Shutterstock/ Jeanette Dietl
You might already know this one, especially if you read our article on 10 countries where you didn’t know they spoke English, but about 86 percent of Swedes are at least semi-fluent in the language. Of course they all have accents (which I now adore) and a few didn’t know the English translations for some food items or expressions, but all five seemed comfortable conversing in English, and a couple mentioned that this is the case with friends and family too — confirming the language skills aren’t just reserved for the “random Swedes.”
Since we generally called between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. Swedish time (the country is six hours ahead of America’s East Coast), we started by asking each Swede what he or she had had for lunch, and was planning to have for dinner. All but one mentioned seafood. Lars had broccoli soup with salmon and cod (and said his favorite food is prawns), for instance, and Marcus had fish, but didn’t know the name in English. Even Tove, who was the odd one out who didn’t have or plan to have seafood at all that day, jumped at the chance to talk about fish when I brought it up. “I love it,” she said. “We eat it often… and I really like fresh fish and shrimp.” In fact, she said her favorite food is mackerel (makrill, in Swedish) with potatoes, butter, and spinach (spinet).
Looking to make some Swedish food yourself? Try this recipe for a Swedish standard, prawns on toast (toast Skagen), or this one for pickled mackerel and beet salad (Inlagd makrill med rödbetssallad), or this one for salmon and cod soup, which is very similar to Lars’s lunch.
Shutterstock/ Nickola Che
One of the other things that was very obvious in regard to the answers about food was that almost all of it was healthy, and no one talked about going out to eat that day. “People are very interested in cooking,” Joakim said. In fact, the unhealthiest dish mentioned was fried fish, which isn’t even all that bad, relatively speaking. In addition to the aforementioned answers, Joakim had noodles and meatballs and Tove had chicken and potatoes with a salad. She planned to have a light meal of fruit, yogurt, and muesli later in the evening.
Ali had a bit more to say after reporting that he had salad and roast beef for lunch. “In general we’re just very conscious of what we eat,” he explained. “It’s low carb, no trans fats, high protein, good fat... So it’s none of that processed food.” He’s aware of the typical (or stereotypical) American diet though, and had some fun with this topic by flipping the question back to me. “Is it like what I believe it is — like really huge meals and no one [cares] and every American is fat?” Ali asked, laughing. “Is there chicken wrapped in bacon, or stuff like that?”
Thinkstock/ Nick Starichenko
Given that FIKA is the latest coffee trend to hit America, I had to ask if coffee is as popular in Sweden as one might think. It is. “Nearly everyone drinks coffee,” Tove said. In fact, she even brought up fika — not the chain, but the concept in Swedish culture, describing it as “[taking] coffee and something to eat. We like to drink coffee a lot,” she added, laughing.
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I asked each Swede what his or her favorite international foods were, and everyone had an answer without needing to give it much thought. Lars loves Lebanese food (“It’s very fresh. I don’t normally like lamb… but they spice it in a way that makes it very positive for me”), and also Tex-Mex (which he feels is superior to Mexican food), as well as Vietnamese, Thai, and Chinese. Joakim enjoys Cantonese cuisine; Tove likes Italian, Mexican, and anything grilled or barbecued; Marcus is into pizza; and Ali likes anything spicy. “Indian food and Indonesian food, in particular,” he said. “That’s the one thing we don’t eat in Sweden; we don’t eat spicy food for some reason. We just don’t have that in our culture.”
The first thing almost everyone wanted to talk about was how nice the weather is. This wasn’t just small talk, though; as it was mentioned because it affects the Swede’s plans for the day. “It’s warm here today [so] I’m going out in the forest to drive my motorbike,” Tove said happily. Even when I first asked Lars about food, his mind was elsewhere. “I just have to tell you that we have fantastic weather at the moment,” he said. “I was just down to the Atlantic Ocean to swim.” Ali, for his part, said he’s a sprinter, and is currently deep into his training.
Shutterstock/ Bogdan Sonjachnyj
Lars goes to the U.S. about 10 times every year (and loves the steak here), as well as the U.K., but that’s mostly for work. Joakim has been traveling to Central America for 25 years, in addition to Asia and Africa, and recently got back from the Philippines. “We’re a traveling crowd in Sweden,” he said. “People travel a lot.” Tove agreed with this. “This year I have been in Italy to ski, and Croatia,” she said. “And I’m going to Norway to ski, and to Italy [again] in autumn because my daughter will be studying there.” Ali spent four months last year backpacking through Asia, and he hopes to go back this year. “We are a traveled people,” he said.
Shutterstock/ a katz
Ali started off making a joke when I said I was Matt, calling from New York. “Is this Donald Trump calling from New York,” he cracked. “Don’t you have a presidential campaign to attend to? Are you going to make America great again?” He also said he feels bad for Americans because of the election decision they’ll have to make, adding that he doesn’t trust Hillary Clinton at all either, for many reasons. “It’s the lesser of two evils,” he said. Ali added that he’s a big Bernie Sanders fan, but it’s unfortunate that the election will likely end up as a two-way race between Trump and Clinton. “You’ll have to fall in line and make a pledge to the god–emperor Trump and build that wall,” he said sarcastically, laughing.
Even Lars, when talking about the friendliness of Swedish people, used the analogy, “We don’t have any Donald Trump people.”
Shutterstock/ Gelpi JM
The only gripe I heard, other than about the lack of spicy food, was the fact that some Swedes can be shy. “Sometimes the people don’t even talk to each other,” Ali said. “So if you actually want to talk to people, you have to talk to people who are not Swedish. When you know them, they are very nice — but if you don’t know them, they are a bit hard to get to know.” A good example of this was my conversation with Marcus, which was short, and also full of extremely short answers. Here’s an example of Marcus’s responses to my questions about what he had for lunch, what his favorite international food is, what other cuisines he likes, and what he likes about living in Sweden: “fish,” “pizza,” “I don’t know,” and “the people.” When pressed for more information on the last question, he said, “Everyone is nice.” We wrapped after that.
Everybody else I spoke to was quite talkative. Of course, these are all people who openly volunteered to repeatedly talk on the phone to complete strangers.
We already know people can be honest and nice, from Ali and Lars, who also wanted to praise the equality of the country, on both large and small scales. Lars said men are expected to do as much around the house as women. There’s also very little corruption, he explained. The college application process is entirely based on grades, and has nothing to with connections, and almost all financial records are public record too.
The random Swedes really seem to like their home country, and all had plenty of nice things to say. “It’s really lovely for swimming and eating good shellfish and fish,” Joakim said. “Stockholm is really beautiful, [especially] on summer nights. It’s a nice, slow-paced country.”