Absolutely Swedish - Outlining a National Character
In many respects Sweden is a country of relatively small class differences. Many people even consider the very concept of social class outdated, since it has become notoriously hard to define. A Swedish manual worker may well earn as much as a lower official, and his children can choose to study at the same university as those of the company president. All in all, the principle of equal opportunity has had a strong position in Swedish society, much due to the long predominance of the Social Democratic Party in Swedish political life. Some even think this principle has gone to far, limiting pluralism and individual freedom on the legal as well the personal level. Such a small-minded urge to control the behavior of others in the name of equality is often referred to as the "Law of Jante". Originally an invention by the Danish author Aksel Sandemose, this law tells you, among others, "do not think you are anything special" and " do not think you are better than anybody else"!
The ideal that each and everybody has the same value is manifested in the Swedish forms of address. Just as in Anglo-Saxon countries, Swedes use only one form when speaking to a single person: du ("you"). Irrespective of the sex, age or social class of an addressee, du can always be used. Formerly there was a more polite form, Ni (corresponding to German Sie) which was to be used, for instance, between strangers and by children who were addressing adults. Today it is only rarely used, and most of all by elderly people. Note, however, that it is still the form employed when talking to more than one person.
Another characteristic of Swedish mentality is the urge to agree on things. Heated discussions are rare, and the best way to convince somebody in a matter is not to put maximum emotional energy into the discussion, but to give some good arguments. For this reason, foreigners sometimes think Swedish people undercooled and formal. They probably have a point there, but it should be remembered that the tendency towards rationality and objectivity most of all is seen in public and professional life. Swedish people can be very emotional, too, especially after 2 a.m. in a bar.
For a view from a different perspective and helpful hints on how to survive in Sweden, check out ParentNetSweden, a resource and home page for English-speaking parents in Sweden.
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