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?