Learning about Sweden from Popular Culture*

For many years, Sweden has been frequently represented in popular media, especially in the US. Ranging from typical references such us Swedish blonde girls in American Horror Story: Hotel to the Swedish chef with a thick accent on The Muppets Movie, Sweden is often narrowly depicted as anything that other countries are not.

Media representation can be too stereotypical and misleading sometimes, but as an expat living in Sweden, I found that popular culture about Sweden helps me to understand the country and its culture better. But, I prefer the “local” ones, which contain more “insider perspectives” than Hollywood productions. These are my personal favourites:

1. The Hundred Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

It’s a novel by Jonas Jonasson, which was adapted into a movie with the same title. The story revolves around a 100-year-old man named Allan Karlsson who climbed out of the window at his retirement house and disappeared. And that’s how his exceptional adventure began. Both the novel and the movie are hilariously funny and witty at the same time. I read the novel before I moved to Sweden then watched the movie during my first week here. These popular platforms somehow made me more familiar with how Swedes behave 😀

2. The 101-Year-Old Man Who Skipped Out on the Bill and Disappeared

It’s the sequel movie of The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared. Equally funny from its prequel. My favourite scene is when the FBI officers asked the Swedish Police to show them the IP (internet protocol) address and the police drove them to Idrottsplatsen, which is indeed abbreviated as IP in Swedish. Smart joke!

3. Welcome to Sweden

Welcome to Sweden is a Swedish situated comedy (sitcom), based on the real story of Greg Pohler, the creator and the main actor in the series. It tells the story of an American accountant who quits his job to move with his girlfriend to her native country of Sweden and how he struggles to adapt to his new home. Although it received mixed reviews for its strong stereotypical representation of Sweden. However, moving to Sweden for love, I’m sure many people can relate to.

4. Scandinavia and The World

This webcomic is created by Humon Comics and tells the story based on the history, culture and stereotype of mostly Scandinavians countries and sometimes, other countries too. Each country is represented by a character dressed in the flag of their country. The character of Sweden is a guy who is dressed in blue and yellow Nordic cross, wears glasses and is an uptight technology expert. Very Swedish indeed ☺

5. Lost in Stångby

Lost in Stångby is a short film about a businessman with empathy issues who takes a wrong train on his way to Copenhagen Airport and gets lost in Stångby, an outskirt area of Lund. Produced by Tiny Lumberjack, this movie receives several awards and scores high in the online movie database review. I personally like this movie because it’s smart and funny and set in Lund, so the setting is familiar 😀

6. The Bridge

The Bridge or Bron/Broen is one of the most popular Scandinavian noir crime series. Has been aired in more than 100 countries, the story revolves around murders and crimes in the Öresund area, the border of Sweden and Denmark. It begins with a discovery of a dead body, cut in half, in the middle of the Öresund Bridge. As it’s placed precisely on the border between two countries, the investigation is done by both Swedish and Danish police agencies. From there, the story goes further and darker.

7. The Xenophobe’s Guide to the Swedes

It is a funny guidebook by Peter Berlin, which is designed to help you understand Sweden through generalisations and observations. It includes details on what to expect and how to cope with it. Very handy.

8. Wallander

The story is based on Henning Mankell’s crime novel. The main character, Kurt Wallander, is an inspector trying to solve crimes in a town called Ystad. This town is a real town located in Skåne, the southern part of Sweden, less than an hour away from Malmö. There are actually three versions of Wallander apart from the novel: the Film Series, the UK TV Series and the Swedish TV Series. The one I watched was the latter starring Krister Henriksson. I watched the series when I was living in Australia not knowing that a couple of years later I would move to Sweden. Maybe that was a sign from the universe 😀

9. En Man Som Heter Ove

This movie wasn’t included in my original post for *The Newbie Guide to Sweden because I watched the movie after I wrote the story, but I wish I have had included this. It’s a full package movie: intriguing, funny, and contemplative, all in one. I was annoyed by the main character Ove, who is ill tempered and socially awkward, at first. But as the story goes, I get to know his reasons and personalities better and better. It touches upon the everyday issues in Sweden, such as immigrant, way of life and principles, socialism, and freedom of expression, in a very smooth way. A great movie in short. No wonder it was nominated for six awards, and winning two, at the Guldbagge Awards in 2016, the most prestigious movie award in Sweden.

Of course, like many other representations, the depictions of Sweden in these examples is not 100% accurate. There’s a little bit of exaggeration here and there for entertainment purposes. For example, if you go to Ystad, instead of a bleak neighbourhood perfect for a crime scene, you would find beautiful lanes with colourful houses all around you.

And they call this: Lovely town for a murder 😀

However, despite the added drama, it’s still fun and informative to learn about Sweden from popular culture. So, what is the favourite list of yours?


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