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One of my favorite things about living in a culture different than your own is all the small changes. Now there are a lot of noticeable ones too, such as the fika, godis, and snus. But some time the smallest thing a culture different than yours may do that just makes you smile. Or frown. In any case for me, the little things add up to be bundles of joy when they still make you raise an eyebrow no matter how many times you see it.

Here are a few of the little things I have found in the Swedish culture; some bad, others good. A bit of a disclaimer, my experience in Sweden is limited to mainly Norrland, so these could be only Norrlander little things.

Swedes

Excuse Me?

Swedes are some of the politest people I know. They are helpful, smile, and you never get that “I’m not very happy but am smiling because otherwise my boss will yell at me” feeling. So the first time a Swede lightly bumped into me to get by without a word, I was a little surprised. The second time I thought it was odd it happened again. And the third time I realized it was normal.

Yes, at least here in Norrland “Excuse me” when you are trying to get by someone is not part of the vocabulary! It is not as though the Swedes are particularly rude. They usually touch you slightly just to let you know to get out of the way or to squeeze by. But never a word is uttered. After living in two countries where “excuse me” is the norm, I find this highly surprising! Sometimes it is a little annoying. Just let me know I’m in your way and I will happily step aside! But in the end, it is one of those little things that makes me smile when I think of it.

Are you having trouble breathing?

Now this is a fun one, and it is specific to Norrland, at least that is what the Swedes in Norrlandtell me, though I have heard it uttered down south as well.

Usually in English when someone is speaking to you, you nod you head in approval or say “uh huh”, “yep”, “sure” or something of the sort. In Sweden one sucks in air. Yep, that is it. There “yep” or when they want to agree with you in general is a sucking noise.

I remember when my friend in Czech Republic (who has a similar obsession with Sweden) told me this. At first I didn’t believe him. But then I was hanging with my Swede and his friends, and sure enough there was sucking in air going on in the conversation! The weirdest thing ever! I try to do it when I speak Swedish but I end up always doing it at the wrong time. Suppose I will get it eventually!

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