The Swedish Culture of Respect and Integrity

Hejhej! As DU and the US steps away from Covid restrictions, I’ve spent the past two months living in a country that (with a lot of international ridicule) never placed a lot of Covid restrictions on its inhabitants. While so much has happened in these two months that it feels like a lifetime, I believe that the omnipresent coronavirus is a good place to start in terms of culture shock I’ve experienced while in Lund. In many ways, the Scandinavian countries have embraced US culture and do a lot to mimic it. Because of this, I haven’t experienced culture shocks very often. But in terms of Covid, Lund and Denver couldn’t be more different. I still receive all of the emails from DU mentioning the return to campus protocols, the flu and covid vaccine requirements, and the underlying effort to mitigate this disease even as we enter a post-covid world. Alternatively, Lund included one paragraph at the end of a welcome email about staying home when sick and that I could chose to wear a mask if I felt more comfortable. Other than this, the university and society hasn’t concerned themselves with requirements or strongly worded advice. While this may seem irresponsible (and some of the Covid case data may support that), talking with Swedes about their coronavirus response has been one of the most insightful conversations into their cultural values. Most Swedes believe that it is the individual’s responsibility to help society and not spread the disease. Instead of the government making demands, it is the people who chose to protect one another.

This social responsibility is something that shows up over and over within Sweden. Beyond the pandemic, I have been shocked at the number of bikes around Lund that aren’t locked. Everyone warns that bike theft is the most common crime, yet the Swedes still leave their bikes unlocked during class or meetings. Why? Because there is a social responsibility to one another. This shows up in even more situations. The Swedish queue is something that other international students and I roll our eyes at, yet Swedes will stoically stand in line with their number for almost anything. One of my friends from class was in an online queue for his apartment in Malmö for 15 months. He didn’t find this strange at all, and was simply happy to get his apartment when he did. Queues exist for small things to, like waiting in line for the bank or for a cash register at the store. You simply walk in, grab your ticket with a number, and patiently wait around until they call your number. I can’t imagine the issues this would cause in the US. Rather than a selfish society focused on what is best for themselves, the Swedes are content to patiently wait so that everyone gets their chance. If I were busier, I could see becoming aggravated by the lack of efficiency within this situation. However, the work-life balance that Sweden embraces means that I have time to wait in line for 30 minutes and that my call can be on hold behind 14 other people.

This has been the largest culture shock for me during my first two months in Sweden, though interacting with locals helps me understand the benefits of this social responsibility style of interaction. There is something comforting about being surrounded by a community that is looking out for one another in most situations. I believe that this respect also ties into the value that Swedes’ place on integrity. Despite Sweden’s tendency to mimic the US on the surface level, they have managed to maintain their deeper moral values. I look forward to experiencing more of these values as I explore the Swedish culture for the rest of the year! Hejdå!


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