Njut Lagom! # 5

Feelings are difficult and dangerous!

According to many observers social relationships are particularly problematic among Swedes. This may manifest itself as communication apprehension, reserve, desire for social autonomy, positive attitudes towards loneliness and strict boundaries between private and public life.

Nevertheless, the overall impression about Swedish people is that they lack real joie de vivre. Many describe Swedes as cold and that they display a certain stiffness of manner in their relations with others. They do not laugh and make jokes as much as, for example, Americans. This observation by many foreigners contrasts paradoxically with the common notion held by Swedes who perceive themselves as cheerful (“glad”).

However remarkable is the fact that Swedes do not show what they feel very openly, whether it be joy or sorrow. This may be explained by the fact that most Swedish people are afraid to show their feelings openly, because they are unsure what others are going to think about them. In a low-context culture the individual believes that he generally knows other people. By the same token, he is convinced that he himself can be judged. Consequently, Swedes seem to reflect a great deal on what they would like to say, how to say it and when, how other people may react, etc, before they actually say it – if they decide to do so at all (Åke Daun. Svensk Mentalitet.1994). In general Swedes are afraid to look “wrong”, inappropriate and “say the wrong thing”. In order to prevent their true inner self from being seen, they wear a mask. Most likely they try to look “cool”, “laid-back” and “as anybody else”. Typical of the Swede is to be very calm and rarely do something impulsively or spontaneously.

This phenomenon is probably part of a more general cultural complex: a tendency among Swedes to interpret all behavioral elements (what to do and say, how to look and dress, etc) as true signs of their social identity. Therefore, a Swede has to be careful about what he says, so that he (or she) will be judged as he would like to be. This is a sign of a low-context culture in which people tend to think that everything is interrelated and that most other people express their ideas and feelings in the same way as they do themselves (Åke Daun. Svensk Mentalitet.1994)

Herbert Hendin writes “Being quiet and calm is something of a Swedish ideal” (1964:67) The high degree of quietness in Sweden can be explained by a number of circumstances. The relatively high rate of introversion among Swedes. This would also account for the indifferent attitude of many Swedes. Swedes do not seem prone to ask questions in a conversation and tend to avoid deep and elaborate discussions outside their family and circle of close friends.

Swedish sociologist Christina Skogsberg says, “Feelings are difficult and dangerous. Emotions disrupt and threaten our rational life. Emotions should be isolated, channeled and hidden away.”


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