POPULATION: 9.2 million
LANGUAGE: Swedish; Sami; Finnish
RELIGION: Church of Sweden (Lutheran)
The Kingdom of Sweden is part of the Scandinavian Peninsula in northwestern Europe. With an abundance of natural resources, it is a leading industrial nation, and its people enjoy one of the highest living standards in the world. The first written reference to Sweden is by the Roman historian Tacitus, who called the Swedes "mighty in ships and arms" in ad 98. Sweden represented a major European power during the 17th century, with its territories including Finland (1000-1805), parts of Germany, the Baltic States, and even an American colony. Christianity was introduced from the 9th through the 11th centuries. An age of territorial expansion during the 1500s and 1600s ended in defeat by Russia in 1709 and the loss of most overseas possessions by the early 19th century. Norway was united with Sweden from 1814 to 1905.
In the 20th century Sweden remained neutral in both world wars, serving as a haven for refugees in World War II. The country joined the United Nations in 1946, although it did not join the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO). In 1953 it joined with Denmark, Norway, and Iceland (and, later, Finland), to form the Nordic Council. Carl XVI Gustaf has been king since 1973, though his sphere of power is limited to only ceremonial practices today. In 1986 the nation was shaken by the assassination of Prime Minister Olof Palme, a crime that has never been satisfactorily solved. In 1991, Sweden applied for membership in the European Community, although many in the nation remained opposed to this move. However, Sweden became a member of the European Union in 1995.
LOCATION AND HOMELAND
Sweden is the largest country in Scandinavia and the fourth largest in Europe. With a total area of 449,966 sq km (173,732 sq mi), it is close in size to the state of California and is one of the more sparsely populated countries, with a mere 21 persons per sq km (55 persons per sq mi). It is bounded by Norway on the north and west, Denmark on the southeast, and the Gulf of Bothnia, the Baltic Sea, and Finland on the east. One-seventh of Sweden lies within the Arctic Circle, the "land of the midnight sun," where the sun never really sets for three months during the summer, beginning with the Summer Solstice on June 20. The country has about 100,000 lakes and many rivers, and more than half its terrain is forested. Most of its 9.2 million people live in the south of the country.
The Swedes are a Scandinavian people descended from Germanic tribes who emigrated to the region in ancient times. Ethnic minorities include about 200,000-300,000 Swedish Finns living in the northeastern section of the country and approximately 35,000 Sami, a traditionally nomadic group of reindeer herders who live in northern portions of Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Russia. Since World War II, Sweden has also accepted immigrant workers from Greece, Germany, Turkey, Great Britain, Poland, Italy, and the former Yugoslavia, as well as political refugees, mostly from the Middle East, Asia, and the Latin American countries of Chile and Argentina.
Swedish is a Germanic language closely related to Norwegian and Danish. There are also similarities between Swedish and English, and most Swedes speak English as a second language. The Sami have their own language, and there is also a large Finnish-speaking population in the country.
|Hello||Hej/ Hej då|
|Yes/ No||Ja/ Nej|
|Please||Var Snall Och or Varsagod|
Popular boys' names which are distinctly Swedish are Anders, Hans, Gunnar, Ake, and Lars, while girls are commonly named Margareta, Karin, Birgitta, Kerstin, and Ingrid.
Rural dwellers have traditionally believed in the existence of a variety of supernatural beings. Every province of Sweden has its own customs and local lore. For example, there is a legend about the difference between the lush, fertile land of Skåne in the south and the neighboring northern province of Småland, which is rocky and barren. While God was making Skåne so beautiful, the devil supposedly sneaked past him and turned Småland into a harsh and desolate place. It was too late for God to change the land, but he was able to create its people, and he made them tough and resourceful enough to survive successfully in their difficult environment.
Until 2000, Sweden's state religion was Lutheranism, and about 76% of the population belongs to the Church of Sweden, the country's Lutheran church. In the past, all Swedes automatically became members of the church at birth but had the right to withdraw from it. Church membership until 2000 was only achieved through baptism, but then Sweden enacted reforms of church and state. Although most people mark major life-cycle events such as baptism, confirmation, marriage, and burial within the church, the majority do not attend services regularly. Of the 87% Lutheran population, only 2% of these Swedes attend church. Minority religions include Roman Catholicism, the Pentecostal church, the Mission Covenant Church of Sweden, and the Greek Orthodox Church. In addition, there is a solid concentration of Jews in Sweden, as well as a tremendous growth in the Islamic population, which has spurred much racial tension.
Sweden's legal holidays are New Year's Day, Epiphany (January 6), Good Friday, Easter Monday, May Day (May 1), Ascension Day (May 31), Whit Monday, Midsummer (June 23), All Souls' Day (November 3), and Christmas. At midnight on New Year's Eve, ship horns and factory sirens usher in the New Year and, following a century-old tradition, Alfred Tennyson's poem, "Ring Out, Wild Bells," is read at an open-air museum in Stockholm and broadcast throughout the country. The feast of St. Knut on January 13 is the time when Christmas decorations are taken down. Shrove Tuesday, the last day before Lent begins, is traditionally observed by eating a bun filled with cream and marzipan. As Easter approaches, Swedes decorate twigs with colored feathers and place them in water to sprout new leaves in time for the holiday. Young boys and girls dress up as the Easter Hag and visit their neighbors, from whom they receive small gifts similar to the Halloween festivities observed in the United States.
Among the most important secular holidays, Valborgsmassoafton, observed on April 30, celebrates the coming of spring with bonfires and other festivities which are performed both publicly and privately. The Swedish flag is honored on June 6, a day on which all cities and towns fly flags and hold ceremonies in the flag's commemoration. Finally, the Summer Solstice is observed on June 21 and June 22 through the raising of the Maypole, around which celebrants dance, sing traditional songs, and eat.
RITES OF PASSAGE
Sweden is a modern, industrialized, Christian country. Hence, many of the rites of passage that young people undergo are religious rituals, such as baptism, first Communion, confirmation, and marriage. In addition, a student's progress through the education system is marked by many families with graduation parties.
The most common Swedish greeting is hej!, to which the response is usually hej, hej! The usual farewell is hej då! A handshake with either a hej or the more formal god dag is used between businessmen and acquaintances. Greetings among family depends on how close the family is, and Swedes, in contrast to Americans, are much more reserved in their interpersonal relationships. Therefore, they are not very demonstrative in their gestures, and refrain from touching others when communicating, as it is considered poor manners.
A very common practice among Swedes, when they are invited to another's home, is to bring flowers which are of an odd number (usually a single flower, or three or five). When hosting a group of less than 12 guests, the Swedish host demonstrates his or her etiquette in the art of toasting, which is performed according to a rigid, complex set of rules. For example, the host will lift his glass close to the third button of his shirt as he separately acknowledges each guest with a glance and a nod of the head; the glass is then sipped and returned to the third button position.
Except for brick-and-clay farm houses in southern Sweden, most dwellings were traditionally built of wood. In the past, the style of rural dwellings varied by region, with five main types. Contemporary housing is basically similar throughout the country, and it features building materials and styles similar to those in the United States. Many empty country houses are now used as summer homes.
Sweden's extensive system of social insurance pays for medical and dental care. The nation's infant mortality rate-2.75 deaths for every 1,000 live births-is one of the lowest in the world. Maternity leave with 80% pay begins from 60 days before the expected birth of a child until 6 weeks after birth, and lasts until the child is 18 months old. This legitimate leave of absence is termed "parental leave," as it can be chosen by either mother or father. The average life expectancy in Sweden is 78.5 years for men and 83 years for women.
Sweden has over 96,000 km (60,000 mi) of highways and more than 11,200 km (7,000 mi) of nationalized railroads. In 1967 the country changed from the left-hand traffic common to most European countries to a right-hand system like the one in the United States. Shipping has always been important to Sweden; its three largest ports are Göteborg, Stockholm, and Malmö. Sweden operates the Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) jointly with Denmark and Norway.
Most Swedish families have only one or two children. During the past 30 years, it has become so common for unmarried couples to live together that the people have coined a name for this arrangement: sambo (sam means together; bo means live). In 1988 legislation extended the legal rights of persons involved in such relationships, making them almost the legal equal of spouses. Nevertheless, sambo relationships often lead to marriage. Sweden's divorce rate has doubled since 1960. The older Swedish generation views the husband's role as that of the breadwinner, and still relegates the wife to domestic tasks within the home. However, as in the United States, the younger Swedish generation considers marriage more as a partnership with shared responsibilities extended to the children family members, since both spouses work. Swedish women are guaranteed equal rights under the law, and the vast majority work outside the home. Because Swedish women today feel an acute need to be in the work force, and excellent day care services are available, about 75% of mothers with preschoolers work. Four times as many women hold upper-level government positions than U.S. women, jobs which include parliament and the governing cabinet. Almost half of all working women have children under the age of 16.
Modern, Western-style clothing is worn in Sweden and, as in the United States, the Swedes' casual wear is typically slacks, shorts, and T-shirts. Likewise, suits are worn by both men and women in the typical place of business, and tuxedos and evening gowns appear at formal affairs. All clothing is costly in comparison to the standard prices of the United States. Swedish folk costumes, which were introduced as late as the 1890s as a means of glorifying the cultural richness of the nation, are worn for special festivals such as Midsummer's Eve, and consist of white blouses, vests, and long dark skirts (often worn with aprons) for women and white shirts, vests, dark knee-length breeches, and white hose for men. Only a small segment of the population even owns such a costume, and the costumes vary dramatically from region to region.
Swedes typically wake up to a breakfast of hard or soft ryebread smothered with butter and cheese, sandwich meat, or filmjolk, which is similar to yogurt, with a soup-like consistency. Because lunches interrupt the work day, they are light in Sweden. In contrast, dinners almost always abound in fish, sausage, and meat, though the latter is less often purchased because of its high cost. This main course is typically accompanied by potatoes and vegetables-the most common being peas, carrots, or salad. While the Swedish main meal was traditionally earlier in the day as a result of the wife's confinement within the home, dinner is now largely extended to the hours of early evening.
The Swedes savor rich sauces in their food, which is heavily influenced by the French. The Swedish name for the open-faced sandwich meal universal throughout Scandinavia—smörgåsbord— is the one by which this buffet meal is known in the United States. In Sweden it commonly includes herring, smoked eel, roast beef, tongue, jellied fish, boiled potatoes, and cheese. Favorite hot dishes include meatballs (köttbulla) served with lingonberry jam (lingonsylt); pitty panna, fried meat, potatoes, and egg; and Janssons frestelse ("Jansson's temptation"), a layered potato dish with onions and cream, topped with anchovies. The Swedes love fish, especially salmon, which is typically smoked, marinated, or cured with dill and salt. Fresh fruits and vegetables, including all kinds of berries, are also very popular. Favorite beverages include milk, lättöl (a type of beer with almost no alcohol), and strong coffee.
Sweden has a literacy rate of virtually 100%. School is mandatory between the ages of 7 and 16. During the first nine years, students attend a "comprehensive school," where they study a variety of subjects. Grades one through three are called the junior grades, four through six the middle grades, and seven through nine the senior grades. There is a three-week Christmas vacation and a summer vacation that extends from early June to late August. Free hot lunches are provided to all students. English is taught as a second language from the third grade on, and crafts such as woodworking and textile-making are also part of the curriculum. While immigrant children receive education in their own language a few hours each day, there are also special English classes for these students from countries such as Germany and Turkey.
Beginning in the seventh year, instruction varies based on students' interests and abilities; about 30% choose the college-preparatory curriculum, while others opt for more vocationally-oriented training. Swedes maintain the Scandinavian tradition of giving ceremonial white hats to secondary school graduates. Sweden has a number of universities, including those in Stockholm, Linköping, Göteborg, Uppsala, Lund, Umeå, Växjö, Karlstad, Luleå, and Örebro.
The arts receive strong support from the government in Sweden. The Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs approves subsidies for theater, dance and musical groups, literature, public libraries, museums, and other cultural institutions. It also helps inaugurate new artistic activities and educate the public about the arts. County councils, under the authority of the national council, oversee regional activities. Performers in Sweden enjoy a level of job security unknown in most other countries, including the United States. They are hired by the year, drawing a regular salary and receiving pension, insurance, and vacation benefits. However, even the most successful Swedish performers do not receive the astronomical levels of pay accorded to "superstars" in some other countries, particularly the US.
Sweden's best known writer was August Strindberg, who wrote novels, short stories, essays, and plays that influenced the course of modern drama. Selma Lagerlof, the first Swede to win the Nobel Prize, is known for both her novels and her children's classic The Wonderful Adventures of Nils. Another world-famous Swedish children's author is Astrid Lindgren, creator of the Pippi Longstocking books. In the visual arts, prominent Swedish names include the sculptor Carl Milles and the jewelry maker Sigurd Persson. The Swedish film industry has gained a worldwide audience for its films, notably those of its world-famous director Ingmar Bergman. Famous Swedish film stars include Ingrid Bergman and Max von Sydow. The creator of the Nobel prize itself was a Swede-Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite.
Sweden has achieved an enviable standard of living under a mixed system of high-tech capitalism and extensive welfare benefits. Sweden's labor force is divided almost equally between men and women. About 74% are employed in the service sector, 24% in industry, and 2% in agriculture. Unemployment in Sweden has been low compared to other European countries (under 4.5% in 2007). About 85% of the Swedish work force is unionized. The minimum age for employment is 16; persons under that age may be hired during school vacations for easy jobs that last five days or less.
Though Sweden has some of the highest taxes in the world, it generously pays a pension which is two-thirds of the worker's pre-retirement salary. Swedish retirees enjoy other benefits, such as instant health insurance and price reductions on prescriptions.
In September 2003 Swedish voters turned down entry into the European Union's euro system, concerned about the impact on the economy and sovereignty.
There are about 40,000 sports clubs throughout Sweden. The most popular sport is soccer (called fotboll ). Favorite winter sports include cross-country and downhill skiing and long-distance skating. Popular water sports include swimming, rowing, and sailing, and many Swedes also enjoy cycling. Major annual events for amateur athletes include the Vasa cross-country ski race, the Vättern Circuit two-day bicycle race, the Vansbro swim meet, and the Lidingö cross-country running race. In 1987, the Swedish tennis team won the Davis Cup for the fourth time. Outstanding Swedish athletes include alpine skier Ingemar Stenmark, tennis great Björn Borg, and golfer Annika Sörenstam.
ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION
Many of the Swedes' leisure hours are devoted to outdoor activities that enable them to enjoy their country's beautiful natural scenery. It is common to retreat to rural areas during weekends and vacations. The summer cottage by the lake is a common sight; altogether there are about 600,000 summer homes in Sweden, many in abandoned rural areas. The islands near Stockholm are especially popular sites for these retreats. In recent years, it has also become popular to take winter vacations in Mediterranean resort areas. Walking is a favorite pastime in Sweden, and marked walking paths can be found throughout the country. Sailing on Sweden's rivers and lakes is also very popular.
FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES
The Swedes are known for their high-quality handicrafts. Handmade utensils have been produced since the beginning of the 19th century; the primary textiles are wool and flax. Swedish crystal and glass-of which 90% is produced at the Orrefors factory-are famous worldwide and half of the country's production is exported, much of it to the United States. The Dalarna region is known for its distinctive wooden horses with their brightly painted designs. Folk influences are evident in modern Swedish ceramics, woodwork, textiles, furniture, silver, and other products.
Like several neighboring countries, Sweden has a high rate of alcoholism, and organizations devoted to helping people deal with this problem have around 6,000 local chapters altogether. Another—and possibly related—problem is absenteeism from work, which rose sharply in the late 1980s. One of out every four workers called in sick on any given day. There has also been some discontent with the high taxes necessary to fund Sweden's extensive network of social services.
A relatively new and sweeping social problem in Sweden is that of racism. A neo-Nazi group similar to the "skinheads" of the United States is the "VAM" ("Vit Ariskt Motstand"-or, "White Aryan Resistance"), which in the 1990s experienced an increase in membership. In the 2000s the Svensk Hednisk Front (Swedish Heathen Front-SHF) is an emerging Nazi organization of increasing importance.
Gender equality issues in Sweden are dealt with at the Ministry for Integration and Gender Equality, where the Division for Gender Equality has among its tasks the processing of gender equality matters. Governmental policy is to ensure that "women and men shall have equal power to shape society and their own lives." Women and men are to enjoy the same opportunities, rights, and obligations in all spheres of life. The government promotes equal pay between women and men, an equal distribution of unpaid care and household work, and an end to men's violence against women. Sweden has done much to accomplish these goals.
Sweden is considered to be one of the most liberal countries in Europe and indeed the world when it comes to laws pertaining to homosexuality. A 2006 European Union member poll showed 71% of Swedes support same-sex marriage, although as of early 2008 it was not legal in Sweden. However, civil unions are considered to be marriage according to Swedish law. Homosexuality was legalized in 1944. In 1987 a law against sex in gay saunas and prostitution was created to prohibit the spread of HIV, but this was repealed in 2004. Homosexuals are not banned from military service. The Swedish constitution bans discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
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—revised by J. Hobby.