The relational challenges of living in Scandinavia

The Nordic countries of Sweden, Norway, Denmark & Finland regularly feature at or near the top of every quality of life index you can find. Like this one from the OECD or this from the Economist or this one from the World Economic Forum which has them taking 4 of the top 7 spots. So all in all good places to live.

There is though one area where instead of featuring near the top they instead cluster right at the bottom. And it’s a big deal: how easy is it to make friends.

Take a look at this map.

See the countries in red at the top of the map? That’s not good. In a report on how expats find life in their new country, they found that it’s not just the weather but the welcome that’s chilly up north.

These are the rankings out of 65 for the following categories:

Feeling welcome: Finland (45), Sweden (51), Norway (52), Denmark (61)
Friendliness: Norway (50), Sweden (56), Denmark (59), Finland (62)
Finding friends: Finland (57), Norway (63), Denmark (64), Sweden (65)

I would say all the anecdotal evidence from our six years here would back that up – that expats find it hard to break into Swedish circle of friends and therefore turn to other internationals which just reinforces the patter. Sweden struggles with integration.

These dynamics make living out the Gospel harder in numerous ways – building family and community and evangelism being obvious examples. Yet it’s also an opportunity to break down barriers and to be a credible welcoming alternative to what otherwise can feel like getting the cold shoulder from an entire nation.

Photo by Pricey

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