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10 Myths & Misconceptions About Scandinavia

Correcting the Most Popular Misconceptions....


Are all Scandinavians blonde, shop at IKEA, and listen to ABBA? Nope, far from it. Let's clarify the most popular myths and misconceptions for Scandinavia and Scandinavians...

1. Misconception #1: The Weather is Rainy and Cold

Spring in Norway
(c) 2005 DJ_maxim
This is one of the biggest reasons why there aren't more people traveling to Scandinavia - the common "cold weather in Scandinavia" misconception. In reality, the climate and weather in Scandinavia is tempered continental with comfortably warm summers and mild winters. The places north of the Artic Circle (e.g. Finnish Lapland) do get colder in the winter but offer wonderful winter activities.

2. Misconception #2: Scandinavia is Expensive!

Scandinavian Coins & Bills
© TAM112007
Prices in Scandinavia are only slightly higher than in the U.S. - the big difference is that in Scandinavia, all price tags already include the 25% sales tax. This makes the prices appear inflated, but when compared to the after-tax prices in the U.S. or the UK, the difference is actually negligible. And fish, for example, is a lot cheaper in Scandinavia.

3. Misconception #3: All Scandinavians are Blonde

Denmark's Royal Family - July 07
Niels Henrik Dam / Getty Images
Actually, you will see a variety of hair colors (and skin colors). Compared to the rest of the world, there is only a slightly higher percentage of people with blonde or red hair, and blue eyes. What is true, though, is that Scandinavians are bit taller or shorter, and there's a lower percentage of people with average height!

4. Misconception #4: Everyone Shops at IKEA

Mall in Copenhagen
Et Fisketorvet
In a way, yes - but definitely not the way people think. You see, in Scandinavia IKEA is not the designer import store that outsiders see it as. To locals there, IKEA is just a mass-discount store with cheap items, almost like Wal-Mart is to Americans. And what's more, nowadays IKEA isn't a Scandinavian company anymore, but owned by a foundation in the Netherlands.

5. Misconception #5: They Eat Moose & Swedish Meatballs

Thorrablot Dinner
Nik Whitehead
Both are sometimes available on your dinner menu in Scandinavia, yes - but it's not too common. Actually, Swedes did not even have a word for "their" meatballs until 1755 and it is said that the meatballs came from southern Europe first. The most popular food in Scandinavian homes? All types of pasta - and in restaurants, it's pizza.

6. Misconception #6: You Hear ABBA Everyhere

Stockholm at Night
© Gröna Lund, SE
No, not every Scandinavian listens to ABBA. In fact, Scandinavia travelers will find that ABBA music has retreated into the background - you will still see a few ABBA reminders (e.g. ABBA museums) in Stockholm, but more contemporary pop artists have long taken over the radio stations and night clubs. The good thing: ABBA CDs are always on sale.

7. Misconception #7: Snow & Ice Covers Iceland, Greenland is Green

Reykjavik, Iceland
Sorry to disappoint. The "Land of Fire and Ice", Iceland does have its fair share of snow and ice but you're in for a disappointment if you expect the white powder in Iceland's capital Reykjavik (except in Dec/Jan). Travelers find, actually, that Iceland is a lot greener than you would think. Ironically, Greenland is a lot whiter than you would think. So, Iceland isn't covered in ice, and Greenland isn't very green!

8. Misconception #8: Scandinavians are Depressed

Polar Night In Norway, Scandinavia
To clarify this common misconception, we need to clarify the root: the Polar Nights, where parts of Scandinavia do not receive sunlight for several weeks or months. That actually only affects a small part of northern Scandinavia beyond the Arctic Circle. The issue has been researched and no evidence has been found that those dark nights increase depression in Scandinavians. Many living in regions that far north, are immune to SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).

9. Misconception #9: Lego is THE Scandinavian Toy

Legoland in Billund, Denmark
Legoland Billund
Just like everywhere else, the electronic age has taken over in Scandinavia. Lego has become more of a tourist souvenir for families visiting Scandinavia. Yes, Lego was invented in Denmark, but that's about it. Today, the original Lego location in Billund, Denmark, hosts Legoland Theme Park.

10. Misconception #10: Norway Only Offers Skiing

Vigeland Park in Oslo, Norway
Vigeland Park
Only people who have never been to Norway - or haven't been told more about it - relay this misconception about the Scandinavian country. Norway isn't just a destination for winter activities, but offers much more than that. Year-round, visitors experience natural phenomena, countless activities and events, and can enjoy breathtaking scenery in the country, or a European city atmosphere. And all that is possible in warm, sunny weather.

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