Plucking out little cultural differences and critiquing them to death is the part-time hobby of almost any expat anywhere in the world and US exile Doug Lansky shows that he is no different.
Christ, get enough expats in one room and it’s practically a sport. So as I sit here writing these little Swedish quirks I can rest assured that Swedes are at this very moment sitting around a table somewhere in America half joking, half bitching about some bizarre American habits or regulations.
There’s certainly no shortage for them to choose from, whether it’s the relaxed handgun laws, the flood of superficial “how-ya-doings,” or the glut of pharmaceutical adverts on TV.
And let me also say that these Swedish habits I’m about to list, even though they may perplex or mildly annoy, are precisely what make Sweden what it is. They give the country character, and we wouldn’t want to take that away. Okay, okay, they could probably lose a few and be better off from it. But still…
1. That Julmust and Påskmust are the exact same drink, but Swedes insist on calling it different names.
2. That it’s an insult to show up 15 minutes late for lunch, but perfectly okay to cancel a lunch 15 minutes before (typically by email or sms, often without any more explanation than “I have to cancel”)
3. That Swedes always find an occasion to bring out herring (is it Christmas food or Easter food or midsummer food – make up your minds!)
4. That Swedes are so bizarrely patriotic about their strawberries. Buy Polish ones at midsummer and you’re just asking to be a social outcast. (That is, you can buy strawberries picked by Polish people, but the strawberries themselves shouldn’t be grown in Poland.)
5. That Swedes commonly “Tiga ut nagon.” This roughly translates as “giving the silent treatment.” It’s a passive aggressive technique they’ve somehow come to think of as a polite conflict avoidance.
6. That Swedes, at a crayfish party, can suck and chew on the almost entirely meatless-leg of a crayfish for several minutes, like a dog gnawing on a bone.
7. That Swedes answer non-emergency phone calls on their mobile in almost every social situation no matter how inappropriate (like while they’re eating dinner at your house).
8. That Swedes, among the world leaders in environmental matters and devote protectors of the forests, allowed people to build a golf course and club house in the Nacka nature reserve (which permits trucks to drive in nearly every day to deliver food and packages and often fills the reserve with the sound of lawn mowing.)
9. That Swedes typically forget to introduce people to their friends when they meet on the street. (Not sure if they haven’t remembered their names or my name or they just find me embarrassing and would rather me not meet their friends.)
10. That Swedes put salad on the same plate as the warm meal. Then they think “oh, I better eat the warm food while it’s still warm.” Inevitably, the warm sauce (despite a wall of potatoes) runs into the bottom of the salad and makes it turns it soggy from the bottom up.
Any more I might have forgot? C’mon, you know you’ve had a few gnawing away at you for a while. Here’s your chance. Comments below please.