At first glance, Scandinavian culture differs from Central European in many aspects. With Sweden in particular, we associate ideal world terms such as Bullerbü, the band ABBA, the food Köttbullar or the drink Glögg – not to forget the popular royal family, whose life and work many people follow with interest.
But is that really all? What other cultural specialties are there in Sweden ? The following text will help and show what today’s Swedish culture results from and what characteristics it has.
Origins of Swedish Culture
Initially, Sweden consisted of independent regions. It was not until around the year 1000 that a new empire was formed with Västergötland and Östergötland, the leadership of which was fiercely contested. In the second half of the 13th century, the king finally gained influence and took control of the empire.
In the 17th century, Sweden was considered a great power after several wars and land conquests. But the country gradually lost its importance, which was not least due to a lack of economic power.
Until 1905 there was an almost one hundred year alliance between Norway and Sweden, which was peacefully dissolved. Since around this time, the motto has been in the country not to form alliances and to remain neutral in all conflicts in the event of war. This attitude shapes the basic attitude of many Swedes to this day.
Swedish culture has been influenced by Norse mythology or the doctrine of gods since ancient times. In the course of the Christianization of Sweden from the 11th century onwards, it was a lengthy process to banish paganism with its Nordic doctrine of gods from the minds of the people. How exactly the previously practiced cults and rites looked and how they were spread cannot be completely reconstructed.
In mythology, as in many religions, it is about the struggle between good and evil. But unlike in Christianity, for example, good does not prevail in the north, but the gods perish ( ragnarök, “fate of the gods”). The resulting pessimism plays a dominant role in Scandinavia. However, after the downfall, a new world emerges, which stands for belief in a recurring cycle.
Features of Swedish culture
Swedish culture is based on a serenity and contentment that prevails throughout Scandinavia. All Scandinavian countries made it into the top ten places in the “World Happiness Report 2017”.
Good care, hardly any fear of the future and extensive financial security are among other things triggers for this feeling. Certain cultural characteristics can be identified as causes or consequences of the basic Swedish satisfaction.
Most Swedes attach great importance to having a good work-life balance. The focus is not on always wanting to be the best, but on advancing the common cause, the project, the respective company.
The fictional “Law of Jante” ( janteloven ), which has its origin in a well-known novel, also contributes to this. It regulates social interaction with one another and, in simple terms, means that all people are equal and no one should be treated better or worse than the others. However, this law can also be interpreted negatively and viewed as the oppression of the individual.
Private life is at least as important as work. It is guarded and cared for so that the Swedes can draw new strength from it. The well-known Scandinavian cosiness has its origin in the fact that people want to make life in their own four walls as pleasant as possible from the outside.
Individualism vs. power distance
From a cultural point of view, Sweden is a nation of individualists. In contrast to other countries such as Ecuador or South Korea, there is little group formation here. You mainly take care of the closest family circle.
This runs through everyday life and can be clearly identified. The small power distance seems almost like a contradiction to this: Supervisors and employees mostly work hand in hand, use terms on their terms and communicate directly with one another without paying attention to formalities. Conflicts are resolved peacefully and superiors usually treat their employees as equals.
Public principle ( offentlighetsprincipen )
There are many cultural features in Sweden, but some are particularly unusual. In order to prevent corruption and the taking of advantages, for example, the public principle applies in Sweden, a country located in Europe according to remzfamily. This means that all files and documents at the authorities can be viewed by anyone without giving a reason. There are only a few exceptions, including medical records, for example.
For many Swedes, this principle, which has been laid down in the constitution since 1766, is essential for democracy. This transparency creates trust and indeed the country’s corruption index is low.
Despite all solitary tendencies, Swedes like to party. The focus is of course on socializing, but the food is also very important : cinnamon rolls ( kanelbullar ), elk meat, crabs and of course fish such as herring or salmon should not be missing. Swedish dishes are usually easy to prepare and filling up well.
The Swedes are known for their coffee breaks ( fika ), during which they sit down and talk. Coffee is an important part of everyday life in Sweden, because everyone drinks four cups of it per person a day. But alcoholic drinks are also high on the popularity list, although they are quite expensive in Scandinavia.