In a few days, I’m leaving on a trip through Scandinavia. I’ve never been there, even though I’m half Danish and almost half Norwegian (there’s a smidge of Swedish on the Norwegian side).  I have my own stereotypes about Scandinavians based on my extended family but in the interests of objective research, I skimmed two recent books on the topic – The Almost Nearly Perfect People (Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia) by Michael Booth and How to be Danish (A Journey to the Cultural Heart of Denmark) by Patrick Kingsley. The following bullet points are culled from these books.

  • Danes are joiners; they belong to more clubs than most nationalities.
  • Clubs include choirs, in which the blending of all voices is more important than any one voice – a perfect illustration of the Dane’s flock instinct.
  • Danes have the highest level of trust (in other people) in the world.
  • In the 90s, someone did an experiment in which they left 40 wallets unattended in forty cities. All 40 wallets were returned in only two countries – Denmark and Norway. So apparently some of that trust is warranted.
  • All of the Scandinavian countries talk smack about their neighboring Scandinavian countries. Danes are knocked for deteriorating language skills. Norwegians, resented because of their oil wealth, are knocked for being stupid country bumpkins. However, Sweden is the most intensely despised by its neighbors.
  • Swedes have a heightened fear of appearing foolish “reflected by one of the key words by which the Swedes define themselves – duktig. It literally translates as clever, but this is a specific type of Swedish cleverness; a diligent, responsible kind of clever; punctual, law-abiding, industrious clever.” (Booth)
  • In Sweden, it’s a major faux pas to touch wine glasses after a toast.
  • Swedes don’t converse with each other on buses.
  • Swedes are considered shy and self-effacing.
  • Ake Daun, author of The Swedish Mentality, describes Swedes as “a race of wallflowers racked with insecurities; they would rather take the stairs than share a lift.”
  • Norwegians dress in extravagant national costumes on May 17 (Norwegian Constitution Day) – heavily embroidered dirndls, hobnail shoes, shawls, bright-buttoned breeches, etc.
  • Oslo residents are the second richest in the world, right behind Hartford, Connecticut citizens.
  • Oslo is extremely expensive! Taxi drivers apologize for the fares. “Sorry. It’s Norway.”

More to come in future posts!