In my job as a trainer and lecturer in cultural difference, I have the privilege of travelling all over the world. On these trips, I often carry out informal surveys on the people I meet to try to understand their perceptions of Swedes. These are usually professional people, male and female, who have some experience of working with Swedes in one way or another. Some of them may have a Swedish boss, others may have Swedish colleagues, subordinates or customers. The majority of the people asked are European.
Very often the same perceptions come back, and it’s interesting that some of the old stereotypes of Swedes still hang in there.
Top 10 stereotypes about Swedes
1. Honest (‘can always trust a Swede’)
2. Unemotional (‘don’t know how they’re feeling or if they’re even interested’)
3. Exotic (‘cold, snow, ice, chilly’)
4. Sexually liberated (‘open-minded and have many partners’)
5. Independant (‘men and women in work place and they travel everywhere’)
6. Slow (‘at deciding things, getting things done and in discussions’)
7. Naive (‘easy to manipulate’)
8. Modern (‘adopt new technology, drive new cars, follow latest trends’)
9. Good-looking and health-conscious (still ‘blonde, blue-eyed, tall’)
10. Arrogant (‘think the Swedish way is the best and only way’)
So are these stereotypes useful? Sure, they are. Firstly, they help us understand how others see us and then we have a choice what we want to do about that. Do we want to act in ways which reinforce the stereotype or in ways which contradict it?
Stereotypes also give us a place to start in our communication with people from other cultures.
But there’s one crucial thing to remember. Every person we meet is an individual. They may be typical of their culture or not.
So we should always try to check our assumptions about each individual and not just presume they are their stereotype.