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Culture Differences Between Scandinavia and America

By Edited Mar 15, 2016 1 2

While you may claim Scandinavian heritage, Americans are very different culturally from those from Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland.

There are plenty of cultural differences when you compare the United States to other places. Here are just a few of the most distinct differences between American and the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Denmark.

Basic Courtesies

Culturally the most distinct difference between Scandinavian countries and America is the use, or lack of use, of simple basic courtesies. Things like moving aside when walking on a public sidewalk to make room for another group of people coming towards you. Other common courtesies extended by Americans, but not those in Scandinavian countries, are things like holding the door open for the next person coming into a public building. Even if a woman is pushing a stroller, strangers rarely offer to help with doors and other challenges in Scandinavian countries.

Simplified, it seems like basic interest in strangers is minimized in these countries, from an American perspective. Whether it is taking an interest in overall wellbeing of others and helping them in small ways, or caring about them doing inappropriate things like littering, it seems less common to care about others and their actions in Scandinavia.

Taxes and Pricing

Norwegian Fish Drying(102385)
While in America we have sales taxes depending on where you are shopping, there is no such thing in Scandinavian countries. All taxes are built into the prices listed, which is somewhat simpler, but contributes to what looks like a massive price increase over the cost of goods in America. The only time there is an added charge on goods in Scandinavian countries is if it is a recycling value. To make recycling easier, there are machines in most grocery stores you simply feed the bottles and other recyclables into, then you get a receipt to exchange for cash at the register.

Pricing of everyday goods is on a similar scale though inflated a lot to account for an overall increase in prices and the added taxes. For example, a cup of coffee at 7-11 in Oslo, the capital of Norway, costs between 20 and 30 Norwegian krones. At an average exchange rate of 5.8 krones to an American dollar, that means you are paying between $3.50 and $5.25 for the same cup of coffee that would only run you between one and two dollars in the United States. Another everyday example you might run into is the “value menu” at McDonald’s. In the United States it is called the dollar menu for a reason, but in Scandinavian countries the cheapest sandwiches you can find on the value menu are over $3 in American currency.

Of course, the benefits from increased taxes in these countries are things like health care for every citizen regardless of status or employment among many other things. While systems differ and their quality and affectivity can be debated, these are still features the United States cannot claim.


Once you have reached Europe, it seems as though traveling between countries is almost like traveling between states in the United States. Yes, you do need your passport still, but there are different lines for those traveling within the European Union at almost every European airport. Americans can feel a bit like outsiders if they are new to traveling within Europe because of the commonality of traveling between European countries.

Another benefit to traveling between European countries is that it is quite inexpensive. With new discount airlines becoming more and more popular it is easy to take an hour or two plane ride to a whole new country and stamp in your passport. One of the rising discount airlines is Norwegian, though don’t let the name fool you, they fly all over now. Like airlines in the United States, to offer cheaper fares they charge for just about everything, including beverages like soda and water while in flight. Be prepared, but don’t let the extra charges dissuade you from taking a jaunt to another country. 



Jun 15, 2012 9:36pm
I was extremely surprised to read your view of Scandinavian people, as I have met many and find them outstanding in their care and consideration of others. I think the overall social justice and equity which exists in most of these counties is also evidence of this.
Jun 16, 2012 11:07am
The point I was attempting to make with my comment about interest in strangers was that the disconnect was there, not with others that had been mentally removed from the "stranger" status. Once you are considered a "known entity" you get much grace and respect, in accordance with your views. However, when you are still a stranger the society does not expect courtesies that are expected in the United States, as mentioned in the article. My comments regarding basic courtesies were actually reflections from native Scandinavians, initially that I took note of and observed in my own experience there. It is not that they are unfriendly, just that things that are intrinsic in American society, like holding the door for a woman with a stroller, are not so there.
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