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Scandinavian Stereotypes

Scandinavian female stereotype

Revealed! The truths and the myths of widely-held views about Scandinavian people.

What comes into your mind when you hear the word Scandinavia? Is your view of the Nordic people defined from experience? Or is it defined by things your parents told you, or what you've seen in the media or read online?

Let's take a look in detail at some of the most common perceptions of people from this fascinating region.

A question of perspective

Stereotyping of Scandinavian people differs greatly depending on your perspective. Most foreign generalisations of the region's people paint them as wealthy, rational, and perhaps even boring, with very little differences seen between the three nationalities.

Nordic Viking history

Yet step inside the region, and you’ll be surprised. Norwegian stereotypes about the Swedes and Danes are just as strong as the external perspectives of Scandinavians in general, and the same holds true from the perspective of the Swedes and Danes.

Scandinavian jokes

Scandinavian jokes featuring “the Swede, the Dane and the Norwegian” are commonplace in schools. As depicted in this excellent long-running web comic, the typical Swede is rich, arrogant, and tech-savvy.

The typical Dane is usually seen as a slightly decadent hedonist, with a can of beer never far from reach. The typical Norwegian is depicted as an uneducated jumper-wearing country bumpkin, always with a fish close at hand.

The Scandinavian flags

It should come as no surprise really. It’s impossible to discuss the history of one without mentioning the others within a couple of sentences. There have been political unions, wars, and contested boundaries in the region since the Medieval era.

Although this article deals with stereotypes from a global perspective, it’s important to remember this, especially when you get into a conversation with a local! Now, let’s take a closer look at some of the most popular Scandinavian stereotypes. Which ones are true, and which ones are myths? Let’s find out!

Blonde hair, blue eyes

Perhaps the most popular stereotype about the region’s population is that everyone – men and women – is blonde-haired and blue-eyed. This is perhaps the biggest myth of them all! It is true that the percentage of blonde-haired people is a little higher in Scandinavia than in the rest of the world, but it is a long way from being a majority.

A female Scandinavian

Like elsewhere in Europe, Norwegians, Danes and Swedes have a range of hair and eye colours. There are two theories as to why many Scandinavians have blonde hair.

One popular theory is it was caused by genetic mutations as a result of the lack of sunlight once humans began to spread north. Another more controversial theory has it that blonde hair began to develop in Scandinavia as a result of sexual selection, as it was deemed more attractive.

Whatever the truth, it’s thought likely that the Viking travels from the late eighth century onwards is what helped to spread the distinctive hair colour throughout Europe. So if you're blonde on top, you may have the Vikings to thank for it!

They're all socialists

The Nordic model is perhaps one of the most misunderstood economic systems in the world.

Norwegian ballot box

Far from being socialists states, the three Scandinavian countries are in fact principally free market capitalist economies. What defines the Nordic model is the comprehensive welfare state and collective bargaining layered on top.

As for politics, from 2013-2017 Norway had a ruling centre-right coalition, which was re-elected (albeit with some additional support from the centrist Liberal party) through until 2021. Assuming the government stays functional, that will be eight full years without left wing representation at the highest level of Government.

In Sweden, a coalition led by the Social Democrats has been in power since 2014, but it is one of the weakest minority governments in the country's history. Since 2015, the Prime Minister of Denmark has been Lars Løkke Rasmussen, the leader of the centre-right Venstre party.

The people are rude

This one divides opinion, and with good reason! Many academic studies have been done into Nordic behavioural patterns, and the results are fascinating.

Rude Scandinavians

While we’re not going to dive into detail here, the results can be easily summarised as a cultural misunderstanding. Behaviour that Scandinavians perceive as polite – such as not bothering a stranger with small talk – is perceived by some foreigners as standoffish and rude.

Read more: Are Norwegians rude?

A researcher from NHH’s Department of Professional and Intercultural Communication finds no support whatsoever for a universal standard of politeness in her studies. “No, Norwegians are polite. We don’t bother other people unnecessarily. We don’t ask for help unless we feel we really need to. To us, that’s being polite,” she told Science Nordic.

All Scandinavians are wealthy

Norway is a wealthy nation because of oil and gas, whereas the Swedish economy was built on copper and steel. One thing all three countries have in common is that the government, unions, businesses and people work together for the greater good.

Scandinavian oil wealth

It also depends, of course, on your definition of the word ‘wealthy'. While salaries are relatively high in Scandinavia, so is the cost of living. Every citizen knows there is a safety net there should they lose their job, become unable to work through injury, or fall seriously ill.

Because of the high cost of living, it's normal for both people in a relationship to work. The excellent support for new parents and priority of children in Nordic society means taking time off to have children is not a problem.

So while every individual Scandinavian isn't rich, there are a lot less people struggling to make ends meet than in certain other developed countries.

Everyone’s house looks like an IKEA showroom

Come on now, IKEA is Swedish after all! In case you were wondering, there are 24 IKEA stores in Sweden, nine in Norway, and five in Denmark.

Danish LEGO kitchen

Scandinavian homes tend to skew smaller than you'd get in the United States, for example. This means no space is wasted and clever storage solutions are utilised wherever possible. So while not everyone shops at IKEA, the functional style of furniture made famous by the furniture store is certainly a feature of many Scandinavian homes.

Remember those intra-Scandinavian stereotypes we talked about earlier? Let's finish with a joke.

A Norwegian, Swede and a Dane are travelling the ocean, but soon find themselves shipwrecked on a remote island. Just as the three Scandinavians wonder how they will survive, a genie appears and grants each of them a wish. Without a moment's hesitation, the Swede says, “I want to go home to my large bungalow, Volvo, and slick IKEA furniture.”

He vanishes, so the Dane says, “I want to go back to my cozy little Copenhagen apartment, to relax on my sofa with my sexy girlfriend and six-pack of beer.

As he too disappears, the Norwegian ponders what to do. Finally, he says, “I'm really lonely now, so I wish for my two friends to come back.”

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Scandinavian Stereotypes: The truths and myths of the Nordic world.

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About the Author: David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a freelance writer for technology companies in Scandinavia.

26 Comments

  1. I’m an Indian, lived in Norway, recently traveled to Sweden & Norway ( cruise from West coast to Nordland) and spent five weeks. Great places , people. Lived there until well 1987 , still feel at home. Language, neither was nor is a problem. Managed for ten years and have same proficiency today. Love 💕 Nordic , especially Norway 🇳🇴

  2. That’s a slight variant of my favorite Scandinavian joke, best told in an exaggerated Nordic accent, “Aye vish dose tew guys vas back here.” As a Minnesotan who has lived in Norway, that’s not too difficult. And during my family’s Norwegian sojourn, of my son’s closest school chums, exactly one was stereotypically blonde/blue.

  3. Love the joke.
    My Norwegian behaviors must be in the DNA as I am 3 rd generation from the Norwegian immigrants. Uffda I said too much already.

  4. Great article! I live in Fargo, ND and have Norwegian ancestry. I can confirm that the blonde hair/blue eye stereotype is very much believed in these areas to be a fact instead of a myth!
    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Lived in Norway 14 years and thoroughly enjoyed the Norwegian/Swedish jokes! always miss it and wish I am back there

    1. So why are you not back? Are you in the US to save them? They are smart guys, they don’t need saving. Although European authorities could help a little bit. Take a more responsibility for the rights of our relatives over there in the US.

  6. Great article and joke. Toured Norway , my ancestral homeland, I am 100%
    Norwegian 🇳🇴. Originally from northern Minnesota, and oh yeah, I have the accent people tell me. Myself and lot of my 57 first cousins are or were blue eyed and blonde, but certainly not all. I read these Norwegian articles and now I am craving Lefse, and none in the house, Uffda./

    1. Neither am I a Norwegian, nor live there now, but love the country and the original attitude, people have. Have enjoyed my decade long stay and every visit now.

    2. Love sharing my maiden name with you. The Canadian Hegge family from Thunder Bay are descendants of Theodore Nicolaison Hegge and Maren Mortensdatter from Norway. They were married in Steinkjer near Trondheim, Norway in the early 1900s and came to Canada shortly after. There has been a word here and there that there was more family in Minnesota. TN and Maren had 5 children, 3 born in Norway, and 2 in Canada. Maren came after TN, in 1912, and missed boarding the Titanic as one of the kids had Chicken pox!

  7. Born and bread in Oslo, but left when I was 20 in the swinging sixties and since lived in London for 45 years and Malta for 5 years.
    Even the Norwegians are very different, either coming from Eastern Norway, the west coast or northern Norway. Compared to British they are rude, never or hardly ever saying please and thank you.
    Now at the age of 70, I am going back to Oslo for the last part of my life.
    I am still blond and green eyed

    1. Wov, you are considered rude if you don’t thank for the dinner or for the help you receive. It is time you get home. You know what happens to Norwegians who stays too long in Sweden, they lose the touch with reality and acquire all sorts of strange opinions. When they visit home, they think they speak Norwegian, but actually speaks some sorts of Swedish. Staying abroad too long is dangerous, environmentally dangerous, It gives you a skewed perception. You start to think it is normal that four-five persons own most of the country. And that a country can be run without taxes. Or that a whale is some kind of human. Welcome home. 😉

  8. I’m of Norwegian descent and believe that the Reformation in the 1500s, when the Danish King banished the Catholic Church, has much to do with the evolution of the Scandinavian mind set. No authoritarian church administering and taxing the locals. Think about it a little.

    1. Wov, you are considered rude if you don’t thank for the dinner or for the help you receive. It is time you get home. You know what happens to Norwegians who stays too long in Sweden, they lose the touch with reality and acquire all sorts of strange opinions. When they visit home, they think they speak Norwegian, but actually speaks some sorts of Swedish. Staying abroad too long is dangerous, environmentally dangerous, It gives you a skewed perception. You start to think it is normal that four-five persons own most of the country. And that a country can be run without taxes. Or that a whale is some kind of human. Welcome home. 😉

  9. I am Norwegian heritage, Holidayed in Norway, would love to live there,lack of money keeps me tied in Canada. someday maybe??? Dream on. elis

    1. No, Fennoscandinavia is not Scandinavia. If you’re a Finn, then you probably should know the difference. I’m from the US and I know the difference, even with our trash school system in comparison.

  10. Many years ago when I was young, I asked my Grandmother why Her and I had brown hair not blond like my Dad’ Her Son’. She told me We were spacial because we were “Norwegian Coffee! ” It made me feel very special.

  11. I was married to a Norwegian and enjoyed going to Oslo 3 times. I am from Canada. I found the people to be friendly. It is a beautiful country and I would love to visit Oslo again but also some other cities while I am there.Judie

  12. Great article my parents were norwegian and proud of it yes they immigrated but were proud to be come canadians and worked hard to make life good!

  13. I am of Norwegian descent on my mother’s side. Her grandfather, Ener Andreas Timandsen Lund , was born on Lund farm at Eftelot ((Sandsvaer) Norway and migrated to the United States in 1869 along with his brother, Anund, and sister, Maren Eline. In 1871 he married Sophia Helina Stenbek who was also born in the Sandsvaer region of Norway. They both died near Pelican Rapids, Minnesota and are buried at Bagstevold cemetery north of Erhard, Minnesota. They had nine children, one of whom was my grandfather, Gustav E. Lund. I own a copy of a book, “Lund Family – 20 Generations (1370-1975)” , by Leonard M. Lund, which was published in 1976 (Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 76-12113). I was lucky enough to inherit blond hair and blue eyes, although some credit must be given to my Swedish/German paternal ancestry. Unfortunately, I have not been lucky enough to visit Norway, the home of my mother’s ancestors!

  14. My father’s parents came over on the boat to Brooklyn NY … he was born here w his 5 siblings….my mother, her sister & brother came over on boat when she was 6 yrs… Mom & brother was a platinum Blonde/blue eyes like their Dad ..her Mom had dark brown hair/eyes..
    Dad had black curly hair his parents had brown hair … my sister & I born w blonde hair/blue .. brother had brown hair/green eyes 😊
    Wonderful kind hard working people all ❤️

  15. Have you noticed that Denmark is connected to Germany? Not to the Scandinavian peninsula?
    But if you look at Finland then you will see that a part of the country is a part of the Scandinavian peninsula. And we have some common history with Finland. Since Finland and Sweden was one country for a long time. I just mention it. It does not mean that I think the Danes is Germans. It seems the German has been a little bit confused regarding that matter through history. It is claimed that logic is not a particularly strong trait in the human family. Perhaps it could explain what has happened with the definitions.

  16. Have lived in Norway for over 3 years now. From New York City. From my perspective the Norwegian people are stiff and superior and not at all relaxed or open to change. Their society is absolutely conformist and all the young girls dress exactly alike and the young men too. Older middle-aged women become very manly and have a very stern look in their eyes. You feel as if people are looking at you with critical eyes judging you. It is extremely uncomfortable. The recent grand displays of wealth makes one long to be back in American and around normal people. Sorry Norway. I know you have a lot of money but the lack of creativity and freedom for artist-types is just too constraining. I am planning my escape. Meanwhile liberal posts on Facebook talk about how great Scandinavian countries are. They just have no idea what they are talking about. Money isn’t everything.

  17. A true Scandinavian person here! Born in Denmark, my mom is Norwegians and my father is a mix between Danish and Swedish 😅 my family and i moved to Norway when i was 14 years, and i can say that this is all true! Altough, maybe just my family and friends, but unless you venture off into Oslo (never do that) many People are in fact blond, and most Norwegians have blue/green/grey Eyed! Yes many People have Brown hair too, but it is often a Light to medium Brown! Very rarly do you see a dark headed Scandinavian ❤️ love to all! And yes not looking or taking, just quickly smiling at a stranger, or say hmm hmm excuse me if you need something from a stranger is Very polite here! Same as we do love our hygiene and it is seen as polite to shower and not smell, same with bad breath, not very polite having bad breath while talking to someone, we Even have a little teethbrush song that goes

    Puss puss
    Så for du en suss
    Puss så for du en suss
    Hver eneste tann med børste og vann
    Puss så for du en nuss

    Brush Brush
    And you’ll get a kiss
    Brush and you will get a kiss
    Every tooth with a Brush and water
    Brush and you will get a kiss

    It rimes in Norwegians and every kid learns this at maybe like Even 3 months, we just start signing ut, it is in our DNA when we Brush them theet 😂

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