Generalizing entire nations of people for fun and profit

A coworker recently gave me a book that she hoped would help me assimilate into Swedish culture.

Xenophobe’s® guide to the Swedes is a handy guidebook of important Swedish stereotypes and cultural peculiarities. Naturally, it’s written in a tongue-in-cheek style, and it covers every angle, from food and dinner parties to  family values and popular culture. Here are some of the profound insights that Xenophobe’s provides:

On the environment:

The Swedes have a dream: to save Nature from Man. It’s as close to a passion as the Swedes ever get.

My verdict: pretty good; see my previous post about recycling. Passion is indeed in short supply here, but I wouldn’t even use the term to describe their environmentalism. It’s more of an ideology ingrained in the culture, like that education and healthcare should be free.

On fame:

The only greater sin than being rich is being famous, though it is acceptable to acquire fame that rubs off on Sweden as a whole, allowing everyone to bask in the limelight. […] But Ingrid Bergman, glamorous star of such Hollywood classics as Casablanca and Indiscreet, fell foul of her Swedish audiences because she earned her fame as an expatriate and failed to flaunt her Swedish origins at every opportunity.

I can’t really speak to this one, but it seems like something that would be harder to spot as an outsider. I’ll investigate further.

On coffee:

Anyone wondering what really makes the Swedes tick need look no further: it is coffee. A coffee embargo would bring the country to a halt within days.

My verdict: Spot on. My coffee consumption has at least doubled since moving here, and I’m still a lightweight by Swedish standards.

The book was written by an authentic Swede, and overall it captures a lot of the stuff I’ve noticed about this country. But I think it still has some gaps. For example, the food section doesn’t once mention the Swedes’ fixation with emulsified sauces or fermented dairy products. So I guess I’ll need to fill in those gaps. Stay tuned.

Apparently Xenophobe’s is a whole series, published out of Britain, with guides for most European countries as well as English-speaking countries around the world. You’re probably wondering what the American one is like, so here’s the excerpt they included:

A wise traveller realises that a few happy moments with an American do not translate into a permanent commitment of any kind. Indeed, permanent commitments are what Americans fear the most. This is a nation whose most fundamental social relationship is the casual acquaintance.

Discuss amongst yourselves…