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Swedish National Day | © Ola Ericson/imagebank.sweden.se
Swedish National Day | © Ola Ericson/imagebank.sweden.se
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13 Facts That Will Change What You Think About Sweden

Picture of Judi Lembke
Updated: 28 December 2017
If you think Sweden is all sporty blondes who eat meatballs while listening to ABBA, think again. This is a country that has done so much and had so many firsts, we could make a list three times as long as this one. Here are some facts that will change what you think about Sweden.

85% of Swedes live in urban areas

Being Sweden, this could mean anything from living in one of Sweden’s three largest cities (Malmö, Gothenburg, and Stockholm) or living in a smaller city, such as Uppsala or Luleå in the far north, which is one of the biggest cities above the Arctic Circle. Either way, Swedes like their city life and it doesn’t look like this trend will change anytime soon.

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City living at its finest in Stockholm | © Matt Watson / Flickr

Sweden was the first country to ban smacking

If you want to physically punish your children, don’t come to Sweden. You will face fines, arrest, anger management classes and a whole lot more, including the scorn of society. Sweden banned hitting, smacking, or spanking children in 1979 and it’s beyond rare to hear about it happening these days.

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No hitting, smacking or spanking | © Kristin Lidell/imagebank.sweden.se

The king who didn’t like kings

When French-born Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte (King Carl XIV Johan of Sweden) died after a 26-year reign, a tattoo that read ‘Death to Monarchs’ was found on his body. Legend has it that he got inked during the Revolutionary Wars, long before he became King of Sweden.

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The coronation of Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte | © Municipal Archives of Trondheim, Norway / Wikipedia Commons

Sweden has been neutral for more than two centuries

Speaking of war (and Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte), Sweden has not been directly involved in one since 1812. Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, the then-elected Crown Prince, was the principle driving force behind this change in foreign policy – although it didn’t really take hold for a few more years, after the Napoleonic Wars.

Forests cover 69% of the country

It’s no wonder Swedes are such nature-lovers, when there is so much nature about. In addition to endless forests, there are also nearly 100,000 lakes in Sweden, and a land mass that is the third-largest in Europe.

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Plenty of space to be alone in Sweden | © Jonatan Stålhös/imagebank.sweden.se

A first in gender identity

While gender identity is a hot topic today, it was back in 1972 that Sweden became the first country in the world to allow citizens to legally change their gender identity. Additionally, Sweden legalised gay sex in 1944, well ahead of much of the rest of the world.

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Sweden was an early adopter of gender identity and LGBTQ rights | Pixabay

Sweden is the world’s third-largest music exporter

Yes, it’s true. Sweden is just behind the US and the UK when it comes to music exports – and it’s not just ABBA. One reason Sweden ranks so high is that the metal scene is huge here, with some of the biggest acts in that niche exporting loads of music. There’s also the fact that there are so many prolific Swedish songwriters and producers, such as Max Martin. In fact, in May 2012, half of the top ten songs on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart were written or produced by Swedes.

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Producer Max Martin has helped keep Swedish music exports near the top | © Näringsdepartementet / Wikipedia Commons

99% of Swedish waste is recycled

Walk down any street in Sweden and there’s a good chance you’ll come across a recycling station. Enter any Swedish home and you’ll see carefully separated bags of recycling waiting to be taken to the centre. Swedes obsessively recycle and are rightfully proud of the fact that they are so successful at it, they have to import waste from other countries to power their bio-fuel plants.

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Nearly everyone recycles in Sweden | © Calle Eklund/V-wolf / Wikipedia Commons

Innovation is a way of life

That Swedes are innovative cannot be argued. To mention just a few of their inventions: the ultrasound, the pacemaker, the safety match, the refrigerator, the computer mouse, the Celsius temperature scale. The three-point seat-belt, which was launched by Volvo in 1959, is found in more than one billion cars worldwide, and is said to have saved over a million lives.

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Sweden made it safe (er) to play with matches | Photo courtesy of PXhere

The Golden Arches

With 227 restaurants, Sweden has the highest number of McDonald’s per capita in Europe, with only the United States having more per capita in the world. The first McDonald’s in Sweden can be found on Kungsgatan in Stockholm, just a block away from Stureplan Square.

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You’re never far from Micky D’s in Sweden | © Tony Webster / Wikipedia

Candy Crush is Swedish

With 500 million downloads and counting, Candy Crush is king. It was created by the Swedish gaming company King, which is not only regularly named Sweden’s Best Employer, but which also crows about people playing Candy Crush even in Antarctica.

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Are you one of the 500 million people who play? | © Alper Çuğun / Flickr

Just 8% of Swedes attend church regularly

Despite 600,000 Swedes singing in choirs, with 500 choirs being members of the Swedish Choir Union (the largest number of choirs per capita in the world), only a minor portion of Swedes actually go to church regularly. Even further, nearly 70% of Swedes belong to the former Lutheran state church, although this might be due to an old rule that required everyone be enrolled at birth.

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Choirs are a way of life for nearly 10% of Swedes | © Propa / Wikipedia Commons

Sweden has five official minority languages

Sweden’s population is more diverse that many think, and the result is five official, national minority languages, and hundreds of others that are spoken around the country every day. The five minority languages are Finnish, Sami, Romani, Yiddish, and Meänkieli (Tornedal Finnish). Other frequently spoken languages include Serbo-Croatian, Arabic, Spanish, Kurdish, German, and Farsi.

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Finnish is Sweden’s largest minority language | Photo courtesy of PXhere