A few reflections on Swedish culture

Traveling in the United States and abroad has continually emphasized to me the common themes among cultures, as well as their beautiful differences. I believe it is crucial to preserve and respect each other’s differences. My 18 years in Washington State, 4 years in North Carolina, 4 months in Costa Rica, and 1 month (so far) in Sweden have shown me how I can love elements from very different cultures.

I would like to share a few elements of Swedish culture, based on my experiences thus far.



Traditional Swedish foods include meatballs, cinnamon buns, lingonberry jam, and seafood. Swedes eat their traditional meatballs with cucumber relish and lingonberries.

My experience living with my host family has taught me that Swedes really appreciate good food and their mealtimes. My host parents make nearly all their food from scratch—whether it’s fresh pesto sauce or a delicious homemade pie. Every night, we have a fresh dinner and enjoy each other’s company by candlelight.

At the beginning of the school year, the Swedes in my program organized a Crayfish party where we shared this tasty meal and sang each other’s national songs. This tradition reminded me a lot of my own culture, that of my home in Washington state. My family and I catch and eat a lot of our own seafood.

A crucial part of the Swedish culture surrounding food is the concept of “Fika.” “Fika” is a popular term used for a coffee break, teatime, or a minute to catch up with friends. I use the term fika when I need a break during my morning classes at school or when I want to catch up with a friend at a café. Everyone uses the term and appreciates a moment to share treats and company with others.



Swedish is a Germanic language that shares many words and its basic structure with English. I think Swedes’ straightforward nature is reflected in their language. For example, when I’m very grateful for something, I will exclaim, “Thank you very much” repeatedly. Swedes might laugh or look at me in confusion during these instances. I have slowly learned that this is very American. In Sweden, gratitude is simply and sweetly expressed by saying, “tack” (thank you).

Swedish and American communication style is a cultural element that I have especially noticed during my transition. In Winston-Salem, NC, where I attended college for four years, I used to have long and friendly conversations with strangers each day. In Stockholm, people are less prone to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger on the subway.


Family Structure     

The differences between Swedish and American family life is fascinating. This country is known for its progressive gender equality, a societal quality that I believe is largely responsible for the patterns in Swedish modern society today. Most Swedish women have careers and relationships tend to be very equal between the sexes. It seems that fewer Swedes get married compared to Americans, although it is very common to have a “sambo” (a partner who you live with as you would a by-law spouse). Many couples simply get engaged and don’t decide to get married until years later. This is the case with my host parents.



Sweden is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy. The country is characterized by an extensive and high-quality social safety net. The government provides free education, healthcare, and many services for in-need populations.



Swedish Krona; the exchange rate is approximately 6.5 krona to $1 U.S.



Historically, Sweden is a Lutheran state. This past has left its trace through thousands of lovely churches and cathedrals in Stockholm. Around almost every corner, I encounter a new beautiful red or grey brick church with a turquoise steeple that adds charm to the city skyline.

Above is a picture of St. Jacob’s Cathedral in downtown Stockholm



The transportation system in Sweden is one of my favorite aspects of my new life. Stockholm is intelligently connected through a complex of trains, subways, and busses. I have a 3-month pass (which cost about $200). This pass takes me all over the city. I commute about thirty minutes each day to school in northern Stockholm, as I live with my Swedish family friends in a suburb of southern Stockholm.

Above is a picture of graffiti at a commuter train station in Stockholm.


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