Sweden gets a bad rap in North America: we either don’t know where the country is, often confusing it with Switzerland, or we assume that everyone sounds like the Swedish Chef from the Muppets, eats meatballs and shops at IKEA. While some of that may be true, Sweden is a fascinating country with a long history, a unique culture and a lot of experimental ideas that make Sweden a great place to live, work, play or visit. Here are 10 things to know about Scandinavia’s most populous country:
While ABBA might be a household name, not too many people could name many other Swedish bands. Nonetheless, the music industry in Sweden is enormous, so much so that music is actually one of the country’s biggest exports. In recent years, artists like Avicii, Swedish House Mafia and Icona Pop have given Swedish music more visibility, but songwriters, musicians and producers are also important pieces of the Swedish music scene. Chances are, if you’ve listened to Top 40 in the last year, you’ve heard a song that has a connection to the Swedish music industry—and you’ve definitely heard one if you’ve listened longer. Thoughts on why the Swedes are so musically inclined vary, with some suggesting that the language has a rhythmic quality that loans itself to musical talent, while others point to Sweden’s system of state-run music schools for children and youth helping people develop their talents from a young age.
Knowing how to speak Swedish may not seem to be all that important; after all, Sweden is only a nation of 9 million. But Swedish, which evolved out of Old Norse, is closely related to Norwegian and Danish. In fact, the languages are so close, Norwegian and Swedish are mutually intelligible. The Swedes have a bit more trouble with the Danish accent, but the languages are similar enough that Swedes can understand Danish and vice versa. Don’t worry if you don’t speak Swedish, though; almost all Swedes learn English in school and many of them are excited by opportunities to practice their English skills (especially with native speakers). This is especially true for younger people and those living in big urban areas. Things like train schedules are often printed in both Swedish and English, which is welcome relief to travelers who have little familiarity with the Scandinavian languages.
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