What I thought of Scandinavia

When I started researching for a trip in the Nordic Countries, i found difficulty in designating areas.

I opened the map and spent quite some time to tell between lands and seas. Clear country borders, but which ones belong to the Nordic and which to Scandinavia? Lapland is not a country? How many countries make Lapland? Confusing lands.

I usually travel South. This time, i decided to cross with my best friends the Arctic Cirle, to visit 4 Northern European capitals, to travel between countries from South to North, from rural to urban landscapes and lifestyles. All this, in a compressed effort to get closer, to understand the Northern cultures, to live for a while like a Scandinavian.

So yes, the typical stereotypes of Scandinavians hit me and i did think of blonde, tall, smartly dressed people living in neat urban apartments, jolly guys in knitwear sitting around a fire in the middle of nowhere, into the wild. The final plan  is the following:

Helsinki – Finnish Lapland – Swedish Lapland – Stockholm – the Norwegian fjords – Oslo – Copenhagen

The above stereotypes seem true under circumstances. But who is who seems to be a matter of a long debate.

We met Finns, Norwegians, Swedes, Danes! We travelled across their land. We discussed with Sami people. We heard stories, we shared stories, we made stories. We were grateful to watch the Northern Lights in the Swedish Lapland. We were astonished by the mythical beauty of the Norwegian fjords. But first, let’s properly get to know Scandinavia, by Scandinavians.

I bought the book “North – How to Live Scandinavian, by Brontë Aurell” at the Louisiana Museum, in Copenhagen.

The introduction belongs to Brontë who introduced me to multiple perceptions regarding the Scandinavian countries and people.

I believe she brilliantly puts my/your/his/her/their thoughts into words.

This book opens a discussion.


llustrated Map of Scandinavia for Scandinavian Gatherings, published by Sasquatch Books
Martin Haake - Scandinavian maps

What is Scandinavia?

“Scandinavia is a geographical definition, based on the Scandinavian peninsula including Sweden, Norway and Denmark, which is not really in the peninsula – but not Finland, even though it borders Sweden and Norway. Confused yet? Officially, Finland is Nordic, not Scandinavian.

Let’s first talk about Scandinavia! Three large places. Actually, two large places ( Sweden and Norway) and a really small one (Denmark). Three times the size of the UK, Scandinavia is as different culturally as separated lengthways.

The landscape in the North of Norway bears as resemblance to the landscape in the southern part of Denmark as Soctland does to Portugal; it is an absolutely huge place.

All united by similarities of main languages, the rich history of Vikings, the Norse mythology and the fights. Scandinavia has ended up as one of the most forward thinking, top of the happiness league table places on the planet.”


Vasa Museum, Stockholm
Vasa museum, Stockholm

How Scandinavians See Each Other

“From the outside looking in, other nations see the Scandinavian countries as one big place. They dont see Norway, Sweden and Denmark – only fjords, snow, blonde people and meatballs. If you ask a Scandinavian person how they see themselves, you will – guaranteed – never get the reply “Scandinavian”. Nobody in Denmark, Sweden, or Norway identifies with a collective nationality. Just because it is a geographical definition doesn’t mean it is a national one. People in England may well identify both with British and English, but a Dane will always be a Dane.

There have been wars, lots of wars. Time of peace and calm and times when trading parts of countries took place in the Scandinavian region. The three countries, have over time grown to have a loving relationship and deep understanding with the neighbours.”

the lonngest fjord is called Sognefjord
blurry snow
Twins in Copenhagen

How Others See Scandinavians

“Stereotypes rule: blonde men and women, equality, nature, snow, lakes and fjords, bicycles, brave Vikings. The social welfare states, filled to the brim with cinnamon buns and pretty people. Maybe some nakedness thrown in for good measure. Definitely some ABBA, Swedish House Mafia and likely a bit of Nordic Noir and knitted jumper fashion.”

Månen exhibition, Louisiana Museum, Copenhagen, October 2018

How Scandinavians See Themselves

“Danes are seen by themselves as laid-back – no state run alcohol shops, freedom to drink at seven in the morning. Norway views them as the comfortable people – the Danes have time to do everything, no stress, whereas the Swedes see Denmark are lacking in self control when it comes to drinking and such things. Sweden is also aware that Denmark has Little Brother Syndrome about being the smallest of the three countries, so makes sure to hand out an appropriate amount of loving teasing so that Denmark stays just a teeny bit miffed.

Both Sweden and Norway have issues understanding Danes because they sound as though they have hot potatoes in their mouths when they speak.

Norway regards Denmark as super cool; the continental ones of the lot. Tall, stylish and always dressed in black. On the flipside Norway laughs at the fact that Denmark’s highest “mountain” is 147 metres high. Norway also likes Denmark because it is easy to get along with. Because Norway has little idea what Denmark is saying, Norway just smiles and nods and gets along with Denmark that way. It’s all very hyggeligt.

Denmark sees itself as the forefather of the Vikings, the old ruler of Scandinavia at the time and the true owner of Skane (the bottom part of Sweden). Denmark’s opinion matters and Sweden and Norway can say whatever they want: Denmark know it is right and is prepared to shout about it.

Norway is the most beautiful of the three – and the one most in touch with nature. Despite Norway and Denmark being linked as one for many, many years, nobody talks about that anymore. Denmark merely looks to Norway as the blonder, richer version of themselves (but with more expensive alcohol – and mountains).

Sweden views Norway slightly differently. There is an element of Norway being a bit lazy since they got all the cash from oil (many young Swedes go to Norway to work in coffeeshops because it pays 17 dollars per hour). Plus, there is an element of Norwegians being a bit too much nature and not enough well, cool clothes. They eat too much fish. Sweden also thinks that Norway is the confident, outdoorsy one.

Norwegians are easy to love because they are so jolly – their accent just sings out pure jolliness, even when they are angry.

Sweden is the most tech savvy, forward thinking and entrepreneurial of the three. The business savvy big brother, very organised (in every aspect!) Swedes have great self control and both Norway and Denmark applaud all the good order and rule following that goes on. Sweden sets a good example to the others, even to the point of being regarded as a bit snobbish at times by the Norwegians.

Danes accept the self – righteousness of the Swedes because they know that as soon as the Swede steps foot on Danish soil, he’ll drink himself silly and will have to be put back on the boat of shame to Sweden.

Sweden sees itself as the rule – keeper of things. If you can make a rule for it, then it shall be done. Rules for queueing, rules for tax, rules for shopping, rules, rules, rules. Rules create order and Swedes love order.

But deep down, we’re all the same, really…”

Kiasma museum, Helsinki
Kiasma museum, Helsinki
Nordiska Museum, Stockholm
Nordiska Museum, Stockholm
Astrap Fearnley Museum, Oslo
Astrap Fearnley Museum, Oslo
Louisiana Museum, Copenhagen

Ready to Go

This was an introduction for Scandinavians, by Scandinavians.

I will get back to you with my point of view, some short stories, one or two interviews, top 5s with paprica for each destination.

Thank you for following.


Inside the house of Alvar Aalto, Helsinki
Inside the house of Alvar Aalto, Helsinki