Norwegians & Swedes — What’s the difference?

In 2011, I’ve spent more time in Norway than Sweden. I’ll make the bold statement that most of my readers see no discernible difference among the two and on the surface, it would be difficult to argue otherwise. But, low and behold, the Norwegians are a different Scandinavian breed and I have been given yet another opportunity to learn about a different culture.

Here are a few differences I see between the two Scandinavia sisters:

• Patriotism – Norwegians are more openly patriotic than Swedes. Norwegians for the most part will, quite often, tell you directly that their country is greatest in the world. Swedes on the other hand will find sneaky ways of saying something bad about “other” countries — obviously alluding to the fact that Sweden is better. May 17th is Norway’s Constitution Day, and as one of our good friends says, “May 17th is like your birthday, Christmas and New years all rolled into one.” By comparison, June 6th, Sweden’s National Day is totally weak — I am still wondering why Sweden’s “big day” is not Midsummer on June 24th.

• Tradition: Both Norway & Sweden have great pride in their long and storied histories. Together with Denmark, they hold a special place for their Vikings ancestors and the general knowledge that anything from “the North” is better. The Norwegians however, seem to hold stronger to things cultivated in Norway. Skiing, for instance, is a national past time that is cherished by ALL Norwegians (they say children here are born with skis on their feet.) Sailing the fjords, hiking in the mountains and other activities of the like are considered best, period. Swedes enjoy these activities as well, but I feel they are a little more open-minded to something that doesn’t have to do with the aforementioned items. Norway is a small, proud country — It makes sense that they hold thing close. But, it’s ok to thing other things are good too 🙂

• Food: Norwegians & Swedes eat strange food. In Norway, daily cuisine often includes sardines, mackerel, Fårikål, and many other eccentric items that the rest of the world has forgotten a long time ago. Another unusual sighting is Norwegians having their morning spoonful of cod-fish oil – yes, it is as disgusting as it sounds – because nothing say good morning like a mouth full of rotten fish. Swedes also have their weird food, like falukorv, tunnbrodsrulle, and kalles Kaviar, but that I can handle. I don’t think I’ll EVER have fish oil mornings.

These are just a few items I’ve uncovered over the past months. The difficulty of being an expat in Scandinavia is that on the surface, these countries are not much different from one another or the U.S. for that matter… At first, Sweden was kinda like Canada with a different language… this initially gave me a false sense “knowing” the place and its people. The fact of the matter is, the longer I live here, the more I’m aware of how truly different Scandinavia is, and to a larger extent how different we ALL are.

For me, it’s difficult to not contemplate the obvious larger question: if two small Northern European Countries are that different, what’s the rest of the world like?

Categories: Europe Travel, Sweden | Tags: , , | 9 Comments

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9 thoughts on “Norwegians & Swedes — What’s the difference?

  1. Just an American Gurl in Sweden

    I lived in Oslo before Stockholm…. and yes, there area lot of differences…. Brown Cheese for example…. LOL
    also…. if a Norwegian says they will call you or do something for you… they will do it the very next day…. Swedes are like Americans in this area….

    GREAT Blog..


  2. I think that if you are native to the two countries, then you can instantly see a difference, however, when you are not native to a particular country or culture, then it is far harder to seen the difference.

  3. Wait, mackerel and sardines as food the rest of the world has left behind??? What?? Erm, not really… It’s a staple fish for half of the Mediterranean, nothing like grilled fresh sardines or mackerel served with lemon on the Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, Greek and southern French coastlines, its as much about summer in the Med as olive oil and wine! In fact, right now all along the Portuguese and Italian coasts are the annual sardine festivals where the streets are filled with restaurants serving grilled mackerel and sardines for free with free wine – a huge custom that attracts thousands of locals and visitors….

  4. Pingback: Norwegians & Swedes — what’s the difference? Part II « The American Norseman

  5. Svenine

    Ew yes my mother is norwegian she always makes us eat pickled herring and fish oil mornings bleh.

  6. Johann Ætre

    I am norwegian, and the fish oil mornings are standard.
    But i have a swedish stepfather who said that swedes also have something nasty “oil mornings” too.

    I think that nowegians holds onto their traditions more than the swedes do, that Sweden are more “modern”.

  7. smythe

    Ironic, how fish oil has become a staple of contemporary heath…

  8. Baltus

    Well, regarding the fish oil I don`t have any friends, family members or colleagues (as far as I know) who eat fish oil in the mornings. Personally I grew up and live in Oslo, and to a certain degree I think this kind of habit is generally more related to the coastal areas in western and northern Norway. When it comes to social intercourse it is said that norwegians in general are slightly more open and outgoing than the swedes, who often are a bit more formal – a bit more like the germans.

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