a homogenous region.....
The Scandinavian countries are usually
considered a homogenous cultural region. Norwegian, Danish and Swedish
are languages so closely related that Scandinavians understand each other
without difficulties. During long periods of history the countries were
joined together in unions. The societies are almost entirely protestant,
there exist only small ethnic minorities and the modern political systems
were formed by strong liberal and social democratic parties.
These and other common features make the Scandinavian
countries especially interesting for systematic comparison.
...with interesting cultural differences.
Contrary to what one might expect,
the symbolic patterns of everyday life differ quite considerably between
the three countries.
According to Norbert Elias' theory of social figuration
and civilisation, the main reason for these differences of national habitus
lies in the different forms of contact and conflict between the dominant
social classes of pre-modern times, e.g. nobility and bourgeoisie.
In the Scandinavian countries these forms varied. A
classic court-centred society (such as in France or Austria) existed only
in Sweden, while e.g. Norway had lacked a noteworthy nobility since the
to the greater importance of the aristocracy in Sweden, the need for social
distinction was greater there than in any other Scandinavian country.
Since the time of King Gustavus II Adolph (1611-1632) the Swedes thus
abandoned the use of personal pronouns when addressing each other in direct
speech, using instead titles and indirect speech to mark status distinctions.
In the 1930s a Danish journalist wrote:
Where one without ceremony would say in Danish: 'Will
you come back soon?', the Swedes say: 'Does director Johansson believe
that director Johansson will be back soon?' A Swede demonstrated this
to me by quoting a sentence in which 'director Johansson' appeared 5 -
read five times.
It is only slightly exaggerated to claim that until
the 1960s, one was not allowed to speak to a person without being introduced
to him or her, i.e. to learn that person´s name as well as title.
The system of titles was complex.
In manuals of etiquette large sections dealt with subjects
like "Inherited titles", "The same titles in written and in spoken language",
"Different titles in written and in spoken language", "Male professional
titles", "Women's professional titles" etc. (see picture).
In Denmark and Norway it was not common to use titles
to such an extent. Neither books on etiquette nor foreigners travelogues
refer to any use of formal titles comparable to the Swedish.
The most extreme contrast is to be found in Norway,
where no court society had influenced the symbolic patterns of everyday
life. Thus, an old cleaning woman, Josephine, from Oslo learnt to distinguish
only two types of person. Those tending to corpulence she called "directors",
while those on the slimmer side were "merchants".
is a truism that gender roles are social constructions, and by no means
biological constants. No wonder, then, that gender roles differed in the
three Scandinavian countries as well. Because of the legacy of court society,
the interaction between Swedish women and men was more hierarchical, distanced
and formalised, but maybe also more romantic than between Danish and Norwegian
women and men.
According to a Swedish manual of etiquette, a Swedish
man should bow deeply from the hip, with a straight back (picture to the
left), when meeting a women. This gave him at the same time a splendidly
stiff, almost robot-like expression. The woman should receive the kiss
on the hand with the same straight back and the mien of a ruler. Obviously,
the behaviour of the man and the woman was not symmetrical, e.g. there
was no eye contact.
According to a comparable source, a contemporary
Norwegian book on etiquette (picture to the right) , meetings between
Norwegian men and women were more symmetrical and egalitarian, and less
formalised. Both the woman and man used the same gestures, taking each
other's hand and looking into each other's eyes. There is no (pseudo-)
submissive bowing. Their clothes are plainer (street dress and fur instead
of evening gown and tail coat).
The cover of the Norwegian manual on etiquette indicates
where the reason for the more formalised and distanced gender roles was
to be found, i.e. pre-modern, court society.