Observations: Swedish Customs

I’ve been living in Sweden for almost seven years so I’m pretty well assimilated by now. Naturally, there are a few things that still bother me, but I’ve gotten used to them. I’ve written previously about Systembolaget (the “System Company”…uh..yeah) Sweden’s outdated monolithic alcohol monopoly, but it’s certainly not unique to Sweden. With the notable exception of Denmark, all Nordic countries, including Iceland, have their own alcohol monopolies. Parts of Canada have similar systems in place as well. For all its flaws, it’s really not that bad. It has a huge variety of fermented grain and grape-based beverages. When my mom and grandmother and cousin came to visit me last year from the States, oh how they marveled at Systembolaget. They thought it was fantastic!

Anyway, this is more of an observation than a complaint, but one Swedish custom that I find kind of weird is the practice of saying congratulations to someone when it’s their birthday. Where I come from (America) the word congratulations is used when someone achieves something truly great or commendable, such as having a baby, or graduating from college, or getting promoted at work. Having a birthday is not really commendable unless you consider having lived another year to be a worthwhile achievement. When someone says congratulations to me when it’s my birthday I always say thank you, but I feel like saying, “For what? I haven’t done anything important. I just survived.”

Nothing special about that.

2 thoughts on “Observations: Swedish Customs

  1. Well,, sometimes just surviving does feel worth marking actually, haha, but that aside, I have started saying Happy Birthday to Swedes in English pretty often. Much to my surprise most Swedes like when I convey personal messages like that in my own mother tongque. It seems to mean more to them. Which suits me just fine, since I feel like I’m pretending when I say stuff like that in Swedish.

    • That’s a good idea. I agree that most Swedes rather like being wished a Happy Birthday in English.

English, motherfucker, do you speak it? J/K - it's ok if you don't.

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