Before I visited Sweden for the first time in 2006, to help design a B&R trip there, jokes were tossed around the office about how I’d have to dye my hair blonde and find a good pair of blue contact lenses to hide the brown. And my darkish skin? Well, I guess I’d tell everyone I tanned a lot.
Jokes aside, the stale old stereotypes of blonde, hulking Scandinavian he-men and beautiful fair-skinned women are exactly those—stale old stereotypes. Particularly in recent years, with the population demographics of Scandinavia rapidly changing. A school teacher friend in Stockholm—the perfect incarnation of the blonde Swede herself—once told me how in the class she was teaching, composed mostly of immigrant children, she was the only fair-skinned person. This is the new Scandinavia.
My experiences with Swedes and other Scandinavians have been exclusively positive. Though the rubric “Scandinavian” now refers to many different races, creeds and religions, they still seem to share a common Nordic culture. And in many ways, this culture is not unlike my own. Like Canadians, Scandinavians value temperance, order, consideration for others, fairness and avoidance of excess. But with their almost ideal cities—they’re ideal societies—they also seem to practice what they preach a little better than we do.
There is an old Viking tradition in which, at a banquet, everyone drinks from the same cup; and when drinking, one must always think of the others left to drink, and leave enough wine for them.
It is values such as this, rather than the usually toted aggression of the Vikings, that modern Scandinavians seem to have inherited from their warlike ancestors.
I’m always hesitant to write about one culture or another since doing so it’s almost impossible to avoid generalizations, which as soon as you write them feel too rigid and foolish to have any truth to them.
But the stereotype of Scandinavians being beautiful people—and not just physically—has always felt true to me. There are negative sides, of course, to that classic Scandinavian reserve. People from the south of Europe often find them cold, inexpressive; but that’s only because they haven’t been given time to express themselves. They are not quick to effuse—which (and perhaps this is my Canadianness talking) has always felt more real to me. They say it takes time to gain the trust and friendship of a Scandinavian. But once it’s gained it has staying power. It’s something to count on.
Kyl Chhatwal is B&R’s former Regional Director for Sweden. He managed to make a few long-lasting Swedish friendships during his time there. Kyl is currently based in Quebec, where he is a writer and teacher.
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