Aside from all being great places to live...
August 16, 2008 7:58 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to know more about social, cultural and economic differences between Scandinavian countries. I've seen this and have a few acquaintances that introduced me to national stereotypes, but I'm sure it gets more complex. How does life really vary across Scandinavia?
posted by StrikeTheViol to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Outdated and rightly out of print, I still find The Scandinavians by Donald Connery to be a good study of the historical and social differences between the Scandinavian counties. Used copies sell for $2-$3, so it is a good investment for a foundation.
posted by munchingzombie at 8:52 AM on August 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

As an American living in Sweden and familiar with Denmark (and Finnish folk in Sweden), I think the first point to make is that there is a continuum of Nordic/Scandanavian culture and society. By comparison, the size and regional differences (excluding language) within the US are in some ways greater than Europe. In terms of very rough population and cultural phenomena, contrasting Sweden to Norway is like asking "How are Mass-holes different from Maine-iacs?". And to really beat that metaphor to death, one could say Danes are from Connecticut and Finns are from Quebec.

I think all of the Nordic countries are considered liberal democratic socialist states with largely free markets, regardless of the current ruling parties. That said, it seems to me that Denmark is closer to a commercially free market and Sweden is closer to a nanny-state market. But Sweden is starting to loosen up, for example, by allowing the sale of certain OTC drugs in grocery stores along with the state-run pharmacies.

Finally, the recent genetic map of Europe may be of interest to you.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 9:56 AM on August 16, 2008 [3 favorites]

By Scandinavia, do you mean Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, or do Finland and Iceland qualify too? I don't know which definition is more standard. I've been to Finland, and the people I met are really smart and really low-key.
posted by lukemeister at 9:59 AM on August 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I was initially thinking of the five-country use of the word, Finland and Iceland included. I didn't want to say "Nordic countries" because I realize life is pretty different in Greenland, say, compared to the difference between Copenhagen and Helsinki. (The latter is the kind of thing I meant.)
posted by StrikeTheViol at 10:23 AM on August 16, 2008

Swedes tend to enjoy singing in groups when they get drunk. The Norwegians seem to roll their eyes at this... for whatever that is worth.
posted by mbatch at 12:56 PM on August 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

They enjoy it sober too :)

Sweden really considers itself the big brother of the family. An example of this is the new tourist tag-line for Stockholm where they call it "The Capital of Scandinavia". Hubris much?
It is important to note though that both geographically and in terms of population, Sweden is the largest of the neighbours. It's important to note that there's been quite a bit of war between the countries, with both Norway and Finland having been occupied/owned by Sweden, and Sweden originally having been a part of Denmark (I believe?), but that last one being so long ago it's not necessarily relevant.

Denmark and Finland are much (MUCH) more "continental" than Sweden, and Norway is even less so. Norwegians seem to enjoy the internet, wearing bobbel-hats, going for bracing walks and not eating lunch. Danes like to drink and make passes at people. Swedes enjoy talking about work and where you live.

Norway, Finland and Denmark are in NATO, Sweden isn't.
Finland has the Euro, the Danes and Swedes don't and Norway isn't even in the EU.

That just about covers it I think?
If you want to give a couple of concrete things you want to compare we could probably take a shot at that.
posted by Iteki at 5:02 PM on August 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Well, I wanted to leave the initial question open, but just to pick a topic I was curious about, say, attitudes toward foreigners and immigrants?
posted by StrikeTheViol at 8:14 PM on August 16, 2008

My impression is that Scandinavians love foreigners but are less enamored of immigrants. Scandinavians travel more than most populations, and as a result they enjoy travelers coming there. Certainly Sweden is the most welcoming for immigrants, followed by Denmark, and the general attitude towards immigrants has improved in the 10 years since I first immigrated.

To look at the numbers, Finland accepted ~27,000 immigrants in 2007 mostly from EU countries (notice this page from the Finnish government is also available in Swedish). By contrast, Sweden accepted nearly 20,000 Iraqi asylum seekers alone in 2007, and the total number of Iraqis arriving in Sweden is much higher. Sweden has accepted asylum seekers from many failed states for decades, and there are now sizable (and somewhat self-segregated) populations of Serbians, Croatians, Eritreans, Chileans, and Lebanese to name a few. However, immigrants can fairly quickly integrate into Swedish society by making an effort to learn the language and customs. The children of immigrants, or first-generation Swedes, are universally considered "Swedes" (if not Swedish) regardless of race or ethnicity.

Assimilation of immigrants is growing concern in Sweden, as it is across all of Europe. As a country with a low rate of violent crime, the recent rise in violent crime in Sweden is generally (and probably correctly) blamed on unassimilated immigrants. Immigration is also straining the generous social-welfare programs. Most Swedes will agree with those sentiments in private discussion, but would hesitate to state the fact in a more public setting for fear of being considered xenophobic or racist.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 9:58 AM on August 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Danish legislation however has however come under quite a bit of criticism recently for being excessivly populistic in it's harshening attitudes to immigrants. I notice a huge amount of "generally negative" attitudes to immigrants in Sweden. The breakdown of attitude reveals that it isn't so much somones immigrant status that is the problem as their ethnicity. North-western europeans are fine, as are peeps from other english speaking countries. It's a weird mix.
posted by Iteki at 1:56 PM on August 17, 2008

I realise I'm coming into the thread very late, but if you're interested in more detailed observations just Memail me. I was in Norway for two years at an international school (30% nordic from all 5 countries) and the topic has come up in conversation countless times.

From what I've seen the Norwegians are much more patriotic than the others due to their recent history of being occupied, the Swedes generally see themselves as the leads in fashion, up-to-date etc. and the Finns and Danes are thought to drink a lot. There are also endless varieties of jokes they tell about each other and a fair bit of good-natured snarking. (See here for a Norwegian comedy sketch about the Danish language)
posted by monocot at 10:09 AM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

« Older Giant black lung building?   |   I'm in love with my roommate Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.