Not Swederland: Differences Between Sweden and Switzerland

by Stefan Johnsson

Both Sweden and Switzerland are great locations to intern abroad in. Despite each country having distinct benefits for international interns, some people still don't realize that the two are very separate countries. The mistake is one of the most common when it comes to geography, but a Swede is not a Swiss. The confusion has its merits, but the differences are large. So what causes the confusion and what is truly Swedish?

Snow Mountain, Switzerland

Snow Mountain, Switzerland

Legit Similarities: Mountains and Climate

Both Sweden and Switzerland are located in Europe, have mountains, and cold climates. The confusion usually starts there. But what makes Sweden unique? For one, Sweden covers a greater area and the weather patterns are different. Switzerland is a landlocked country surrounded by the Alps so temperatures don’t fluctuate much.

Sweden, even though further north than Switzerland, experiences a more temperate climate in the south, but much colder weather up north. The temperate climate is due to the winds from the gulf-stream that from the Caribbean Sea. You can experience great summer weather and bearable winters in the south. The northern tip of Sweden is located inside the Arctic Circle and the cold weather comes from the northeast, making university cities such as Uppsala, Umea, and Stockholm a lot colder than those in the south where the University of Lund is located: definitely something to keep in mind when choosing your internship in Sweden. 

The only part of Sweden that it mountainous is the northwest, where Lappland is located. This region, located around Kiruna, the main city in the north, has mountain views similar to Switzerland. Though, the temperature is on average a lot colder, due to the darker nights and northern winds. Even in the southernmost tip of Sweden you might only be getting four hours of sunlight during the darkest day of the year. The less mountainous areas of  Sweden and in the more populated southern regions, you will see more people playing ice hockey and doing cross-country skiing than you would see downhill skiing, which is more famous in Switzerland. 

Pocket Knives and Chocolate?

What about other aspects that confuses the two countries? If your mind is focused on Swiss knives, cheese, chocolate, fondue, watches, and goats then you are not thinking about Sweden. All of these things are Swiss, so what’s left to claim? There is quite a bit, and several design names that will be of particular interest to interns, but unfortunately they are not as famous as some of the big name items from Switzerland. 

Royal Palace, Sweden

Royal Palace, Sweden

Swedish Big Names. One of the most iconic images nowadays is, believe it or not, IKEA. The furniture store has become a huge hit around the world, and with it being blue and yellow (the colors of the Swedish flag), it does strike as a store that signifies the progressiveness of Swedish businesses. Other brand names that have made it around the world are Husqvarna (home appliances), H&M (clothes), Ericsson(electronics, acquired by Sony), SAS (Scandinavian Airlines), Volvo, SAAB (now known as NEVS), and Svedka and Absolut vodka, are brands that have made a name for themselves outside of Sweden’s borders. And don’t forget the famous Swedish meatballs which come from a popular dish in Sweden. 

Language

Sweden also has its very own language unlike Switzerland whose national language is German, followed by parts of the country that have influences in Italian and French. Most Swiss speak only broken English, which makes the language barrier more difficult. Swedish, on the other hand, is a Germanic based language and has many words that are closely linked to German and English. 

The great thing about Sweden is that most grow up knowing English. Sweden has strong influences from British and American culture. Thus, by as young as ten, most Swedes have a strong understanding of the English language. This makes interning in Sweden a lot easier for foreigners!

Music

A lot of the pop culture is in English as well. Sweden is one of the most famous countries for producing artists. This has to do with the laid back atmosphere. They live at home for an extended period of time and have a carefree attitude toward life. Older Swedish bands such as ABBA and Ace of Base are known worldwide and they sang predominantly in English. Current popular music spans over several genres and includes artists such Swedish House Mafia, the Cardigans, Basshunter, In Flames, Hammerfall, and many more.

Château de Chillon, Switzerland

Château de Chillon, Switzerland

Politics

Another misunderstanding about Sweden and Switzerland are that both countries have remained fairly neutral for more than two centuries. Switzerland has been neutral almost double the time that Sweden has been, but the idea that both were not fighting during WW II does show that they have kept much of their countries intact throughout the years. 

Sweden rose in prominence due to the copper, coal, and shipbuilding industries during WW II, while Switzerland relied on financial reprieves for individuals and a strong natural barrier to attacks. Due to this, even though Switzerland is the most expensive European country to live in, Sweden sits not far behind at number three. The way that Sweden has remained on top is partially due to the high tax rate and that it is a social welfare state which has caused the average income to remain high.

Swiss vs. Swede

No Cheese Please? What about the people, how different are the Swiss from Swedes?  For one, the Swiss do eat more cheese than Swedes do, though that is because fondue or raclette is not something you would normally eat in Sweden. Another aspect is that Swedes tend to have a more liberal mind set and this has created a strong social welfare system that has made Sweden a comfortable place to live with many different kinds of government assistance programs. This includes perks such as getting government stipends for going to college. 

Sundborn, Sweden

Sundborn, Sweden

Religion to Sports. Swedes predominantly consider themselves atheists, but with the strong Lutheran background, the churches would fill up only two days out of the year – Christmas and Easter. Swiss tend to be more punctual people than Swedes whose more laid back lifestyle creates a stronger sense of enjoying nature and its surroundings. You will also see that Swedes love sports and a huge population of Swedes are involved in some kind of activity, be it skiing, soccer, ice hockey, running, or handball.  

Find Out For Yourself

There are many more unique differences that set both countries apart, but those are better left for personal experiences. Swedish history is unique and rich with stories of the Viking age and the religious wars that put Sweden in prominence in the 1600s. Swedes are proud of their history and feel it strongly sets them apart from Switzerland. Knowing these fundamental differences will set you apart from the average intern or student and help you get off to a good start for life during your internship in Sweden.