For members


‘Party Swedes, go home’: Do Swedish immigrants get a bad rep in Norway?

They might be close neighbours with a seemingly shared culture and identity, but Swedish immigrants have not always found it easy to settle in Norway, and have often been the butt of jokes and even abuse, explains Xander Brett.

Pictured is a Swedish and Norwegian flag side by side.
Do Swedish immigrants in Norway receive a tough welcome, or is it just friendly banter. Pictured is a Norwegian and Swedish flag side by side. Photo by Petter Bernsten/ AFP.

In May 2008, a wall on St Olavs gate street, Oslo, was graffitied. Scrawled across it, the words: ‘Partysvensker go home!’. The slogan, asking ‘party Swedes’ to leave Norway, played with neo-Nazi chants of the 1980s and 90s.

But, with free movement of people and a shared Nordic identity, Swedes in Norway had a history of being treated as ‘different immigrants’, or often simply not as immigrants at all.

The slogan, therefore, was generally interpreted as something benign and humorous. That was until a later addition to the wall, in 2009, that asked, ‘men Norge är ju svenskt?’ (But isn’t Norway Swedish anyway?’).

Rebecca Jafari, writing for Norwegian tabloid Dagsavisen, picked up on the debate. ‘They work hard,’ she wrote, ‘are service minded, rarely engage in crime, and pay taxes. Yet Swedes are subject to bullying by their neighbours.’

In 2014, the problems faced by some young Swedish immigrants in Norway were depicted by director Ronnie Sandahl, who named his latest feature film Svenskjævel (Swedish Devil).

The movie follows 23-year-old Dino as she arrives in Oslo to seek a life of affluence and happiness, only to be thrown into a cycle of odd jobs and partying.

It was a journey that seemed to document the life of an archetypal ‘partysvensk’, and it was held up as an example of the treatment awaiting young Swedes moving over the border.

By the late 2000s, Swedes had grown to be Norway’s second largest immigrant community (after Poles). The unique combination of high youth unemployment back home, versus a strong labour market further west, saw them flood into higher salaried jobs from hospitality to engineering.

At the same time, Norwegians continued to flock the other way, heading over the border to take advantage of Sweden’s low prices. Travelling along the border, the vast supermarkets are clear to see, erected just a few kilometres into Swedish territory, their car parks full of Norwegian registration plates.

Academic Ida Tolgensbakk wrote a 2015 study that examined how young Swedish workers were treated on arrival in Norway. She says the term ‘partysvensker’ is generally used more humorously than other immigrant chants, but that doesn’t mean everyone on the receiving end finds it fun.

“Some find it funny,” she tells The Local, “interpreting it as a sign of equality and closeness. Others find it stigmatising and racist.”

Tolgensbakk based her research on interviews, fieldwork, and a media study. She says Norwegians and Swedes have a long history of mutual jokes dating back to the 1970s.

“Swedes made jokes about Norwegians and vice-versa. However, at that point, there was no significant migration between the two countries, so it was merely neighbourly banter. The meaning changed when one neighbour became a minority in another,” she explains. 

Norway had been independent for years, but there was, perhaps, some lingering unease among Swedes about being the butt of jokes in a country they ruled until 1905.

In 2013, researching for Swedish daily Aftonbladet, journalists Jerker Ivarsson and Victor Stenquist went ‘on location in Oslo to meet Swedish workers aged 20 to 30.

Two-thirds of Swedish immigrants they spoke to had settled in Oslo, and it was to this carefree age group the term ‘partysvensker’ seemed to apply to. However, the then 23-year-old bartender Sarah Thegerström told them ‘partysvensker’ was far from a joke and spoke of the all-too-common bullying experiences of Swedes in her profession (she, apparently, was the victim of frequent anti-Swedish abuse from drunken customers herself).

Writing for Nyheter 24, meanwhile, Haviet Kok was in Norway when he took a phone call from his landlord. Kok says he was harassed by a Norwegian passer-by who had heard his Swedish accent and swore and pleaded that he and his compatriots cross back over the border.

Despite their infrequency, Tolgensbakk, author of the 2015 report, admits these experiences are far from non-existent. Many of the respondents to her study found it difficult to get to know their Norwegian neighbours, and she says they were often naïve in their belief that their culture was identical.

“If you look at the three Scandinavian nations from abroad,” she tells The Local, “you’d think we’re the same country: our histories are intertwined, our languages mutually intelligible. But when you get up close, there are noticeable pegs that separate us. We have our own peculiarities, and that can be confusing if you expect everything to be the same.”

For his part, migration researcher Jan Horgen Friberg says that in the social hierarchy of Norway’s immigrant groups, Swedes are at the top. “Although they may face negative stereotypes,” he says to The Local, “I think the term ‘racism’ is drawing it way too far.”

Along with reports of jokes, banter, even abuse, and struggles to settle in – which are not just limited to Swedes in Norway, there are, of course, many positive experiences of Swedes moving across the border.

Tea Lovcalic, who moved to Norway from Lund in southern Sweden, is perhaps just one of many Swedes who settle smoothly into life in Norway.

She says she felt included straight away.

“The experience was positive and welcoming, both in the workplace and out.”

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


REPORT: Majority of Swedish for Immigrants classes have ‘clear quality issues’

Four out of five providers of Swedish for Immigrants (SFI) classes have clear quality issues, a new report from Sweden's schools watchdog has found, with schools failing to help students practice spoken Swedish or adapt material to individual needs.

REPORT: Majority of Swedish for Immigrants classes have 'clear quality issues'

The report, by Skolverket, the Swedish National Agency for Education, found that the quality of teaching across different SFI providers differed greatly, with only six of the 30 providers the agency investigated providing good quality teaching. All of the other 24 providers had issues, with three of them displaying serious failings. 

In the report, Skolverket looked into both distance learning and on-site classes, finding that students in distance classes in particular rarely had the chance to practice speaking Swedish.

“If students at SFI do not have enough of a chance to speak Swedish, the barrier for them to enter into society and the labour market is raised,” the agency’s director-general, Helén Ängmo, wrote.

“Many contacts in society rely on being able to participate in dialogue, with healthcare, agencies or schools. It is worrying that we’re still seeing many clear issues with the quality of SFI, for example with distance classes and with the level to which they are adapted to individuals.”

Despite the fact that online classes often allow teachers to adapt the course material to students’ abilities to a greater degree, they are in general less varied, as students are often required to do more work at home by themselves with less chance of practicing speech and writing skills together with other students.

Another common issue was the fact that many providers don’t offer students a chance to practice Swedish used in everyday situations, with many students wanting to learn how to hold conversations with people and communicate with governmental agencies and authorities.

At one SFI provider, students told inspectors at Skolverket that they were still unable to communicate with staff at the supermarket, for example, despite having studied SFI for a relatively long time.

Other students felt that they had had to learn from their own children how to communicate with staff at their children’s school or preschool, with this subject matter lacking in their SFI studies.

Students who already had better Swedish skills were often not challenged enough in class, and the opportunities for students to influence teaching were low.

In the providers where teachers more often tailored classes to students’ interests, experience or goals, students were more likely to work with examples from their everyday lives, such as healthcare workers practicing language used in the healthcare sector, help with language used when collecting children at school or how to fill in different types of forms.

In these classes, the report reads, teachers were more likely to adapt and target exercises to individual students or groups of students, when relevant.

Another aspect which affected the quality of teaching was teachers’ expectations of their work. In classes where teachers felt there was a lack of assistance from school leadership, a lack of opportunity for teachers to work together with other teachers, or where they felt not enough time was dedicated to contact between teachers and students in online courses, the quality of teaching was more likely to be worse.

In order to fix these issues, the agency wrote, teachers need better support in developing and adapting teaching to individual students. Only 55 percent of SFI teachers in the 2022/23 academic year had a teaching qualification to teach SFI at adult level for that year, which, the agency writes is “not enough”.

Online classes have potential, it wrote, but need to be developed, as they offer the chance for students to combine studies with their work lives or parental leave, for example. However, it said, these students should have equal opportunity to develop their Swedish communication skills than students participating in classes in person.

The agency stressed the importance of SFI for Sweden as a country. 

“Getting the opportunity to learn Swedish to communicate in everyday life, the community, the workplace and in studies is important for students who do not have Swedish as their native language,” the agency wrote in a press release. “That is why municipal-run Swedish for Immigrants classes for adults play an important role.”