An American in Sweden

I’m an American who lives in London and after living in the UK for a few years, it’s easy to self-identify as an “other”- definitely not British but not extremely American in my mannerisms, a chameleon perhaps…or so I thought.

My significant other (from Sweden) disagrees. We occasionally comments on the characteristically American or categorically Swedish things each of us inherently does. I’ve been thinking, what behaviors and characteristics are considered typically “American” and “Swedish”?

Recently, I’ve been watching Welcome to Sweden, a comedic tv series that highlights Swedish society when an American lawyer, Bruce, moves to Stockholm to be with his Swedish girlfriend, Emma, and is portrayed as a blatant fish-out-of-water. What makes the characters endearing is the somewhat stark contrast between the cultures. While some of the more obvious differences lay in how we conduct ourselves in public, some are a bit subtler.

Emma’s parents typify Swedes in that her father, a tall and taciturn man, doesn’t feel the need to make small talk and fill the air- a situation that makes Bruce (and American viewers) squirm. We aren’t accustomed to embracing silence in social situations while Swedes avoid small talk in stairwells, trams and the like on a daily basis.

However, the quieter differences Welcome to Sweden emphasizes can easily slip under the radar if you aren’t familiar with each culture. The situational comedy is built upon little cultural insights and here are a few you might not be aware of.

“Lagom”

Swedes celebrate the concept of “not too much, just the right amount” in the word “lagom”. It characterises Swedish society- equality is highly cherished.

American penchant for praise

Americans, while growing up did you ever receive an award for 6th place? I sure did, and that’s not something to celebrate… Bruce boasts about his athletic awards while Emma casually mentions she’s a decent athlete, only to later on stun Bruce with her ability.

Swedish honesty

In Sweden, honesty really is the best policy. In fact, I’ve found it a stark contrast to polite British communication.  For example, a Brit might say “Oh my, this doesn’t look too good.” Whereas a Swede might say “This looks terrible”. Get to the meat of the matter and don’t beat around the bush in Sweden.

I’ve found this show has made me more aware of my American characteristics and made me reflect on my experience abroad. An experience that’s made me more self-aware and gain a perspective beyond that of my homeland.