On Wednesday, I published Part I of 20 Ways to Annoy a Swede. So here it is, fresh out of the oven: Part II of 20 Ways to Annoy a Swede!
If you didn’t read the last post, here’s a little background. The Local (Sweden’s news in English) published a list called “How to lose Swedish friends in just 10 days,” and it got me thinking… and then inspired to do my own list of surefire ways to alienate the people around you. It’s up to you to choose whether to use this knowledge for good or for evil.
So here it is, courtesy of my own and my friends’ most awkward moments as foreigners in Sweden: the next ten ways to annoy a Swede.
11. Try to arrange an office happy hour less than a week in advance.
Didn’t you know that people already had plans with their families/respectives/friends? They would have liked to have come, but why didn’t you think of this a little more in advance? Are you purposely waiting to invite me to do things until I have other plans so that I can’t come?!
No, it’s not the ravings of a delusional 14 year old, it’s what happens when you try to organize a spontaneous social event without proper notice. Scheduling in advance is not a preference in Sweden; it’s a way of life. Disregarding it means nothing less than taking a scissors to the fabric of Swedish society (plus inviting all hell to break loose in your inbox).
12. Make fun of the Vasa Ship.
The greatest warship ever, you say? And how far out of the harbor did it get before being blown over by a little breeze?
13. Install wall-to-wall carpeting.
For some reason, Swedes think wall-to-wall carpeting is horribly gauche as well as unsanitary. I have a friend who walked away from an apartment with a walk-in closet because one of the rooms had wall-to-wall carpeting, and this is a friend who has a lot of clothes.
No, no. Something about wall-to-wall carpeting is deeply unsettling, and if you use it to cover a wood floor, well… that’s probably a special ring in interior decorating hell for you.
14. Try to convince a Swede to come to church with you next Sunday.
Doesn’t matter if it’s Christmas; doesn’t matter if it’s Easter. Leaving the small minority of religious Swedes aside, I can tell you how this is going to go:
Uhh, guys? I was thinking of going to church before we jumped into the singing and dancing and eating of herring. Anyone want to come with me?
First laughter, like HAHA CHURCH! Now THAT’S a good one!
Then a look of embarrassment/consternation as you shuffle your feet awkwardly and they realize that oh crap, she wasn’t joking.
Then a: “Uhh, no, that’s really nice of you, but I guess we’ll catch up later, ok?”
It’s not that religion is a bad thing. It’s just that religion is a thing that most people don’t take part in or understand. The always-reliable Wikipedia says that 85% of Sweden identifies as atheist, while this excerpt from The Cambridge Companion to Atheism puts the number somewhere between 46% and 85%. (I bet you didn’t see a real academic source coming, did you? BAM! I still got it.)
From what I’ve experienced, though, it’s a very gentle kind of atheism. Think about the vegetarians you know. There are some that want to convert the world to vegetarianism and insist on emailing PETA videos to everyone they know to make sure that if you’re going to insist on eating that turkey for Thanksgiving, I’m going to damn well make sure that you relive the turkey’s trauma with every single bite. BAD VEGETARIAN. Then there are the vegetarians that just ask you to have a vegetarian option at your next dinner party. GOOD VEGETARIAN.
The majority of Swedes are a little like that with the religion question. They’re not interested, so why should they go to church? End of story.
15. Say you’ve never heard of Astrid Lindgren.
Astrid Lindgren, author of more books than I took time to count, creator of such characters as Pippi Longstocking, Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, the Brothers Lionheart, and more, animal and children’s rights activist, soon-to-be-featured on the 200 crown bill…
Hmm, Astrid Lindgren. I might have heard that name before.
You receive bonus awkward points if you say that you thought Pippi Longstocking was Belgian.
16. Say that Sweden’s government is Socialist.
You could do this in earnest, during a conversation about politics, or you could really get under peoples’ skin and bring it up during a discussion about daycare or higher education.
“Aww, Swedes are such cute little Socialists! Giving the citizens free daycare and education and everything! It’s so precious, I could die.”
17. Corner someone at a party and insist they tell you the secret to why Swedish people are so so beautiful.
Refuse to laugh it off. Insist on having an answer. Ask if he or she will help you have a baby.
18. Lecture everyone on the dangers of candles.
Candles are the one thing that stand between sun-deprived Swedes and falling apart in a total nervous breakdown, especially during the Christmas season, when they’re considered an essential part of the season’s decor. As a concession to safety, most Swedes have stopped putting live candles on the Christmas tree, but they draw the line there. If you’re concerned about safety, you can stay home in your cold, candle-less apartment by yourself, far away from all the light.
19. Tell people that women should stay at home after their first child.
Not for a year or so on maternity leave—forever. Because that’s what women are supposed to do. It’s the natural order! (Helmets advised.)
20. Start a conversation with a stranger.
There seems to be something distinctly un-European about starting up a conversation with someone you don’t know. I first encountered this when I lived in Italy, so it’s not that I’m calling Sweden cold or unfriendly in any way. It is very different from the United States, however, where it’s almost a necessary social skill. My mom, for example, is somehow completely incapable of standing in line (at the grocery store, at the Secretary of State’s office, etc.) without making three new best friends.
It’s a little different here in Sweden. Not that people are unfriendly… it’s just not something you do unless you have a specific reason, like asking for directions or help or something like that. I don’t think it’s unwelcome, either.
As my friend Steve said: “I remember being in Växjö when I first got here. I would say hello to people who walked past, especially if no one else was around—like a good midwesterner would do—and people would look at me like I was a serial killer.”
That’s it for the list! Make sure to check out the Part I of 20 Ways to Annoy a Swede if you haven’t already!