Pia Roed, Chargée d’affaires to the UAE Image Credit: Supplied

Which stereotypes about Swedish are true/not true?

It is said that people in Sweden can be reserved and that they need personal space — this can be noticed if you take a bus or other public transportation where it can be fairly quiet compared to other countries. People tend to opt for the empty seats before sitting next to a stranger. On the other hand, most Swedes are helpful and open if you approach them first. It is also said that once you make a friend from Sweden it is likely to become a long-lasting friendship. In general, Swedes are fluent in English and happy to talk about their country and give advice to tourists and others. This was manifested through “The Swedish Number” campaign which recently was organised by the independent tourist association STF, where random Swedes would sign up to answer incoming phone calls from people around the world who wanted to know more about Sweden. The campaign was organised through a bottom-up approach and reached both wide and deep. Even the Swedish Prime Minister volunteered and answered some incoming calls.

What makes you proud to be Swedish?

I am proud to live in a country characterised by transparency and openness and that respects people for who they are — regardless of heritage, belief, orientation, gender, appearance or abilities. Through its tax system, Sweden is able to provide high-quality education, health care, child and elderly care and other public services for all.

I am proud of Sweden as a leading breeding ground for creativity, innovation and on-the-edge solution to global challenges — many of the multinational Swedish companies that we see today are results of innovation: Spotify, Skype, IKEA, Ericsson, Tetrapak, AstraZeneca, Volvo, ABB, H&M, Scania to mention a few.

I am also proud to come from a country which has fostered broad consciousness about sustainability, nature and the environment — today 99 per cent of all waste in Sweden is recycled! And the water in central Stockholm is so clean that you can drink it. All in all, I think these components are summed up in the recent “Good Country Index”, where Sweden scored the number one position.

What is unique about Sweden?

If you look at the surface, Sweden is one of the largest countries in Europe but it is fairly scarcely populated with ten million inhabitants. Thus there opportunity to find serene wilderness, different climate zones and types of nature — lakes, mountains, forests, coastal life etc. At the same time there are many options for a vibrant city life with shopping, fashion, design, a wonderful cuisine with many renowned chefs and a broad variety of culture and activities.

Sweden can offer some unique types of accommodation — for example a hotel built up between trees or the Ice Hotel entirely made of ice or the hotel boats along the shores of the capital, Stockholm.

Sweden is an open and welcoming society with a conscious agenda to achieve gender equality and equal opportunities for women and men — for example through the 480 days paid parental leave which can be shared by the parents. In Sweden you will see many fathers on paternal leave with their young children.

What is the Swedish cultural identity?

Sweden is a multicultural society which has a nice blend of cultural heritage and a global outlook. We have a tradition of cooperating with others, for instance by participating in trade — the numerous international companies from Sweden is one of many indicators of this.

Swedes are among the most well-travelled people in the world and today Dubai and the UAE is the third non-European destination for these travellers. Did you know that there are indigenous people in Sweden? The Sami people herd rain deer across the North of Scandinavia and have their own language and cultural identity — the Bedouins of the North.

In Sweden, we are balancing a culture of modern individuality and egalitarianism stemming from the build-up of the welfare state.

Swedes love to organise and solve problems in groups through consensus — if one community service is missing it is likely to be organised by itself through the local community. For example, many of today’s sports clubs and other activities for children are based on active involvement by parents in training and management. In Sweden, we celebrate many traditions over the year such as Valpurgis, Midsummer, the Crayfish season, Lucia (the bearer of light during the darkest time of the year), the Day of the Cinnamon Roll etc. Many times these celebrations involve different types of food as well as singing. Swedes love to sing. We have the highest ratio of people singing in choirs in the world.

What is your hometown like?

My hometown Göteborg — or Gothenburg as it is called in English — was founded in 1621 and is located by the ocean on the west coast. It is the second-largest city in Sweden and has a population of about one million people. Home of the largest port in Scandinavia, the city has traditionally lived on trade and business related to the sea such as ship building and fishery.

Today Gothenburg hosts some of the largest annual events in Scandinavia such as The Gothenburg Film Festival, The Gothenburg Horse Show The Gothenburg Book Fair and a wide variety of music festivals.

What’s your favourite Swedish food?

I simply love fish and seafood. The traditional dish of pickled herring with different flavours is served at most traditional celebrations and can be a true delicacy with freshly boiled new potatoes, sour cream, spring onion and a piece of Swedish rye crispbread and Swedish hard cheese. It is a given member of the Swedish “Smörgåsbord”, which provides both cold and hot dishes in a traditional buffet.

What sights or experiences in your country are not to be missed?

I think the best things about Sweden are the people and the variety of things to do — you can visit a great restaurant, shop exquisite fashion or go clubbing one day and the next day be out in the nature and experience pure wildlife. Sweden has a long coastline and for me the marine life is the best part of Sweden — to take a public boat and visit different islands or rent a canoe or sail boat, maybe bring a tent or stay in a simple hostel, have dinner by the open fire with your friends, maybe take a sauna and a swim in the ocean.

I appreciate the salty water of the west coast of Sweden and the harsh rocky archipelago to be found there as well as the fresh fish and seafood that are associated with this lifestyle.

The capital Stockholm is based on 14 islands that are connected by bridges and it also has a beautiful archipelago to offer.

There is a saying in my hometown Gothenburg that “the West Coast is the Best Coast” — to know if this is true, I guess you need to visit both sides of Sweden and find your own favourite.