In Sweden, casual chattiness is seen as needless, since conversation is used for exchanging real, meaningful information.
In many cultures, striking up a conversation with a stranger is the norm, and could even lead to a budding friendship. But not for the Swedes.
Here, small talk is seen as futile, and is referred to as kallprat (“cold talk”) or dödprat (“dead talk”). To avoid ending up in these situations, many Swedes have made an art of avoiding eye contact with strangers and acquaintances they might come across in the street by looking at their phones or staring at shopping windows instead. For Swedes, the purpose of talking is to exchange meaningful information, and engaging in purposeless chit-chat simply hasn’t been valued – until now.
For the past four weeks, Luleå, the 80,000-person capital of Sweden’s northernmost county, has been encouraging residents to greet to one another as part of an official campaign aptly called “Säg hej” (Say hello). The city is located so far north that residents see as little as three hours of sunlight in the dead of winter, which may contribute to their reputation for being reserved. In fact, people in Luleå are known to speak so little to one another that the word “yes” is often replaced with a sharp intake of breath. Officials are therefore hoping the campaign may help lift the mood of locals – especially those who may feel lonely.
“Saying hello to your neighbours is a small thing, but research shows that it can contribute to social bonds and has a positive impact on health, safety and wellbeing,” wrote city officials.
Beyond Luleå, visitors to Sweden who attempt to start an informal conversation with a shopkeeper or waiter, even with the local greeting of “hej”, are likely to be met with a flat “hej” in response, often with a subtext of faint irritation or mistrust. Experts say this reserve could be due to Sweden being a sparsely populated country in a relatively vast landscape, whereby for hundreds of years, people grew accustomed to rarely speaking with those outside their immediate circle.
Another hypothesis is that this aversion to chit-chat could be linked to relatively low levels of immigration to Sweden until the 1960s. Minimal exposure to other cultures historically meant that Swedes were less likely to take up this decidedly un-Swedish practice.
Yet, despite their seemingly cool exterior, Swedish people will almost always be polite and friendly, albeit simply in a different way to those from more talkative cultures.
In a country that revers simplicity and practicality, it’s best not to talk without a reason.
(Video by Björn Nilsson, text by Yasmin El-Beih)
This video is part of BBC Reel’s The Nordic Way playlist.
Join more than three million BBC Travel fans by liking us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
If you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter called “The Essential List”. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Worklife and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.
#Swedes #dont #speak #strangers