The swedish culture to me is something very strange, it holds a lot of contradiction. I love and dislike it at the same time (it’s a only ‘a tad’ odd sometimes.) I love living in this country, but as with many other countries, it’s got some cultural twists, even tough it’s very similar to the NL. Then again, how ‘normal’ is the Netherlands? In order to explain it, I decided to turn this into a returning item. So here’s my third part of a rambling foreigner analysis. My thoughts on holidays and babies here.
Lagom and Jantelagen
Swedes are very humble and very down-to-earth. Here, there is equality for all. You are not better than anyone else, you’re not stronger because you’re a man, or treated with gloves because you’re a woman. In every language there’s a he and she, but here in Sweden they recently introduced a genderfree word when you wish to refer to a person. It would be nice though if this whole trend of equality would also be taken into account in the paycheck, as women still earn less than men.
Then there are a few saying typical for the culture here. There’s the saying of lagom, which means not too much, not too little: just right. And there’s also jantelagen, don’t be too cocky. You need to work hard and do well, but please don’t brag about it! Although I find it a real personal pleasure to be invited into all their 2nd or 3rd homes.
So, a very hot topic for all my non-swedish contacts is ‘Ellen, how is it possible these Swedes are so rich?’. Well… Swedes aren’t interested in how well you do in school, whether you finish or not, and they’re especially not interested in how much money you make. As long as you show initiative, learn something and work hard. Work for the greater good, pay your taxes and contribute to society. Yet it is also very important to educate yourself and know a little bit of everything, you just don’t have to always pass a mark for it.
Even though some Swedes never really graduate from uni, I am personally amazed at how ‘far’ Swedish youngsters are. Owning a home at the age of 24 isn’t something you see a lot in my homecountry. I mean, I’m weighed down by my study debt alone, where am I gonna get the money to buy a place? Perhaps if they’d offer proper contracts. Turns out, in Sweden, having a set contract for unlimited time is quite normal (Yessss!). With some jobs it might say ‘yearly substitute contract for maternal leave’, otherwise it’s more often than not set contracts. With that paper people go to their banks whom allow mortgages for new housing, which inevitably keeps the construction business going. Gosh, if only the Dutch government would consider something like it?!
But somehow Swedes don’t see how wealthy and privileged they really are. A particularly scary thing in Stockholm, is the still thriving and ever-rising housingmarket. The marketprice of housing has quadrupled over the past 7 years. ‘Oh well, let’s just drop 3,5 million into a 60m2 apartment in town’. This is around 420.000 euro’s, and that’s in fact more the rule than the exception here for Swedes. Imagine what kind of place you can buy for 420.000 euro’s? Well not in Stockholm! Here you’re ‘lucky’ if it’s around that price. But for Swedes, this comes so naturally. Money just isn’t an issue. So when wealth is no longer the virtue, what is?
For a lot of Swedes work is an identity thing. In essence, what it comes down to, is that Swedes don’t work for money (sort of, I mean you need money). And yes, it’s nice to be compensated, after all, that’s what you inevitably work for, but they work for development, improvement, entrepreneurship and personal expression and this is something that’s stimulated from a very early age on. You need to rationalize and think about what you do and propose to the world. Also, grades here aren’t so distinguished as much as in other countries. Usually there’s a fail, pass or good. At my masters for example we did have grades, F to A, but professors were much more sparse with good grades. ‘Wait, you wrote my paper was super good? There are no side notes and I get a B?’. At my current employer, nobody even asked for my graduate certificates.
Accepting that it’s not only about the result is what prospers the economy here so well. You need to work on both process and results in order to get praise. Therefore, money isn’t such a big issue, but new ideas and innovation are. Entrepreneurs are endlessly supported, wild ideas hurayed and anything with ‘environmental innovation’ hyped. It’s about process and identity. Which in essence feeds creativity and new developments, which then in turn brings shitloads of money into the country, and people’s bankaccounts. After Norway and it’s oil, Sweden is doing pretty darn good. They just don’t know it.
(please note: these are my own opinions)