SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

LIVING IN SWEDEN

PART TWO: Are these the 50 most Swedish things in existence?

Part two in our series on the most Swedish things in existence, this article covers food, habits, and behaviours our readers (and other foreigners) identified as particularly Swedish.

PART TWO: Are these the 50 most Swedish things in existence?
Meatballs got mentioned again and again in our very informal reader survey of Swedish things. But perhaps more Swedish is to have "best in test ratings" of various meatball brands. Photo: Stina Stjernkvist/TT

You don’t have to be living in Sweden long before you start puzzling at some of the things that pass for normal, so, half in jest we asked The Local’s readers for what they think are the most “Swedish” things in existence.

We got so many responses that we’ve divided our article into two parts. This is the second part in a two-part series. You can read the first part, on Swedish objects and clothes here

Most Swedish food

It’s fair to say that many of the foods people came up with did not give the most flattering picture of Swedish cuisine. 

The most common suggestion for an uber-Swedish dish was quick-cook macaroni with tomato ketchup. This perhaps reflects the horror some other nationalities feel upon witnessing it. (As it happens, Swedes are world-class ketchup consumers, each of them wolfing down 2.7kg of the tangy red gloop a year, behind only Finland and Canada, and way ahead of the US.) 

Other unflattering food suggestions included “bearnaise with everything” (largely true), Kebab pizza (yum, and also, if you’re Italian, an aberration), and Flygande Jakob (vile). 

Pasta with heaps of ketchup. Photo: Antti Nissinen/Flickr

On a more general level, several people simply cited “salt“. For them, the most Swedish thing was to load already salty foods with even more salt. Could this be the result of a country that before the advent of refrigeration lived off salted fish, meat and vegetables for much of the year?     

On the borderline of the questionable foodstuffs category came various types of food in tubes, such as skinkost and räkost (processed cheese with bits of ham or prawn blended into it), and Kalles caviar (objectively delicious).  

I’d personally also put korv, Swedish sausage, in the questionable category. While arguably the national snack food, I find the classic Swedish varmkorv hot dog of considerably poorer quality than their German equivalent. Thank God for falafel rolls. 

I’d make an exception for a tunnbrödsrulle, the flatbread common in northern Sweden which is often used to make a sort of hot dog wrap, with potato, a sausage, crispy fried onions, ketchup and mustard. It justly got a mention.

Salty liquorice (sweets flavoured with ammonium chloride) which came up a lot, is certainly beloved of Swedes, but disliked by many, perhaps most, others.

Also on the borderline was potatisgratäng i en påse, or “potatoes au gratin in a bag”, the supermarket packets of sliced potatoes in a creamy sauce which can be simply poured into a tray and shoved in the oven. 

But Swedish food can also be fresh and delicious, and its cake and pastry-making is often up there with some of the best baking countries. 

The suggestions reflected this, with some readers putting forward truly delicious (and extremely Swedish) treats. 

The ingredients for Janssons Frestelse. Photo: Janerik Henriksson / TT

Obviously, many people mentioned the Swedish staples such as meatballs with lingonberry, Janssons Frestelse, and pickled herring (which is served whenever there’s a celebration, so Easter, Midsummer or Christmas). 

Other delicious Swedish foods mentioned included smörgåstårta, a type of savoury sandwich cake, in which layers of white bread are stuffed with fillings such as prawn, tuna, liver pâté and ham, sometimes all in the same cake. I think it’s fantastic, but it’s not for everyone. 

Dill, the go-to herb the love of which Swedes share with Russia and much of eastern Europe, obviously got tipped.  

As did boiled potatoes, which are often flavoured with it. If they do not seem like something particularly Swedish to you, then you have yet to be initiated into the Swedish secrets of how to cook them properly (prodding them with a provsticka, to get the perfect softness, and then steaming them dry in the pan). You have also probably never tasted the first chestnut-flavoured potatoes of the summer. 

A kladdkaka. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

On the sweet side, the obvious Swedish favourites like kanelbulle cinnamon rolls, got mentioned. 

But there was also nyponsoppa, the rose-hip soup Swedes see as a cure-all for any sneeze or sniffle, ostkaka med saftsås, the Swedish baked cheesecake, and rabarberpaj med vaniljsås, the Swedish rhubarb crumble that is a common summer treat. 

Semla buns, the fluffy buns stuffed with almond paste that are traditionally eaten on Shrove Tuesday but now seem to be eaten throughout the spring, also got a mention. 

I’m not certain if kladdkaka from ICA, the sticky, semi-chewy chocolate cake you buy frozen from all Swedish supermarkets, should be classed as delicious or questionable, but it’s certainly very Swedish. It’s the lagom, “not great, but good enough” option for every late-remembered birthday or office leaving do celebration. It was mentioned by at least one respondent, as was daimtårta, a similarly trashy-but-nice cake made with crushed-up Daim bars. 

Most Swedish habits

One respondent mentioned “sunning yourself in February by closing your eyes and leaning against a wall or in the middle of a park“. There is something very Swedish in the way people will cross the road to walk for a few seconds through a tiny patch of sun.  

On a similar theme, several respondents suggested “eating outside“, noting that their Swedish colleagues would take pack lunches out into the nearest park to eat even in spring when the weather is quite chilly. The same goes for uteserveringar or restaurant terraces, which have sprung up over the last decade, which are often busy from April to October. 

Another respondent wrote “being outside every day, no matter what“, which as a person from rainy Britain, I’d disagree with – although this does fit the popular Swedish saying: finns inget dåligt väder bara dåliga kläder! (There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes!)

In my experience, Swedes tend not to go for a walk or send their kids out to play if it’s raining, whereas Brits very much would (otherwise we’d get no fresh air at all). 

Respondents had a different response to Swedish unsociability, with one noting approvingly “the very Swedish ability not to notice others”, saying that as a disabled woman, it was empowering that no one offered to help her, while another bemoaned the lack of chit-chat with strangers. 

Other Swedish habits that came up were an obsession with the ability to light the most perfect fire when camping, which I would argue is part of a larger cultural phenomenon.

An unusually large proportion of Swedish conversation seems to revolve around detailed instructions on how to perform certain tasks properly, such as insulating a roof, freeing a car trapped in snow, or growing asparagus. 

Another reader mentioned “never carrying cash“, which reflects Sweden’s lead in the shift towards a cashless society. 

Being able to walk on those icy, unsalted sidewalks without slipping and falling“, came up, and this is certainly something Swedes (particularly those living north of about Kalmar) can do effortlessly, and which many foreigners never learn. 

There were other examples cited of Swedes’ easy way with extreme cold, with one pointing out how Swedes use nature as a refrigerator or freezer, sticking food or beer outside their kitchen window, on their balcony, or on the porch. On the same theme, one mentioned cycling on five-metre-thick snow. 

Is snus, Swedish tobacco pouches placed under the lip, a food or a habit? It’s certainly so universal that you will witness even the smart-suited chief executives of Swedish companies jamming their finger into their lip to secure one of the tobacco bags. 

Photo: Janus Langhorn/imagebank.sweden.se

Swedish alcohol habits also came in, with several readers putting forward snaps and singing as extremely Swedish, perhaps this is down to what another reader described as the Swedish dual personality, “drunk and not-drunk”. 

One observant reader noted that in Sweden there is often no music in restaurants, shopping centres, or cafés. To the extent this is true (and it’s not always), this seems to be a result of the importance in Sweden of not imposing oneself on others. 

One person pointed out that pretty much everything closes in July. Swedes value their holidays and the sense of solidarity means that few begrudge a summer break even to bureaucrats, nurses, and shop and café staff. At least in the last two weeks of the month, you’ll struggle to get much government admin done, and you might find your favourite neighbourhood café shuts its doors. 

Several people brought up the Swedish habit of watching Kalle Anka at Christmas, which I think is only the most prominent example of the Swedish love of doing apparently lame things in very large numbers or to a strict routine

Somehow linked to this is the Swedish love of special days for special foods, such as Taco Friday, Lördagsgodis (Saturday sweets), or days like Kanelbullens dag, all of which got mentioned

Most Swedish phrases

One person argued that the most Swedish thing to say was “ah”, with the sound then repeated “100 times when listening to a person talking to you”.
 
The same person suggested Näämen!”, an expression of surprise, as the most Swedish phrase/word imaginable.  Then there’s “jahaaa” to signify a realisation. 
 
Another mentioned the Swedish breathing-in noise for yes Swedes (north of about Uppsala) make to signify agreement. See The Local’s viral video here for an example
 
For me, the word tyvärr, meaning “unfortunately”, is the most Swedish of words, used as it is to tell someone they can’t do something, while avoiding a direct conflict by pointing to some external rule or circumstance.  
 
It’s almost certain in a list like this that we missed out some even more Swedish things. Is there anything else that should be here? Please tell us in the comments below. 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

ECONOMY

EXPLAINED: What can foreigners in Sweden do about the weak krona?

The Swedish Krona last week hit a record low against the dollar, hammering the international buying power of anyone earning their salaries or holding assets in the currency. We asked Johan Löf at Handelsbanken what they can do.

EXPLAINED: What can foreigners in Sweden do about the weak krona?

How low is the krona right now? 

On Tuesday, September 27th, the krona to dollar exchange rate hit an all-time-low of 11.37, easily beating the previous record low for the currency of 11.04, which it reached at the nadir of the dot com bust back in 2001. At the time of the financial crisis in 2008, a dollar would have got you less than 6 kronor, meaning the currency has almost halved in value in less than 15 years. 

A euro now gets you 10.9 kronor, which is not quite a record, with it briefly topping 11.4 in 2009, but more than it has been for most of the past decade. 

The only major currency which is more or less stable against the krona is the pound, which will now buy about 12.39 kronor, down from 13 in February, but above the levels of around 10.5 the pound hit shortly after the UK voted to leave the European Union. 

Why is the krona worth so little? 

Johan Löf, the head of forecasting at the Handelsbanken bank, told The Local, that the krona always tended to take a hit at times of financial uncertainty. 

“The krona is a relatively small currency much like the Swedish economy is a relatively small economy,” he said. “You could compare it to a small boat sailing the big ocean, so when you don’t go on the course that you thought you were going, it can be a bit of a shaky ride,” he said.

“Right now with financial market conditions being volatile, with a lot of uncertainty and risks, the Swedish krona takes a hit. Investors and various agents of the economy don’t want to hold so much of this smaller currency. Instead, they they go to safe havens like the US dollar.

“So even though there are fundamentals that would suggest that the Swedish kroner will strengthen again over time, for the time being and for some foreseeable future, we think that the krona will remain quite weak.”

How are foreigners living in Sweden affected? 

It very much depends on their individual financial situation: which currency they earn their salary in, which currency they hold assets in, and which currencies they have the highest outgoings in. 

People who live and earn in Sweden, but travel regularly to countries with stronger currencies, or perhaps send remittances back to family at home, are likely be negatively affected, Löf said. 

“It makes you lose purchasing power in these other countries: you get fewer goods and less services for the money that you have in the Swedish currency.”

It’s a similar situation for people or small businesses based in Sweden, who need to, or perhaps only want to, buy goods outside of Sweden. 

On the other hand, for people who have substantial savings abroad in dollars or euros, this might be an opportunity to convert them into kronor for use in Sweden.  

“If you have savings abroad, and you feel the need to use some of those savings, when you then sell your foreign currency to buy Swedish kronor, then you will get more Swedish kronor,” Löf explained. 

What can foreigners living in Sweden do to lessen the impact of a weak krona? 

Change the currency in which you get paid 

The best way to protect against currency exchange shocks is to make sure that you’re paid in the same currency that you spend in, so if you live in Sweden but have a lot of your outgoings abroad, it’s an advantage to be paid in dollars or euros. 

If you’re considering getting a new job, perhaps favour international employers that can pay you in one of the major currencies, or if you work for a big international company, perhaps you can ask to be paid in a different currency. 

Get freelance or part-time work outside of Sweden

If you work as a freelancer, or have some spare time for additional work, consider getting part-time freelance gigs with companies abroad that pay in euros or dollars. The lower the krona sinks, the higher your real wage when you spend in Sweden. 

Time major spending for the best point in the market 

If you have savings in kronor and are considering, for instance, buying a holiday house abroad, it is probably worth waiting until the kronor has strengthened and the Swedish economy is back growing strongly. 

Similarly, if you have savings outside of Sweden in euros or in dollars, and have been planning on buying a property in Sweden, now might be a good time to consider doing so (although it may be worth waiting a few months until interest rate rises have been fully reflected in reduced Swedish property prices).

Get a multiple currency account 

It can be helpful to have an account in multiple currencies, such as those provided by banks such as Wise and Revolut. Keeping any cash in a combination of dollars, euros and kronor can reduce your exposure to any single currency. 

The advantage for foreigners living in Sweden is that you can set up US dollar, Euro and Pound accounts, each with their own local bank number, which you can use to receive and make payments domestically in each country. 

With the krona so low right now, it may not be a good idea to convert all your assets from krona to euros or dollars right now, as the currency is probably more likely to strengthen than weaken over the coming year.

SHOW COMMENTS