Although Scandinavia can seem like one monolithic entity, Swedes, Danes, Norwegians, Finns, and Icelandic people have distinct identities. The individual perspectives they have of one another can help better understand some of these differences. What, for example, do the Swedes think of Norwegians?
Swedes think of Norwegians as cheerful and open-minded people but also naive, rustic, and stupid. On a more superficial level, Swedes consider Norwegians beautiful. They also think that Norwegian as spoken by Norwegians sounds too cute to take seriously.
The following article will briefly delve into the long shared history of the two countries to better explain how such attitudes came about and explain where relations between the two nations stand today.
Why Do Some Think That Swedes Don’t Like Norwegians?
Some people think that Swedes don’t like Norwegians because of the centuries-old regional competition between the two nations. Sweden has been the dominant Scandinavian power for much of this history. However, in recent years, Norway has pulled ahead, upping the stakes in fraternal rivalry.
Norway was subsumed by either Sweden or Denmark for much of the last millennium. After 400 years as a Danish territory, Sweden claimed Norway in 1814 and ruled by it for almost a century more. So, the relationship between Sweden and Norway is rooted in a past of Swedish dominance over the Norwegians.
The Norwegians finally broke away from Sweden only as recently as 1905. On that occasion, the two nations almost went to war before Sweden relented to Norwegian demands for independence.
Since then, the two countries have enjoyed friendly relations. Despite this, there has been a running rivalry between the two neighbors.
Historically, Sweden has been the dominant power in the neighborhood. It is the largest, most populous, and most culturally significant Scandinavian country. As the regional industrial powerhouse, it has also been the wealthiest nation in the region for much of this time.
Due to their overwhelming dominance of the region, Swedes have attracted resentment from Norwegians and other Scandinavians. Their neighbors look upon Sweden as the “Big Brother” in their neighborhood and consider Swedes arrogant and uptight people. In turn, Swedes take a condescending attitude toward their Scandinavian neighbors.
However, since oil was discovered off the Norwegian coast in the 1960s, the tables have been turned. Norway’s economy has thrived, making it one of the richest nations in the world. These changes have transformed the relationship between the two neighbors.
Today, many Swedes travel to Norway to find more lucrative jobs than they can find in their home cities in Sweden. This dramatic reversal of the power equation between the two nations has engendered some resentment. Sometimes, it can give the impression that Swedes do not like Norwegians.
Are Norway and Sweden Allies Today?
Norway and Sweden are close allies today. The two countries are bound together by formal organizational commitments, as well as significant trade and cultural exchange. Citizens are also permitted to travel passport-free between the two countries, and many live and work across the border.
Along with Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Greenland, Åland, and the Faroe Islands, Sweden and Norway are both part of the Nordic Council.  Established in 1952, the Nordic Council fosters cooperation between the different Scandinavian countries to improve economic and cultural ties between them.
Since the 1950’s citizens of the Scandinavian countries have been able to travel without a passport between countries. Many Swedes live and work in Norway and vice versa. Others marry foreign citizens, extending kinship networks across borders.
Scandinavians are very familiar with each other’s languages. They watch the same movies and read the same books. The cultural bonds between the different countries in the region are strong and built on centuries of exchange and cooperation.
The rivalry between Swedes and Norwegians is based on close bonds of cooperation and not on deep-seated hostility. As relatively minor powers in post-war Europe, they have had to cooperate closely for their mutual benefit. Thus, their relationship is more akin to a sibling rivalry than the jostling between two opposed great powers.
The strength of these ties between Sweden and Norway was tested when Sweden joined the European Union in 1995. As Norway was not a part of the EU, this threatened to disrupt cross-border exchange between the two countries.
Ultimately, Sweden and Norway signed an agreement with the EU to ensure minimum impediments to easy cross-border exchange.
Today, citizens continue to move freely between Norway and Sweden. The two countries cooperate closely on a range of matters, both through the Nordic Council and outside it. Finally, cultural and economic ties between the two Scandinavian neighbors continue to remain strong.
Are Swedes Friendly People?
Foreigners complain that Swedes are not friendly people, but the Swedes disagree. According to them, the caricature of the rude Swede is based on a misunderstanding of what constitutes unfriendliness in different cultures. What the Swedes consider polite is construed as rude by foreigners.
Many foreigners consider Swedes rude because they are less expressive than people they have met in other countries. They complain that Swedes do not enjoy unfamiliar company or the pleasures of casual conversation. And that this gives them the impression that Swedes are arrogant and aloof.
Swedes protest that their supposed unfriendliness is a case of cultural misunderstanding. They claim that behavior that foreigners see as rude is considered perfectly reasonable when seen through the lens of traditional Swedish culture.
Swedish culture has great respect for personal space. It is traditionally more reserved compared to many cultures and centered on close personal ties. Perhaps this is because of the low density of population, large landmass, and limited cultural exchange of its early history.
For these reasons, Swedes value meaningful conversation and are less inclined to engage in the meaningless pleasantries that people have now come to expect when traveling. If anything, Swedes consider it impolite to waste someone’s time with frivolous conversation.
This traditional reserve, which for Swedes is a marker of politeness, has been misread by foreigners as unfriendliness.
Swedes think of Norwegians as their friendly next-door neighbors. While negative stereotypes of Norwegians do exist, the two countries continue to forge closer ties.