Norwegians and Swedes face off

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Rivalry and friendship between Norwegians and Swedes extends back over the centuries, but recently their embassies in Stockholm and Oslo got curious: What do they really think about one another today? Surveys were launched and the latest batch of results suggests a lack of insight into just how important bilateral relations are.

Scandinavians have quarreled amongst themselves for centuries, but this illustration from the 1800s reflects attempts to promote peace and friendship. At that time, the Swedish and Norwegian flags reflected an unhappy politically forced union between the two that was dissolved in 1905. PHOTO: Wikipedia

Newspaper Aftenposten reports that Norway’s embassy in Stockholm first started asking questions and surveying Swedes several years ago. Now they’re cooperating with Sweden’s embassy in Oslo, which has conducted its own survey of Norwegians in line with the one carried out by the Norwegians in Sweden.

Perhaps the most startling discovery was over just how much Norwegians and Swedes underestimate each other as trading partners. Norwegians tend to think that most of Norway’s imports come from China, but in reality they come from Sweden. Swedes think they export more to the US than to Norway. Wrong. Norway is a bigger market for Sweden than the US.

In one trade-related area, though, they think alike. When Swedes and Norwegians were asked what single issue they most connect to their neighbouring country, both answer grensehandel (border trade). The vast majority seems keenly aware that Norwegians do lots of shopping in Sweden, where taxes and prices tend to be  much lower.

They differed on the next biggest single issues, though, with Norwegians pointing to integration challenges in Sweden and immigration. Swedes connect Norway to tourism and Norway’s emphasis on preserving small communities around the country. Many Swedes seem to admire Norway’s district politics, that include lots of economic incentives and support for rural areas even when major projects like roads and bridges can’t be justified by the small populations they serve.

Norwegians now seem to cross the border to Sweden much more often than Swedes come to Norway, according to new joint surveys aimed at gauging what Swedes and Norwegians think about each other. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Then another difference popped up: Aftenposten reported that Norwegians make up the single-largest tourist group in Sweden, accounting for around than 3.5 million overnight stays in the country last year. A vast majority of Norwegians have been in Sweden, while fully 21 percent of Swedes have never been in Norway. Only 3 percent of Norwegians have never been in Sweden, according to statistics from the Sverige-Norge-barometer conducted by research firm Novus.

The baromoter also showed that 74 percent of Norwegians responded that they’ve visited Sweden “many times.” That compares to 32 percent of Swedes who’ve visited Norway many times.

As for familiarity with well-known personalities, the Norwegians pointed to Sweden’s legendary music group Abba and author Astrid Lindgren, while the Swedes were a bit more up-to-date, pointing to Norwegian talk-show host Fredrik Skavlan, who’s weekly program Skavlan also airs in Sweden.

Nearly half of all Swedes questioned (48 percent), however, couldn’t name a single Norwegian entertainer, nor could 39 percent of the Norwegians answering the Swedes’ survey.

Keen on more defense cooperation
Aftenposten reported that a new question on the survey this year involved defense. Response indicates that both Swedes and Norwegians are positive towards more defense cooperation between Sweden and Norway, even though Norway is a member of NATO and Sweden is not, remaining traditionally neutral in its defense policy.

When asked what they think about first when thinking about Norway, most Swedes answered “oil,” before moving on to mountains, fjords, skiing and salmon. Norwegians answered trade, Volvo and IKEA when asked what they think about first in regards to Sweden. Norwegians are so fond of IKEA that they generated record revenues for the Swedish furnishings chain in Norway last year, according to Norwegian website Nettavisen. That also led to Christmas bonuses of around NOK 40,000 for Norwegian employees.

Old stereotypes prevail
Norway’s ambassador to Sweden, Christian Syse, told Aftenposten that he thinks the surveys prove how Norwegians and Swedes tend “to take each other for granted.” Syse, son of a former Norwegian prime minister, claims that “we’re more important for each other than we think.”

Espen Stedje of Foreningen Norden, an association that promotes a more united Nordic area, was unimpressed with the surveys’ answers. He worries they reflect old stereotypes and don’t reflect today’s realities.

“The cultural references are old and the knowledge of how important trade relations are is too low,” Stedje told Aftenposten. The embassies intend to use the surveys in their work to boost that knowledge.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund