Swedish Faux Pas

I just discovered that apparently, it’s considered poor form to brag about yourself, or to imply that you’re better than someone else in some way (in Swedish culture)… Quite the opposite from North America (particularly the US), where it’s all about shameless self promotion. Most critical component to success is in North America probably the ability to B.S. Hell, I live every day thinking about how much more intelligent and better I am than the average schmo. Seriously – people are dumb! I have little faith in our education system when I see kids these days! * shakes fist *

Could you imagine the disastrous results that could come of not realizing that about Sweden? Me, showing up for a job interview, talking non-stop about how great I am, only to wonder why I never get a phone back?

On the flip side, Swedes could get into a lot of trouble here in Canada too. Continuing on with the “everyone is equal” idea, students in Sweden call their professors by their FIRST NAME! (So if Per studied here, he could really get himself out of favour with the professors very quickly.) One way to make your Swedish university professor uncomfortable is to address them by their title, as one of my classmates from my Swedish class attested that his professor freaked out, telling him NOT to call him “Dr. Svensson (or whatever)” and instead by his first name.

Per doesn’t even bother to learn his teachers’ names! He received an email from a teacher, and Per complained that the teacher didn’t identify what course he was writing about in his email. Me, “But you’ve been sitting in his class for months now – don’t you know all your teachers’ names?” “Why would I do that?” Huh? But it’s basic courtesy and respect, to learn someone’s name! Especially, to show respect to the person who decides whether you pass! At least measuring by my experience, which I should have realized after uncovering many, many differences, is not the same as Swedish experience. Perhaps it’s due to our egos (relative to Sweden I mean) that our names are so important to us. Heck, half the male Swedes are probably named “Johan”, so having a unique name probably doesn’t matter! 😉

And apparently, if you’re pregnant and get on a bus in Sweden, people will not give up a seat for you. I read blogs online of people complaining about the “rudeness” of Swedes and wasn’t sure if I should take it at face value, and asked Per about it. “Why should a woman automatically get a seat just because she’s pregnant?” I was speechless. For me, giving a pregnant woman a seat is such common sense, that for me to try to reframe it in Swedish thinking… It goes against one of the most ingrained beliefs I hold! But I’m trying, with much difficulty, to accept that others hold different beliefs that aren’t necessarily wrong just because it differs from mine.

Again, I mention how huge the gap seems at times. And I repeat again, that so much of what we believe to be true is simply due to being a product of your environment, or country. The cultural misunderstandings continue…


One thought on “Swedish Faux Pas

  1. Yes, in everyday social life you shouldn’t brag to much. Probably true. They say it is a “Swe thing” to not impose that you are better than anyone else. To be humble is a positive thing I think I would say here in Sweden. Small example; look at Dalai Lama, does he say he is the best person in the entire world and how good he is? How loved is he? Look at Bush, how humble and how loved? So it was kind of “Swedish” of me when asked about the dog in the water, during the dinner, I didn’t start a long story of how brave I am, that I risked my life, how I did, how much wounds I got, how grateful the owner was etc etc. I just say that I saved the poor dog. Maybe to humble? Swedes are sometimes to humble, like your example of job interview or CV, we are advised to brag more about ourselves than we are used to. So I think you would fit good in a job interview! =)

    I did learn the teachers’ name… eventually…even if we shift teachers for each course and my ability to remember names is poor. Doesn’t mean I show them less respect just because I don’t know their names, although you do have a point in what you say.

    I think I agree with Joy, if a pregnant women would look uncomfortable I would probably give up a seat. For elders yes. But may not be granted for everyone in all cases like she says. I also have very very very little experience in the area. I grew up in a small town and very rarely took the bus. Very seldom the bus is full, think you need to go to Stockholm subway to encounter that problem. Third, I bike, reducing the carbon emissions, remember? 😉 So that we, the elders, the pregnant and the pregnant’s children can have a better future! 😉

    Listen to Joy about consumption vs. actually enjoy your environment! Go Joy! =) I do know you do to, we just have a different background and different life’s =)

    I also need to get used to another culture and accept that it doesn’t have to be wrong just because that’s not the way I do it. Like you say, it is hard, surprisingly hard.

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