When I came to Sweden, I took a voluntary course about the Swedish Culture and Society. I was interested to learn what makes Sweden the country that it is. How come my country is not like Sweden?
By experiencing Sweden in real life, attending these lectures, and with the help of research done by Hofstede-Insights, I started to understand why the situation might be like it is. In this blog, I will summarise four Swedish values that I believe are the ones that shape the country to a certain degree. I am not taking into consideration many other factors that might affect the country’s situation such as the political situation, war, natural catastrophes, or religious beliefs. By no means do these values reflect every person in the country but they do allow a certain overview of what might be different in Sweden than elsewhere.
The first value represents the degree of independence among the members of society. Sweden scores high in individuality. I believe this describes most of the Swedish people. They look after themselves and their family. That is why they seem a bit cold to some. Although this might be true in certain cases, more often they are caring. The Swedes I’ve met are some of the most polite people. They will offer you help whenever you need it. They typically do not consider it polite to care about other people’s business unless it is a close person or they are invited to do so. Respecting each other’s individuality and privacy should be a part of a healthy society.
I come from a country where it often feels like everybody knows everything about everybody. Privacy is often disturbed by either gossips or constant interactions with strangers. I am used to taking the train and discussing topics such as politics with the stranger sitting next to me. In Sweden, this is very unusual which has its benefits. You can go on with your day without feeling the constant worry about what people think about you. No matter who you are or where you come from. And this type of independence can be very compelling.
Such a strange name for this category, in my opinion. Masculinity shows the road to success. When the country’s focus is on competition – winner takes all, it’s considered masculine (high score). When people prefer the increasing quality of life of all individuals – caring about others, it’s called feminine (low score).
This is something that makes Sweden stand out. The extremely low score in this category reflects the situation in the country. It is one of the reasons why Sweden managed to maintain the work-life balance. The goal is for everyone to have the same opportunities and have a high quality of life. With free healthcare, education (for EU and Swedish citizens), parental leave, and the overall governmental support, it is not that ‘far’ to achieve.
To collaborate, rather than compete.
I found this mainly in the university environment. People, teachers, and students, caring for everyone to thrive. During classes, group work is encouraged. And I honestly believe this is one of the key points. When students learn to discuss things and collaborate during their studies, it becomes easier to use this approach when dealing with real-life problems in the company or the government.
‘Power distance’ talks about equality. Something Sweden is more than famous for nowadays. Specifically equality in the school or work environment. Sweden is known for having quite informal relationships within a school or work. I suppose there is a hierarchical order in certain companies. The employees are expected to naturally respect the authority. But the authority is also respectful towards its employees. If that’s not the case, the people will speak up and their voices will be heard.
Similarly at the university, for example, we call the teachers by their first names. The same way they refer to us. It doesn’t mean that we are undermining their authority. It just indicates that we are all equal. As a result, we treat each other equally.
In Slovakia, the ‘power distance’ is very high. It means that not only do people in higher positions, those in power, have certain privileges but a majority of people also accepts it that way. We are often taught to respect those who are older, who are in a better financial situation or at higher positions regardless of what kind of a person it is. I truly appreciate that in Sweden, we have a choice, and respect eventually is rather earned than given automatically.
The last value I chose to consider is ‘indulgence’. It describes how much people tend to make decisions based on their desires and wants. Interestingly, the USA scored similarly to Sweden – quite high. I feel like norms in countries with low scores in this area are more definite. People in these countries do not typically break the norms. In Sweden, it is different. Often, people look for their own path through life. Freedom of choice gives them many opportunities. That is why they are able to maintain a work-life balance. It is also one of the reasons why Sweden attracted me. Having the opportunity to take the path I want and not be judged for it by society.
But of course, indulgences such as Fika breaks and cinnamon buns are not bad either. I recommend trying them out. 😍
For the people who identify with these values, Sweden might just be the right place to settle. It is a place that combines equality with freedom of choice, safety, and open-mindedness. That is why so many fell in love with it.
But understandably developing these values in Sweden took some time. It was a combination of luck and the right people making the ‘good’ decisions at the right time. However, analysing and learning from the Swedish values might enable us to become those right people who will make the right decisions for our countries. Let me know in the comments your opinions about these values or whether you identify with them too.
Learn more about living as a student in Sweden from our youtube. 🙂