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Nordic FAQ - 7 of 7 - SWEDEN
Section - 7.2 General information

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   [ By: Ahrvid Engholm, Johan Olofsson and Antti Lahelma ]
  7.2.1 Economy
   Sweden's most valuable assets are forests, mines (especially iron, but
   copper has also been important), and in modern days hydroelectric
   power. The metallurgic industry was started in the 16th and 17th
   centuries, and through the ages Sweden has been known as one of the
   biggest iron exporters in the world. A mechanical industry came with
   the industrial revolution in the 19th Century, and Swedish products
   such as steel (Sandvik), paper (SCA and others), cars (Volvo and
   Saab), ball bearings (SKF), electrical equipment (ASEA, now ABB),
   telephone equipment (Ericsson), refrigerators (Electrolux) and cameras
   (Hasselblad) have become well known. Beside cars Saab has also
   produced computers and aircrafts.
   More recently also medical equipment (Gambro), medicine (Pharmacia,
   Astra), chemical industry (Nobel, AGA) and food-processing equipment
   (Tetra-Pak, Alfa-Laval) has been developed and marketed by Swedish
   companies. During the 1980s and 1990s there has been some debate in
   Sweden over the reasons why new products (as for instance a flat
   screen for television and computers) has to find foreign companies for
   investments and marketing.
   After particularly good years from World-War II to the early 1970s,
   Sweden has then seen branch after branch of the industry to lose
   competitive capacity. Textile industry, skinn industry and shipyards
   have almost disappeared. During the 1990s the mining industry has went
   through a period of radical reorganization.
   The wide forests are mainly used for production of paper, contributing
   with about 20% of Sweden's export (some wood export included).

[ the sections above are available at the www-page ]

  7.2.2 Geography, climate, vegetation
   [ By: Ahrvid Engholm, Johan Olofsson and Antti Lahelma ]
   For some Swedish towns and provinces there actually exist English
   forms of the names, but in the news group and in this faq you will
   discover that Gothenburg and Göteborg, Scania and Skåne or Dalecarlia
   and Dalarna are used interchangeably without any intended difference
   in meaning.
   Sweden occupies the Eastern part of the Scandinavian peninsula. It's a
   long (1572 kilometers) and rather narrow country, and the largest of
   the Nordic countries. It shares a long border with Norway to the west
   and a shorter border with Finland in the east; Denmark lies to the
   south across the Danish straits, over one of which (Öresund) a huge
   bridge is being built. The Baltic Sea islands of Gotland and Öland are
   integral parts of Sweden.
   Norrland is on the map the dominating region of Sweden. Norrland
   - that is the northernmost two thirds of the country, where almost no
   people live. Except at the mines and along the coast. Northwestern
   Sweden is crossed by an ancient mountain chain; the remainder of the
   north is a southeast-sloping plateau that rises to between 200 and
   500 meters.
   South of Norrland, forming the regions of Svealand in central Sweden
   and Götaland farther south, is a varied landscape of plains and rift
   valleys. To the north of the highlands is the Central Swedish
   Depression, a down-faulted, lake-strewn lowland extending across the
   peninsula from near Göteborg to east of Stockholm and Uppsala. To the
   south is Skåne, a low-lying, predominantly agricultural area.
    1. The region Götaland should strictly speeking not be used for more
       than the provinces Dalsland, Västergötland, Småland and
       Östergötland, but most often also Bohuslän, Halland, Skåne and
       Blekinge are understood as provinces of Götaland, as they are
       incorporated in the Swedish realm after being captured in the 17th
    2. Gotland as a baltic island occupies an intermediate position,
       closer connected to Svealand although counted to Götaland.
    3. Åland is an autonomous island-province under Finnish sovereignty
       which was ceeded to Russia in 1809, and is, albeit culturally as
       Swedish as Gotland, not a part of Sweden.
    4. Year 1815 the Götaland province of Värmland was for a time
       belonging to the court of appeal of Svealand, i.e. the Svea
       Hovrätt, and since then Värmland is often counted to Svealand - at
       least in weather reports - but that is of course totally
    Population density
   Outside of the three major urban areas (Stockholm with 2 milj.
   inhabitants, & Gothenburg and W Scania with eight hundred thousand
   each) the pattern from Viking times has turned out to be surprisingly
   stable. The rich plain-provinces in Svealand and Götaland have today a
   population density around 40 inhabitants per km² (Uppland,
   Västmanland, Sörmland, Östergötland & Västergötland). The Scanian
   provinces (including Halland & Blekinge) nourish 50 inh./km² while the
   old wood provinces of Småland, Dalsland, Värmland and Gästrikland have
   20 inh./km². For Dalarna and Norrland's southern coast the figure is
   10 inh./km² and the rest of Norrland has virtually no population
   density to speak of - with exception of a few towns.
   It's sometimes reminded that only 10% of the inhabitants populate the
   northern half of the country, but one could also say that 15% live in
   the 60%-part comprising the Northern and Western wood and fjeld
   region, or that 20% of the people live on 70% of the realm's area.
   Most of the land in the North is designated for reindeer herding.
    Climate regions
   Because of its large area and latitudinal extent, Sweden has a number
   of climate regimes. A cold, maritime climate dominates the country's
   west coast. The northern two-thirds of the country has a continental
   climate marked by severe winters. The south central areas experience
   the long, rather cold winters of the north, but they enjoy milder
   summers. The mountain regions remain cool in summer. In January
   temperatures average -0.8°C at Lund in the south), -2.8°C at
   Stockholm, and -13.7°C at Jokkmokk north of the the Arctic Circle. In
   July, the temperature variation is lower because of the sun shines the
   longer the further north one goes: 15°C at Jokkmokk, 18°C at
   Stockholm, and only 17°C at Lund. Snow remains on the ground for
   40 days in southernmost Sweden, 100 days in the Stockholm area, and
   250 days in the northwest mountains.
   Forest covers two thirds of the land area. It consists of a
   summer-green forest of beeches, oaks, and other deciduous trees in the
   south, a mixed forest of deciduous and coniferous trees in central
   Sweden, and a predominantly coniferous forest of mainly pines and
   spruce in the north. Mountain birch and dwarf birch grow in colder
   upland areas, and tundra covers the highest elevations. Treeless moors
   (peat moss and marshland) cover more than 14% of all Sweden and as
   much as 40% in western areas of the south and parts of Norrland.
   Bears, wolves and lynxes are now found only in isolated woodlands, elk
   and deer are the common large animals found elsewhere.
    Härad, landskap and län
   Sweden consists of 25 provinces (landskap) which are divided in
   hundreds (one härad - several härader). The concepts of landskap and
   härad are ancient, mirroring how people in pre-historic times
   identified and knew each others.

The landskap are (approximately from north to south):



      Blekinge &

   The härader play no role in the Swedish society any more - except for
   folk costumes. But well into the 20th century rural judges were called
   häradsdomare [literally  härad's judges], which reminds about the
   function of the härad as the area from which the people assembled for
   the local Thing.
   For civil service the country is divided in 24 län [literally "fiefs"]
   (currently being reduced in number). The governor for the län and his
   board are appointed by the central government. Since 1634 this
   administration handles governmental matters equal in all of the realm.
   The landsting are regionally elected assemblies, mostly for the same
   areas as for the län, with responsibility mainly for health care,
   which is why the landsting decide about local taxes. Usually län is
   translated to "county" and landsting to "county council" in English.
   The very word "landsting" means the Thing of a landskap, but that is
   not entirely valid any more. :-)
   The country is divided in 286 independent kommuner - mostly one town
   and the country around. In the newsgroup and in this faq the English
   word "municipality" will most of the time be used for kommuner
   regardless of their size or degree of urbanity. The kommun decides
   about local taxes too.

[ the sections above are available at the www-page ]

  7.2.3 Government & its spendings
   Sweden is a constitutional Monarchy, but the monarch only acts as a
   ceremonial head of state. A parliament (Riksdag) composed of 349
   members is elected every four years; it elects the prime minister,
   passes laws, decides on taxes and approves the state budget. The
   cabinet holds office only as long as it retains the support of a
   majority in the Riksdag. The state authorities are comparably
   independent of the cabinet: their highest officials being appointed by
   the cabinet for six years, and usually the term is extended unless
   serious problems occurred in the contact between the authority and the
   There are laws with constitutional status, for instance: the
   Instrument of Government, the Parliament Act, the Succession Act, and
   the Freedom of the Press Act.
   The county councils and the 286 municipalities are obliged to provide
   services to their inhabitants as stipulated by law, but are
   independent to decide the means without interference from state
   authorities. Municipalities are mainly responsible for education and
   social service. The provinces are through the county councils
   (landsting) responsible mainly for hospitals, medical practioners and
   other health care.
   The representational councils for municipalities and provinces (i.e.
   counties) are elected by the residents, regardless of citizenship,
   which in the most extreme cases means that nearly 20% of those
   eligible to vote are aliens.
   After the era of the Kalmar Union between Denmark and Sweden
   (1387-1521), King Gustaf Vasa created a more modern nation and made
   Sweden Lutheran. After the losses of territories 1718 and 1809
   democratic reforms where made, but it lasted to 1921 until all adult
   citizens had the right to vote (for men: 1907), and first 1971 the
   constitution was altered to reflect the long-time practice of
   During the 1990s the state church is in the process of liberating
   itself from the state, or maybe more accurate: the state is giving up
   its power over the church, and the church will lose some of the
   authority connected to its status as state church. A decrease in
   number of members is expected.
   Sweden has not been involved in a war since 1814, mainly due to luck
   and a strong policy of neutrality. This policy may change as Sweden in
   January 1995 joined the European Union (but the future isn't very
   clear yet).
   Sweden became a member of the United Nations in 1946, the year after
   the organization was founded. Since that time, active commitment to
   the United Nations has been a corner-stone of Sweden's foreign policy.
   Sweden is the fourth largest contributor to the UN, and is one of the
   countries that meet the UN's goal of 0.7% of GNP for development
   assistance. More than 70,000 Swedes have served with the UN forces
   over the years. Sweden has participated in most peace-keeping
   operations since the 1960s.
   Individual Swedes have successfully served the UN in various
   capacities. Dag Hammarskjöld was UN Secretary-General from 1953-1961.
   The first UN mediator was Count Folke Bernadotte (assassinated in
   Jerusalem 1948). Several other Swedes subsequently carried out
   mediation assignments: Gunnar Jarring, Olof Rydbeck, Olof Palme and
   Jan Eliasson. Others who have recently held prominent positions in the
   UN include Jan Mårtenson, Hans Corell, Rolf Ekéus and Lennart
   Aspegren. As the EU High Representative, Carl Bildt reported regularly
   to the Security Council on the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
   There are old proto-democratic traditions in Sweden. In the middle
   ages the kings were elected for life by representatives of the
   different "landskap" (provinces). Even when the monarchy was made
   hereditary after the Kalmar Union, the elected estates at the Riksdag
   retained substantial power (though the king sometimes managed to push
   this power back). These traditions played an important role as modern
   Democracy gradually took over in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
   Two important political concepts emerge from Sweden: the ombudsman, a
   representative elected by the parliament to watch public
   administrations and with the power to prosecute, and the
   constitutional principle of official documents
   ("offentlighetsprincipen" constituting a part of the Freedom of the
   Press Act), which says that all governmental documents are a priori
   public (unless declared secret under special laws).
    Political forces
   The principal political parties are
     * the Social Democratic party (led by the prime minister Göran
     * the "Moderata Samlingspartiet" (the right wing party with liberal
       policy but a conservative heritage; led by former prime minister
       Carl Bildt),
     * the Center party (with agrarian dominance and subsequently
     * the (Social) Liberal party "Folkpartiet",
     * the Christian Democratic party,
     * the Environmentalists (De Gröna "The Greens"),
     * the Left (formerly the Communist) party, and
     * the populist "Ny Demokrati" (New Democracy - now committing
   From the 1930's onwards, the Social Democrats has been the dominant
   party, their position secured by economic prosperity and a broad
   program of social initiatives. In the 1970s and 1980s, however,
   dissatisfaction grew among the voters over high taxes and a lagging
   economy. An anti-Socialist coalition governed from 1976 to 1982, and
   another one under Carl Bildt from 1991 to 1994, as the Social
   Democrats under Carlsson again came to power. When in trouble, as for
   the moment, the Social Democrats have a tradition to lean against the
   Center party, with regular negotiations and agreements, but without
   forming coalition cabinets.
   In the last elections the results has been as follows:
          1973   1976   1979   1982   1985   1988   1991   1994
Left       5,3    4,8    5,6    5,6    5,4    5,8    4,5    6,2
Green                          (1,7)  (1,5)   5,5   (3,4)   5,0
Soc.Dem.  43,6   42,7   43,2   45,6   44,7   43,2   37,7   45,3

Soc.Lib.   9,4   11,1   10,6    5,9   14,2   12,2    9,1    7,2
Center    25,1   24,1   18,1   15,5   12,4   11,3    8,5    7,7
Christ.                        (1,9)         (2,9)   7,1    4,1
Right     14,3   15,6   20,3   23,6   21,3   18,3   21,9   22,4
Popul.                                               6,7   (1,2)
  left    48,9   47,5   48,8   51,2   50,1   54,5   42,2   56,5
  right   48,8   50,8   49,0   45,0   47,9   41,8   53,1   41,4

In parentheses: results below the 4,0% limit for representation.

   Maybe due to the dominant position of the Social Democrats the
   political life in Sweden has been characterized by semi-rigid right
   and left blocks, defined as oppositional to, or supporters of, the
   Social Democrats. During some periods the Social Democrats have
   succeeded to cooperate with one of the right block parties, as during
   1996 with the Center Party, which the other parties have seen as
   weakening of the opposition.
    Account over municipal responsibilities
   Approximately 50% of the municipal services are financed through
   direct taxes, only 15% by direct fees, and about 20% as state
   contributions. (Don't ask about the remaining 15% - the municipal
   tomtar might change their minds.) Totally 350 milliards SEK are used
   for municipal activities, and 170 milliards SEK for the province
   councils, of which nearly all goes to the health care sector.
   The main municipal expenditures are (in percents of the 350 milliard
   brutto, regardless of fees and state subsidies):
     * Primary and secondary education (21%),
     * caring for elderly (17%),
     * caring for children (11%),
     * support of disabled and poor (8%),
     * supply of ground and housing (10%),
     * supply of water, energy and garbage disposal (7%),
     * public transportation (4%), and
     * sport and leisure (4%).
   [ Figures above for year 1993 ]
   In recent years cash support to poor people has increased. 8% of the
   population received such at least once during 1994. In this figure
   almost no elderly are included. The service for elderly (and also
   younger disabled persons) includes:
     * 5% of the (country's whole) population getting subsidies for taxi
     * 2% of the population getting help in their home by municipal
       employees (with food, tidying and sometimes personal care or
       health care)
     * 1.5% of the population living at nursing homes and other
       institutions for elderly.
    Account over state revenue
   Approximately 550 milliards SEK are distributed by the state budget,
   of which 75 milliards go straight to the municipalities and provinces
   as subsidizes.
   The rest is distributed on:
   (memorizeable figures, in the range +/- 10% of exact figures)
     * 100 mill. National debt interest
     *  75 mill. pensions to aged and disabled
     *  75 mill. state consumption (defence, police, universities etc)
     *  75 mill. transfers to families, unemployed, diseased and others
     *  45 mill. transfers to private corporations
     *  30 mill. transfers to state enterprises
     *  15 mill. foreign aid
   [ Figures above for the fiscal year 1993/94 ]

[ the sections above are available at the www-page ]

  7.2.4 Population
   The nation has its roots in the different kingdoms of the Viking Age,
   and is said to have been created when the king of the Svenonians
   ("Svearna") assumed kingship over Goths ("Götarna") as well in early
   middle ages. The word "Sverige" ("Sweden" short for "Svea rike" in
   Swedish) comes from the Svenonians; "Sverige" means the realm of the
   Svenonians. The English form of the name is probably derived from an
   old Germanic form, Svetheod, meaning the Swedish people. In medieval
   times the Swedes also pushed north to colonize the province now known
   as Norrland, and over the Baltic Sea to conquer Finland.
   Sweden has a relatively homogeneous population in ethnic stock,
   language, and religion.
   Because of the country's isolation only few non-Swedes have intermixed
   with the Swedes before very recent times; the major groups that have
   done so were Finns 1580-1660 and Walloons from present-day Belgium,
   who settled in the Bergslagen area in the 1620s.
   Groups that maintain their distinct ethnic identity today include a
   Finnish minority on the border to Finland (in Tornedalen and adjacent
   areas), about 15,000 Sámi, and recent immigrants.
   Since 1987 the Tornedalen-Finnish, Sámi languages and Romani have
   special status as minority languages, and since 1993 the Sámi minority
   elects a representative assembly, the Sámi Parliament, which however
   has limited power. Constitutionally this assembly, despite its name,
   is little more than a lobby organization with the authority to
   distribute the funds the Swedish government lets it dispose.
   The national minorities' rights to preserve and develop their own
   cultural and social life is granted by Sweden's Constitution
   (Instrument of Government, chapter 1 article 2). The constitution does
   not list minorities.
   In the furtest north geographical names make the Lappish heritage
   obvious. The following words in Sámi languages are usual in
   geographical names:
   tjuolma = land between rivers,
   luokta = bay,
   jaure = lake,
   jokk = small river,
   kaise = steep peak,
   tjåkkå = blunt peak,
   vare = fjeld mountain,
   tuottar = fjeld plain (without trees).
   The Finnish language has a relatively strong position as it is
    1. the biggest minority language
       (the Tornedalen variety is mother tongue for maybe as many as
       30'000 natives of Sweden),
    2. until recently also the dominating immigrant language, and
    3. since the 1950s covered by certain Nordic treaties.
   Although Sweden by the very most Swedes is still perceived as
   mono-cultural and mono-lingual, other languages have become
   increasingly important as domestic languages. Finnish has a leading
   position among them, despite Arabic, Spanish and Persian being spoken
   by larger groups of residents.
     * After the reformation of mandatory schools in 1962, Finnish could
       be studied as (or instead of) a second foreign language in grade
       7-12. (English is taught from grade 3 or 4. French and German are
       the common choices as second foreign language.)
     * The Swedish government funds (in cooperation with the Finnish
       government) a state committee taking care of and guiding the usage
       of Finnish in the Swedish society.
     * Sweden cooperates with Finland in the distribution of Finnish
       television to Finns in Sweden.
     * Bi-lingual education in Swedish & Finnish is advocated by the
       Swedish parliament.
     * The Swedish government has decided to support exams in
       Standard-Finnish to facilitate studies in Finland for Swedish
       pupils and students.
     * The Swedish State Church requires priests in Tornedalen, and in
       some other parishes, to be bi-lingual.
     * The Church's service-book and the hymn-book is to be confirmed
       also in a Finnish translation.
     * The municipality of Stockholm (with almost 20'000 immigrated Finns
       among its residents) has organized secondary high school
       (Gymnasium) education with Finnish used as educational language -
       with a special permission from the State School Board. (The
       unsatisfactory interest is however a menace to the continuation of
       the experiment.)
   In all these respects the position of Finnish is unique compared to
   other foreign and minority languages in Sweden. (On the first point
   the situation improved from 1970 for all minority and immigrant
   language as parental mother-tongue could be studied one to three hours
   a week in grade 1-12.)
   11% of the population are 1:st generation immigrants:
   from the Baltic countries (1944); Hungary (1956); Yugoslavia, Greece,
   and Turkey (in the 1960s and '70s), Czechoslovakia (1968), Chile
   (1973), Iran and Iraq (in the 1980s), Palestina/Lebanon, and recently
   arrived refugees from the civil wars in Yugoslavia. A third of the
   immigrants (4,4%) has arrived from the neighboring countries Finland,
   Norway, Denmark, Germany and Poland. Another third comes from Asia,
   most of all from the middle East, and a small but visible share comes
   from Africa (5% of the immigrants).
   The main difference to more typical immigrant countries (as for
   instance USA with 10% of the population being 1:st generation
   immigrants) is that immigration to Sweden is a fairly recent
   phenomena. Swedes also tend to expect more of integration and
   assimilation from the immigrants than is the case in for instance
   Today about half of the immigrants have Swedish citizenship. Many
   prominent Swedes are actually 1:st or 2:nd generation Swedes (i. e.
   immigrants), but that's not generally acknowledged.
   During the 1990s the public radio (and to some degree also the
   television) seems to have initiated a campaign to increase the number
   of journalists with immigrant family names. But the 18.7% first and
   second generation immigrants (Jan 1st 1997) are still clearly
   underrepresented among journalists and many other influential
  7.2.5 The Swedish language
   Swedish is a Germanic language, very closely related to Danish and
   Norwegian (most Swedes can understand Danish and Norwegian), and
   somewhat less close to Icelandic, German, Dutch and English. There are
   many words borrowed from German, French (18th Century) and English
   (later). Except for in Sweden, Swedish is spoken by a native minority
   in Finland, and a nowadays very small minority at the Estonian coast
   and islands.
   Peculiar is that there exists not only one, but at least four hight
   status dialects (and sociolects): One southern, connected with Scania
   and the University in Lund, one western spoken by affluent people in
   and around Gothenburg /Göteborg, one eastern valid in Finland (for
   instance on stage in Helsinki /Helsingfors), and finally the sociolect
   spoken by higher officials, actors and others in the capital, which
   serves as high status standard for the rest of Sweden, connected with
   the University in Uppsala. Besides there exist at least a dozen of
   still distinguishable dialects, or dialect groups, but after the
   breakthrough for radio and TV these dialects have been heavily
   influenced by the equalizing effect of the broadcasting media. (A
   recent unsolved dispute in the newsgroup was whether the Scanian
   dialects rightfully are to classify as East-Danish together with the
   dialect on Bornholm, or with the dialects of Götaland i.e. in
   Östergötland, Småland, Västergötland and around Gothenburg.)
   For non-Nordics who attempt to learn the Swedish language, the
   pronunciation might seem rather difficult, since Swedish (at least the
   "standard" variety of it spoken in Sweden) has several unusual vowels
   and consonants, e.g. retroflexed dentals and the whistle-like
   "sj"-sound in sjuk "sick" which are not found in other European
   languages. Distinct word tones also characterize certain elements of
   its vocabulary, for which reason acquisition of a good Swedish
   pronunciation requires a considerable amount of commitment and work.
   The serious student of Swedish also has to learn to deal with regional
   varieties such as Scanian and Finland-Swedish, both of which differ
   sharply in pronunciation from the Stockholm-area oriented "standard
   broadcast" Swedish.
   Swedish has (approximately) 18 different vowel sounds except
   diphthongs, compared to (approximately) 14 in English.
   The dialects around and between Stockholm, Gothenburg and the coast of
   Norrland are characterized by fewer diphthongs. The rural Swedish
   spoken on Gotland, in Finland and in Southern Sweden use diphthongs in
   the most vowel positions.
   The vowel sounds appear to be ordered in nine pairs [i, e, ä, a, y, ö,
   u, o, å]. In each pair one of the sounds is always long and the other
   short. In written Swedish the short sounds can usually be identified
   as vowels followed by at least two consonants belonging to the same
   syllable. In some dialects the short sounds of 'o' and 'u' tend to be
   indistinguishable. The same goes for the short sounds for 'e' and 'ä'
   in many dialects. Stressed syllables can have both short and long
   vowel-sounds, however it's usual to find the unstressed vowels as

             Vowel sounds in Swedish

      rid           gryt            hus         bo

        vill           trygg          ull ~  port

           sed            död             nåd

         vägg ~ sedd         höst      pojk

              väg               -     -

                hall             hal

   The 'r'-sound is the most prominent marker between southern and
   central Swedish dialects. In the south 'r' is pronounced "in the
   French way" deep in the throat. In Finland, and on most of the
   Scandinavian peninsula, 'r' is pronounced as Italians do - with the
   tongue vibrating against the back side of the front teeth. In an
   intermediate zone both kinds of 'r'-sounds are in use, but in
   different positions in the words. In unstressed syllables the
   'r'-sound is also often modified to kinds of the "British" 'r'-sound.
   Finally the 'r'-sound uses to modify preceding vowels. The difference
   sad-said, man-men, bad-bed exists in Swedish, but in most dialects the
   former only when followed by 'r' while the latter is the pronunciation
   of the 'ä'-vowel in other cases. (The same goes for the 'ö'-vowel.)
   Hence some Swedes have problems with these basic English sounds.
   Erland Sommarskog <> replies:
     To be fair, dialects of Swedish are not worse than say of Italian.
     - Or for that matter, English.
     You don't need to bother about the "sj" in "sjuk". While as noted
     above, this is a strange creature, it is also subject to huge
     variation, and if you get in conversation with some Swedes you
     might find that everyone is pronouncing the sound differently -
     even that the same person is chosing different realisations on
     different occassions. Phonemically you would write them all /S/,
     you can use the sound for "sh" in "shoe" without being particularly
     wrong. You will then have to learn to distinguish this alevoar
     fricative from the palatal fricative in "tjuv" - then again, there
     are Swedes who don't.
     From my experience the retroflexes do not cause much problems
     either. Odd as they are, foreigners seem to pick them up quite
     easily. And, again, it is possible to avoid them. They arise when
     'r' is followed by 's', 'n', 'd', 't' and 'l', but several dialects
     pronounce them separately. And while in Sweden this is dialects
     which have an uvular or velar 'r', I know people who speak with a
     front 'r' and yet do not use retroflexes without having any
     Finland-Swedish ancestry at all. How this has come about I don't
     know, but I'm suspecting these individuals to have abandoned their
     original dialect for an over-correct standard Swedish.
     There are nevertheless some difficult sounds in Swedish. 'u' as in
     "kul" is a rounded semi-high front vowel which has few equals. To a
     foreigner it might seem close to 'y' which is a rounded high front
     vowel, but I can assure you to a Swede they are most definitely
     Then again, I once spoke with a British gentleman who said
     "Sturegatan". His 'u' was perfect, but the first 'a' in "gatan"
     revealed him directly. To wit, the 'a' is the same as in "father"
     but with slightly different colour.
     Anyway, Swedish pronouciation is probably difficult because it is
     so irregular. Not so bad as English, but bad enough. One thing we
     are particularly fond of are homographs, that is words with the
     same spelling but different pronounciation: "vän", "kort", "hov",
     "hänger" (friend/friendly, short/picture, court/hoof, hang/devote).
  7.2.6 Culture
   Swedes work hard, pay high taxes, try to be open minded towards other
   cultures (there is much immigration, which most people seem to
   accept), enjoy their traditions (around Christmas and Midsummer, for
   instance), but it is not true we should be among the heaviest drinkers
   in the world. Statistics in the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet January
   7th 1995 shows Swedish alcohol consumption to be on only 21st place
   among a selection of the industrialized nations, with 6.1 (100% pure)
   liters of alcohol/year (after most Western European countries and
   USA). On the other hand we do (most of us do) still follow our old
   custom to drink only occasionally, but then with the goal to get
   drunk. [ For further information, see the article in part 2 about
   festivals and Nordic alcohol customs. ]
   Swedes take pride in making the society friendly to children and their
   parents including long government-paid paternal leaves, subsidized
   pre-schools and municipal investments for sport and leisure-time
   activities. Swedish women have one of the highest fertility rates in
   the industrialized world, giving birth to 1.97 child each, and the
   highest rate of breast feeding. It is however wide spread
   misconceptions that Sweden should suffer from high number of suicides
   or that Swedes should work less than others. Sweden is on the 15th
   position on the list of suicide rates in Europe, and only England and
   Portugal have longer working weeks than Sweden.
   In the same intention to make the society friendly and to lighten the
   lives of its members, Sweden has also put certain effort into making
   public buildings, and also ordinary tenement houses, available for
   wheel chairs.
   The nature, the big woods and the mountains, have a particular place
   in the hearts of the Swedes. The General Right to Public Access
   ("Allemansrätten") is unique for the Scandinavian countries, and the
   most important base for outdoor recreation, providing the possibility
   for each and everyone to visit non-cultivated land, to take a bath in
   seas, and to pick the wild flowers, berries and mushrooms.
   The religious rites such as baptizing, confirmation, wedding and
   funeral are deeply rooted in the culture, although only a small
   minority participate in ordinary mass. Despite the fact that the
   Swedes have honored the old Germanic tradition that the people follow
   the religion of the king, and subsequently all Swedes were obliged to
   communion long into the 19:th century and to membership in the state
   church long into the 20:th century, it can also be noted that Swedes
   are one of the most secularized peoples in the world.
   The church, and its services, are perceived more as a cultural
   heritage, than as a religious. As for instance at 1:st Sunday in
   Advent and at Christmas Eve - the two days of the year when the
   churches are filled.
   The Church of Sweden ("Svenska Kyrkan") is Lutheran. Most of the
   Swedish people belong to this church. The bonds between State and
   Church will be somewhat loosened around year 2.000.
   Besides the Church of Sweden there are several other Christian and
   non-Christian denominations. In most major towns you can find the
   Catholic Church, Islamic centers, the Baptist churches, Pentecoastal
   congregations and the Covenant Church of Sweden ("Svenska
   missionsförbundet") which is related to the Reformed Churches, and in
   some towns there is also a Jewish community.
   Science and technology also play an important role in the contemporary
   Swedish society. Private companies fund substantial research and
   development, and also the government funds research at the
   universities. Examples are the JAS Gripen fighter project, and the
   information technology strategies put forth by the Bildt (1991-1994)
   government. (The following cabinets, led by Ingvar Carlsson and Göran
   Persson have been less enthusiastic about these projects.)
   Leading cultural institutions (in Stockholm) are the Swedish Royal
   Opera; the Royal Dramatic Theater; the National Touring Theater; and
   the Swedish Academy, which awards the Nobel Prize for Literature.
   Literature is important in Swedish culture. Authors like August
   Strindberg (1849-1912), Selma Lagerlöf (1858-1940) who wrote Gösta
   Berlings Saga (awarded with the Nobel Prize) and Astrid Lindgren
   (1907-) are among the best known. At the previous turn of the century
   public libraries were organized by different organizations in nearly
   every village with a church or a school. Most of them still remain,
   but now run by the municipalities. A curious detail is that most
   Swedes probably would not count authors as Edith Södergran (1892-1923)
   and Tove Jansson as Swedish authors, despite the fact that they have
   written in Swedish - their mother tongue.
   There aren't many internationally known Swedish composers, but Swedes
   have an ancient fondness for ballads and troubadours (Carl Michael
   Bellman (1740-1795) is dearly loved by Swedes), and in the later days
   Swedish pop and rock groups have reached international fame (e.g ABBA,
   Army of Lovers, Roxette, Ace of Base, etc).
   Many popular cultural personalities are of immigrant background, but
   few have let this become a part of their image. Maybe with exception
   of the poet Theodor Kallifatides and Finland-Swedish actors, as Stina
   Ekblad, Jörn Donner, Birgitta Ulfsson and Lasse Pöysti. The Finnish
   conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Finnish singer Arja Saijonmaa
   should belongs to the most famous Sweden-Finns. Promising is however
   how a lot of new Swedish rock bands come from suburbs with immigrant
   majorities, and how some of the most popular rock and pop artists are
   clearly visible proud immigrants, as for instance Dr. Alban.
   Sweden also has a strong movie tradition, already from the days of the
   silent movies, people such as Victor Sjöström (1879-1960), known in
   the United States as Victor Seastrom, and Mauritz Stiller (1883-1928).
   The director Ingmar Bergman (1918-) is world-famous and actors like
   Ingrid Bergman (1915-1982) and Greta Garbo (1905-1990) have played in
   several of the classics of the movie history.
   Max von Sydow and Viveca Lindfors can be mentioned as other
   internationally well known film actors.
   Various sports are popular in Sweden, especially team sports like
   soccer and ice hockey, but also for example tennis and table-tennis,
   outdoor activities like skiing and orienteering.
   Food should of course be mentioned in a cultural chapter, but since
   the Swedes in the s.c.n. news group seem to be more interested in
   consuming than in producing this particular kind of culture we have no
   other alternative than to direct recipe interested readers to the
   splendid Family Santesson's collection of recipes for Swedish Cooking
   at <>.

[ the sections above are available at the www-page ]

  7.2.7 local democratic traditions
   If Swedes aren't proud of the violent past with Vikings, wars and
   conquers then instead the long and strong democratic tradition is a
   very important part of the cultural heritage.
   To trace this tradition is almost impossible, since already in the
   first written laws (from the 1220s) it seems obvious that the customs
   are time-honored. Villages had had time at least since the Iron age to
   develop traditions. To distinguish Sweden's conditions compared to
   Finland, Denmark or the European continent is also hard, but a few
   differences are obvious.
   While solitarily living families have been more important in parts of
   Finland and Norway, villages and works are the most prominent
   communities in Sweden. The Danish tradition is influenced by feudalism
   and the absence of woods and works. Fishing villages have been of the
   greatest importance on the long Norwegian coast and on the many Danish
   islands. These societal differences are usable when one tries to
   analyze the differences between "national characters" - still one must
   remember the resemblance is more prominent than the differences.
   The Scandinavian peninsula and Finland has had only a rudimentary
   feudal system. Most land has been owned by commoners paying taxes to
   the king and without being directs subordinates to any lords. The
   great forests has made it hard for the lords to pester and punish the
    the village
   In Sweden the villages were left to rule themselves without any
   superior to interfere. Each villages had, until the 19:th century, one
   fenced field precisely marked in shares for each property. (On the
   rich plains some villages had two or even three fenced fields where
   the crops were changed systematically, but in these cases each farm
   had property on each field. Actually these rich plains were also
   exceptional inasmuch feudal lords could have significant influence
   over decisions of "their" villages.)
   Outside of the fence the cattle had to graze between sowing and
   harvest. The farmers were responsible for one part each of the fence.
   The fence was the most important subject the villagers had to
   cooperate about, but as the field was organized it was also
   practically and often necessary to do the work coordinated on the same
   days. The village meeting had to discuss and decide about this, but
   also about the use of woods, fishing water, common roads, boats and
   The village meeting was however not for crofters or other poor.
   Instead it often regulated how many lodgers the village could feed,
   forcing people to move. (From the oldest written laws there is an
   important distinction between the former owners of a farm and other
   poor. The law forced the elderly to transfer their land to the next
   generation when their physical strength weakened, but the law also
   forced the new owner to support the previous for their remaining time
   in life. Conflicts regarding this duties were common cases at the
   The main rule was, that changes in the statues for a villages were to
   be accepted by all farmers unanimous. The statues could however
   stipulate that other decisions were to be made by a majority.
   Unanimity was however the basic rule for how decisions were to be made
   at meetings in villages and parishes.
   This tradition of unanimous decisions must have contributed to the
   Swedish custom of adjustment of ones attitudes to the perceived
   majority. Unanimous decisions demand a high degree of compromises from
   the individuals.
    the þing
   The pre-Christian culture was a tribe culture like many other of the
   pre-Christian cultures among the indo-Europeans. The members of a
   tribe were obliged to avenge injuries against their dead and mutilated
   relatives. A balancing structure is necessary to hinder tribe fights
   to lead to anarchy destructing the society. In the North-Germanic
   cultures the balancing institution was the Thing ("ting" or "þing").
   The Thing was the assembly of free men in an area, as in a hundred
   ("härad") or in a province / county ("landskap"), at which disputes
   were solved and political decisions were made. Before Christianity
   chieftains where at the same time political and religious leaders,
   with the main purpose to bring the people good times ("fred" -
   nowadays actually the word for peace). The place for the Thing
   ("tingsplats") was often also the place for public religious rites,
   and sometimes the place for commerce.
   The þing met at regular intervals, legislated, elected chieftains and
   judged according to the law recited and memorized by the law speaker.
   The þing's negotiations were presided by the chieftain or often by the
   law speaker. In reality the þing was of course dominated by the most
   influential members of the community, but in theory one-man one-vote
   was the rule.
   Gotland, as an example, had in late medieval time twenty Things, each
   represented at the island-Thing (landsting) by its elected judge. (The
   judge also conducted the local Thing.) New laws were decided at the
   landsting, which also took other decisions regarding the island as a
   whole. The landsting's authority was successively eroded after the
   island being occupied by the Tyska Orden (the "German Order") 1398,
   then sold to Erik of Pomerania and after 1449 ruled by Danish
   In late Swedish medieval time the Thing-court consisted of twelve
   representatives for the farmers (free-holders or tenants).
    the king
   An important function of the king or the chieftain was (probably) to
   distribute of his own luck to all of the people. Therefore men with
   much luck were ideal kings. The people were dependent of good luck in
   many aspects: good harvests, good trade, good hunting, good fishing
   and no attacks from enemies.
   In case of bad times the people could sacrifice their leader (before
   Christianity literally!), or maybe less violently select another
   leader. As the Christian missionaries then convinced the most
   respected among the Viking magnates, an abyss opened between the
   ordinary agrarian people an their converted magnates; and the old
   order was disrupted.
   Free peasants who were used to participate in the decision making in
   the village, in the province and in the realm did not easily accept to
   be left unquestioned when the Svea kingdom expanded.
   The Engelbrecht rebellion is probably the best picture we can get of
   how kings had been elected in older times. Engelbrecht was elected to
   captain for Dalarna where he and the people had promised each other
   allegiance, then he went to Västmanland, where the people summoned to
   the "tingsplats" expressed their support and allegiance, then to
   Uppland where Engelbrecht and the people promised each other
   allegiance, then to Östergötland, where the procedure was repeated,
   and then to Västergötland where he was honored by the people, then to
   Halland (the part which at that time was identified with Götaland and
   Sweden). All this occurred in the end of the summer 1434. In January
   1435 a diet appointed Engelbrecht as captain for the Swedish realm,
   and as such he that year negotiated with the union-king - with poor
   result. In response to demands from the country a new diet was
   summoned in 1436 where Engelbrecht was elected king. As king he
   requested the people in Stockholm to swear allegiance. The
   Stockholmians (most of whom were Germans) had to choose between a
   battle and a new king, and accepted the new king.
   The nobility's exemption from land tax after 1280 had the consequence
   that farmers pawned or sold their land to the noble bailiffs. Also the
   Church's exemption from tax in year 1200 had in practice the same
   effect. Subsequently the crown's tax incomes diminished, and strong
   royal rulers as Magnus Eriksson and Queen Margrete tried to hinder
   this development.
    after the medieval time
   During the 16th century a lot of land was taken by the state from
   parishes and convents. These lands were then often transferred to the
   nobility, particularly from 1567 to 1680, which had important
   consequences for the peasants. Tenant farmers on state property could
   be forced to do extra work in addition to the law-regulated taxes,
   which was a less favorable situation than for farmers owning their own
   land, but farmers on land sold/given to noble masters had additionally
   lost their right to participation in the elections of peasant
   representatives at the diets.
   Works (bruksorter) is the contrasting element, organized in much as a
   manorial estate, where the owner had the duty to act as a good master
   in a strictly hierarchical household. The works was a closed society,
   taking responsibility for the people living there from the cradle to
   the grave. United the people could express their wishes and
   propositions, and a wise master would not act against the best of the
   people. But the power was his. Many masters of works were descendents
   of nobilitated industrialists from Walloonia invited in the early 17th
   The rules of order at democratic meetings got changed in the 19:th
   century. The villages were split, many farmers' houses were moved away
   from the village, each farm got it's field separated from the others,
   and the village meeting became obsolete. The traditions from the
   higher assemblies, where the majority ruled, were found fit for the
   parishes also, particularly when these came to grow due to the
   urbanization. With the Free Churches, the Temperance movement and the
   workers unions foreign influences were added to the old traditions.
   Today fairness and equality are important parts of the order at a
   meeting. The word is given to speakers in the order they have asked
   for it, no-one is to be unfairly favored. The assembly and the chair
   are not supposed to interrupt the speaker, unless he/she breaks any
   decided rules (as a time limit) or humiliates others. All who wish to
   speak are entitled to do so prior to the voting, all are entitled to
   put propositions forward, all propositions are to be equally handled
   (almost!), and in case of the majority taking a position one feel
   impossible to take responsibility for, then all are entitled to get
   ones dissentient opinions taken to the records.
   But still traces of the unanimity tradition is visible in the attitude
   that people who suspect they belong to a minority should better not
   utter their opinion - to the best of all - in order to reinforce the
   feeling of unity and unanimity. ...and after a decision all
   participants are expected to advocate the opinion of the majority -
   whatever they thought before.
  7.2.8 free access to official documents
   The history of the Rights of Free Expression is dialectic and full of
   contradictions. From 1718 to 1844 the liberties of thought and the
   parliament's right to decide over laws and wars were hot topics in
   Sweden as in the rest of Europe, many times leading to changes of
   rulers: 1680 the common estates of the parliament handed over all
   power to the king, in reaction against the nobility. 1720 the
   parliament made the king almost powerless after Karl XII:s failed
   wars. 1756 the king was made really powerless after a failed coup
   d'etat. However 1772 the king succeeded in a coup d'etat and the
   parliament approved a new constitution. 1789 the king again gained
   dictatorship which is abolished in a revolution 1809 and laws are
   again to be agreed on by the king and the majority of the estates.
   Surprisingly it lasted until the 1760s until the politicians took up
   serious debates regarding legal guarantees for the freedom of the
   press. Until then the ruling party had gained from the advantages of
   power and secrecy, and used this to suppress its enemies as much as
   they could, and when another party gained majority, it did the same.
   But after the royal court's failed coup 1756 the royalists and the big
   opposition party in the parliament found each other in the wish to
   gain knowledge about the government's actions. And when the parliament
   majority changed, Freedom of the Press and the public's free access to
   official documents ("offentlighetsprincipen") were decided after
   English model and given constitutional status.
   Although it lasted until 1809 before the free access to official
   documents had become more than lip service by the bureaucracy, and
   another 30 years before the Freedom of the Press could be used for
   critics of the king and his government without acts of reprisal, these
   aspects are now understood as very important foundations for a working
   In 1831 the newspaper Aftonbladet is founded by Lars Johan Hierta in
   Stockholm, important because of its struggle to increase the freedom
   of the press. The king, Karl XIV Johan, at the time had the right to
   retract permissions to publish newspapers. When Aftonbladet criticized
   the king, he retracted the publish rights - but the paper immediately
   reappeared as "The Second Aftonbladet", "The Third Aftonbladet" and
   all the way to the "28th Aftonbladet". 1838 the civil service officer
   responsible for revocal of the governmental license declares this
   method unfit and useless, and 1844 it's also formally abolished.
   Since then the free access to official documents is understood as a
   right for any citizen to request a list of received and sent documents
   from any state authority (after the 1930s also municipal authorities)
   and then immediately look at (or receive copies of) single documents
   unless these necessarily are to be kept secret, according to special
   laws, in order to protect:
     * the security of the realm and its currency
     * negotiations with foreign powers
     * ongoing supervisory activities of the authority
     * the interest of preventing or prosecuting crimes
     * the personal integrity of individuals
     * the free competition between enterprises
   Of course it could be argued that these exceptions can be made wide
   and very wide, but it's important that it is the governmental agency
   which has to prove its right to keep a document secret, if a case goes
   to court, and that the constitution clearly express that exceptions to
   the main rule are to be scrupulously specified. The definition of
   "document" is wide including pictures, sound records and other
   messages which can be comprehended by means of technical aids.
   If officials want their private letters to be secret, then they must
   be sent to their private address. But if letters regarding the
   authority are sent privately to officials, then they must be taken to
   the office. Documents which are in the process of production are
   however not available for the public until they are sent or used for a
   decision by the authority.
   Today this principles is among them which by Swedes are perceived as
   the most differing in comparison with other cultures. One of the most
   commons points of suspicions among Swedes against the European Union,
   which Sweden entered 1995, is the fear that lack of access to
   documents of the Union's authorities not only harm the democracy in
   the European Union, but even worse that Sweden might be affected and
   the Swedish democratic society will be severely harmed.
  7.2.9 School system
   Children start school at the age of six or seven. The compulsory
   education (Grundskolan) spans nine years with the pupil finishing
   junior high school (högstadiet) at the age of fifteen or sixteen.
   High schools (Gymnasier) provide a broad selection of study courses
   / programs ranging from vocational university-preparatory, to lasting
   three or four years.
   One year in pre-school (förskola) and three years in high school is
   what virtually all pupils complete, although this is not required. A
   few years ago all high school programs were made to last at least
   three years in order to make all pupils formally entitled to
   university studies.
   Many children also attend kindergarten (daghem). When both parents
   work, another option exists. The parents may have their child taken
   care of by a municipality-employed "nanny" (dagmamma - literally "day
   mother"). The child stays in her private home, usually together with
   2-3 other children).
   As a rule all children attend public schools. Private schools are
   rare, and those that exist often have a specific educational
   philosophy or religious affiliation. The degree of governmental
   financing of private schools has been changed several times in the
   1990s. Currently it is usual for municipalities to pay about 80% of
   their average cost per pupil for those attending private schools.

[ the sections above are available at the www-page ]


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