On our sailing trip, we are about to arrive in Norway. After 5 weeks of sailing the West coast of Sweden (June and July), we are looking forward to explore the fjords in Norway. But we also feel melancholic to leave Sweden. Because we have had such wonderful time here, nice conversations with the Swedish, anchoring in front of beautiful islands and cycling through picturesque villages.
So in honor of the Swedish, we have recapitulated 10 fun facts we as Dutch were surprised about when we got to know Sweden and the Swedish! We hope these little cultural differences will make you smile:
1. Vegetables? We like hotdogs
Yes, it’s true, it’s hard to get fresh vegetables in Sweden. In supermarkets, it’s just a small department in the store. If you want to buy vegetables, you are more lucky to find them in cans or in the freezer department, spinach and green beans for example. This was something we were surprised about! Also about the fact that hotdogs are available everywhere. No problem, you can get them!
2. Vintage American cars
Almost in every town we visited in Sweden, at one point we heard an V8 engine roaring around the corner. And then a 50’s or 60’s USA car came driving in the street. A pink Cadillac Coupe De Ville or a baby blue Ford Thunderbird. It was amazing to see so many of these old cars. It turned out that (young!) Swedish love these retro cars. Sweden is nr 1 importer of USA vintage cars in Europe.
We still are amazed about the level of trust of the Swedish: when you arrive in a harbor, you have to pay the harborfee of your boat at an automat. Or you don’t. Nobody checks. When supermarkets close, they leave the racks with toys and garden tools standing outside till the next morning. We used to joke, when we passed a supermarket at 22.00h: ‘Ah, you can see they are closed, because all products are outside’. We have noticed so many times this high level of trust (‘ Oh, you can return that tomorrow, leave it at the door handle’), it gives a very relaxed society.
4. Vikings? No machos in Sweden!
When you think of the word Viking, you automatically see tough guys, loud, very macho. Well, Swedish men today seem to be raised in the opposite way: they talk with a soft voice, offered to help us many times and are very modest. We even saw young fathers wearing flowers in their hair during Midsommerfest, holding the hand of their little daughters when walking around in the city. This modest lifestyle is called The Law of Jante, which is a concept is Sweden, it means as much as: ‘Don’t think your are better or more than other people’.
5. Water temperature is 26 degrees
Yes, we are not kidding! The clear blue waters around the islands of the Göteborg Archipelago looked very tempting when we first arrived in Sweden. But swimming did not came into our heads, it was the 8th of June, what can you expect of the water temperature in a Scandinavian country, right? Well, we never expected that a warm gulf stream makes the West Coastal waters of Sweden so attractive to swim in! There are not a lot of sandy beaches, but Swedish like to lay on the rocks of the islands and warm themselves in the sun and the water.
6. Picknicktables in the harbors
An advice to all Dutch harbors: please put picknicktables on the grass around the harbors or on the piers! We enjoyed it so much that at lunch or dinner time, the Swedish families came of their boats and sat down at the wooden picknicktables and had their meal there. Sometimes they put a little BBQ on the ground next to the table or ate shrimps out of a big pan. It gave such a nice atmosphere and it makes it so much easier to connect with people in the harbor when you pass them sitting at picknicktables.
7. Bicycles on the sidewalk, please
In Holland, we are used to cycle on the streets in the villages or the cities. In Sweden you are supposed to cycle on the sidewalk where pedestrians also walk. At first, we started to cycle on the streets, but we found out cars behind us got really nervous and slowed down: they stayed behind us the entire street, although there was plenty space to overtake us. So a queue of cars grew behind us when we cycled on the streets 😉. We never got used to cycling on sidewalks, next to pedestrians. o So many times, we wondered when we were cycling: ‘where did all the cars go?’. Well, look behind you, there is a queue….
8. Lagom: and that also goes for how Swedish ladies dress
Lagom is a Swedish word, which is not easily translated. It means ‘moderate, just enough, not too much or too little, don’t stand out’. And actually that is how Swedish ladies dress: in black, brown, beige colors. And very oversized. We were a bit disappointed to find out that the beautiful Swedish ladies disappear under very unnoted clothes. What happened to red, blue, green and yellow, ladies?
9. Allemansrätt: enjoy nature
Allemansrätt means the ‘all men’s right’: it’s quite unique that a country has the philosophy that you are allowed to enter private properties to enjoy the free nature. So you can walk through backyards, gardens, put up your tent to camp or in our case sail into private waters close to houses. Of course you are not allowed to damage property or nature, but you are allowed to enjoy nature as much as the owner. Because no one really owns nature, it’s everyone’s right to enjoy it.
10. Heej heej
A final funny Swedish fact. Although Swedish are very modest and quiet, their greetings in shops and on streets are surprisingly enthusiastic! To everyone they say: ‘Heej heej!’ when they see you. So not 1 time ‘hi’, no, 2 times, and not ‘hi’ but a long ‘heeeey’ like you are an old friend. To us it sounded so informal and friendly. We would have expected a greeting in Swedish in a variation of ‘hello’, but it’s more like a charming ‘hey, hey!’. Very kind, it always brought a smile to our faces.