says the date that way, but Swedes are sure it’s the right way to write it. Everybody has a national registration number with ten digits based on the date of their birth and a few extra ones, such as 581023-6879. Or, as one Swede once put it ‘It’s the day, month and year when you were born backwards and then followed by four figures’. Childbirth is a painful business in Sweden.