On our first night in Sweden we decided to venture out to a bar in town called Sturehof that our friend had recommended we go to. It definitely wasn’t anything you’d find in a lonely planet guide – we had to go through a bar, a restaurant, past another bar and up a mysterious stair case to find it. The look of intrigue on the bouncer’s face when we showed our various international driver’s licences confirmed it wasn’t the usual tourist hotspot.
The bar was pretty cool, good music, and more of a chat and dance-a-little vibe – halfway between a lounge bar and a dance club. This was our first real encounter with Swedes, other than those studying on exchange with us. It was like a David Attenborough documentary, as we observed the behaviours of the herd! We certainly noticed that a huge part of the mating ritual was wearing very expensive designer labels, and blatantly being very carefully put-together, despite trying to appear as if they ‘just woke up and threw this on.’ The view from our perch in the raised seating area was almost like flicking through an editorial photo shoot in a fashion magazine.
Given we had had introductory lectures in Denmark about the social norms, behaviours and cultural value of Danes, we were ever so curious as to whether the behavioural patterns we had learned about were similar with the neighbouring Swedes. For example, we had been told (and obversations of the native’s behaviour confirmed) that Danish people are initially considerably more shy and stand-offish than those of many western cultures. One need only see the look of great discomfort on a Dane’s face as he is greeted with kisses by an Italian to have this confirmed. Put a beer in his hand, however, and everything changes, even before he’s taken a sip!
One thing I have certainly noticed, is the difference when you come across someone in the street. In New Zealand it is common to wave and say hi or smile if you are walking past someone and you catch their eye. If you are going for a run and come across another jogger, even more so. You share that mutual look of “I’m pretending to be fit, but really I’m dying inside too.” In Denmark, however, I still haven’t fully gotten this habit out of my system, and everyone looks at me like I’m a total creep when I smile or say hi.
As for Swedes, my friend from Sweden had had a few complaints about Danish behaviour, describing walking through hallways at University as “the laws of the jungle” – I seem to be the only one at school that routinely holds doors open for people as they walk through, and am constantly met with looks of surprise. Ride a full bus and you’ll see them all race for the door at the same time as though someone just pulled the fire alarm. With her surprised reactions at how Danes interact with eachother, we had quite the impression that Swedish people would be much more like what we’re used to (Canadians, it seems, have much the same behavioural patterns and common courtesies as New Zealanders, Americans more of a mixed bag but on the whole pretty polite).*
However, this particular bar turned out to be a terrible place for scientific observations. We arrived close to midnight and hadn’t had much to drink ourselves so most people in the bar where on a whole other. Buying a drink was like being in a moshpit, and there were plenty of scantily clad girls choosing really inconvenient places to dance. However, our one major interraction with native Swedes was when a very drunk one climbed up on the bench a friend was sitting on, lost his balance and landed completely on top of her, before falling on to our table and smashing all of our glasses in to pieces. We were already feeling a little sensitive about how much we had just paid for the drinks (apparently a slice of lemon in this bar makes your drink a cocktail, so stick to the beer and cider). Drunk people fall over all the time, so it wasn’t the fall that gave us the terrible impression. When we pointed out in no uncertain terms that it was neither funny nor endearing to flatten an unsuspecting californian and throw a round of drinks across the bar, instead of the apology you would generally expect in such a situation, the response was an aggressive “What? What do you want?” like he was going to fight me, or paying us off was the solution. I would have been happier with an apology than the most expensive bottle in the bar, to be quite honest. We all commented about how in almost every culture we have experienced, such a reaction would never have occurred, but profuse apologies would have been made instantly.
After many more observations in order to answer the question of the night – “Are they drunk or are they Swedish?” everyone else we meet in our time in Sweden proved the hypothesis that yes, they were drunk, and sadly fell into the unfortunately large category of people that are arseholes when they drink.
Unlike the Danes, it was a lot harder to pigeonhole any particular behavioural patterns of Swedes, apart from the fact that they all dress immaculately.
*Comments about first impressions of Danes are not to be taken to mean Danes aren’t lovely people. Once the ice is broken, Danish people have, in my experience, proved to be incredibly kind, helpful, loyal and friendly!