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Sweden and Swedes

Frida Hallgren, Swedish artist in Berlin. Section.

Swedes are among the well-off Scandinavian peoples. "Important changes have taken place in Sweden in the course of the last 200 years. Sometimes referred to as “the great transformations,” these included the transition to genuine parliamentary democracy, urbanization, industrialization, sweeping changes in farming, and the development of "the people's home," Sweden's version of a welfare state." (Nordstrom 2010:14)

There are several million people with (partly) Swedish ancestry in the United States, especially in Minnesota and Wisconsin. There are also many Swedish Canadians in North America.

Recent genetic analysis shows a noticeable genetic affinity between Swedes and central Europeans, especially Germans (conclusions are also valid for Norwegians). Another study implies that Swedes largely share genetics with Finns.

Only very rarely are foreigners or first-generation immigrants allowed to be nice people in American films. Those with an accent are bad guys. [Max von Sydow (1929-), actor]

Favell Lee Mortimer on Swedes

Favell Lee Mortimer (1802-78) was an English Evangelical author. She was something of a literary superstar to an impressionable audience, both in her native England and beyond. Her descriptions of other cultures are marred by unpleasant stereotypes. The following was published in 1850.


Swedes with bitter-free, creamy-yellow flesh.

Lakes are very useful to the poor Swedes, because they are full of fish. [p. 270]

Even poor people eat five times a day. [p. 270]

There is a . . . custom of drinking a glass of spirits before meals three times a day. This habit is very bad for the health, and shortens the life. [p. 270-71]

You are ready to think the Swedes are a wise and good people. Not so. [p. 271]

Swedes swear also in a dreadful manner, the gentlemen as well as the poor people. [p. 272]

The Swedes are very polite. If you give a little footboy some money, he will say "Tak," and kiss the back of your hand, and then bow gracefully. Even the beggars will show their gratitude by kissing your sleeve or the skirt of your coat. But what is politeness compared to truth and honesty! [p. 273]

As you go along the road you will observe broken windows, unswept yards, torn thatch. It seems as if the people were idle, and cared not for their houses. [p. 273]

There are large forests, in which lone cottages are found - many miles from any town. . . . These poor foresters are not as wicked as the rest of the nation. [p. 274]

The Swedes do not care as much for comforts, as for ornaments . . . they often do without basins, jugs, chests of drawers, curtains, and other useful furniture. [p. 275]

Nothing useful is well done in Sweden. The carpenters and the blacksmiths are very clumsy in their work, but the musicians play beautifully. [p. 275]

Mortimer on Norway and Norwegians

Nothing grieves a Norwegian more than to see a stranger drive his pony too fast. [p. 289]

Sweden, Swedes, as portrayed - END MATTER

Sweden, Swedes, as portrayed, LITERATURE  

Favell Lee Mortimer. The Countries of Europe Described. Philadelphia: Appleton and Co., 1850.

Nordstrom, Byron J. Culture and Customs of Sweden. Oxford: Greenwood Press, 2010.

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