Are Swedes rude?

Photo: Henrik Trygg/imagebank.sweden.se

Swedes, more often than not, seem shy or even rude to non-Swedes. This is one pretty shallow stereotype that is roaming the world today and although there is, of course, a reason for its origin, it is unknown to the majority and not taken into consideration when judging a whole people.

Some cultures are very open and chatty, looking at you America, and when Swedes aren’t responding well to behaviour, that they consider to be ‘too much’, they are instantly considered rude. Swedes are not an anti-social group of Scandinavians. The winter darkness hasn’t made them stone cold and heartless. If they were, this Swedish expression wouldn’t exist: “if there is room in the heart, there is room for the butt” – Finns det hjärterum så finns det stjärterum. You are thinking of Finns. Jokes aside, Swedes like to mind their own business and will most likely only interact with strangers when they have to or are politely asked to.

Some of the Swede’s introvert-like features originate from the Swedish Gustavian era at the end of the 18th century. King Gustav III had big plans for Sweden and wanted to unite the people with one unified Swedish language, founding the Swedish Academy to curate it, and by dressing up the people in different official Swedish costumes, which would make it easy to spot who belonged to which class in society. He introduced the same etiquette used at the French court to his own court, thus pushing aside the old medieval habits like eating with your hands and using the table cloth as a handkerchief. Now there were a real set of rules to follow. Like all things royal, these “rules” spread across the nation, first to the nobility, of course, and then to the common people, taming the Swedes and laying the foundation to the shy, rude, and inaccurate image that Swedes have today.

But there is more to this. The fact that Swedes rather speak English than Swedish to foreigners despite being addressed in Swedish, the Swedish mentality that we are equals and that no one is better than the other, the Swedish envy (den svenska avundsjukan), nurture this image. At Swedish work places everyone gets to speak their mind and have a saying in different decisions. What else are meetings for? And at the performance meetings, not even the boss is immune to critique. This kind of flat hierarchy can be very challenging to non-Swedes, especially if they are supposed to be in charge. Swedes don’t sugar coat things, which can be a huge culture shock to some. On the other hand, if Swedes thinks that what they are going to say will result in a conflict, they will probably keep it to themselves. If something bothers them they will either write a passive-aggressive note or go home to their partner and complain instead. So if a Swede seems blunt to you, it is either well-meant or at least seen as neutral and not an insult.

Every culture has its own way of dealing with others so if a Swede doesn’t react the way you are used to, keep an open mind!

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