Swedish culture is usually perceived as simple, open to international influences and egalitarian. Sweden is one of the countries which never supported serfdom and peasant smallholders, and as a tradition had greater involvement in the affairs of the nation than virtually in any other Western country. Trade unions and protestant work ethic are key factors that have shaped Swedish mentality.
Jante’s Law, an unspoken code of ethics that rejects distinguishing oneself from the rest, is still very strong in many fields and areas in Sweden, while Elitism usually encounters strong criticism. This approach goes hand-in-hand with the respect of humbleness and modesty, and the Swedish lagomhet (appraisal of modesty and humbleness). Swedes often express themselves in modest terms. Especially since the 19th Century, a strong urge towards more individualist values took over the more collectivist ones. In turn, a strong attitude of tolerance towards same-sex relationships and racism has resulted in a country with little xenophobia. Hard work and honesty are encouraged by the atmosphere of merging capitalist values and Swedish agrarian modesty. Sweden is generally a country of low corruption, and animal protection and environmentalism are important values.
Sweden boasts one of the most famous national film industries in the world, partly due to innovation in its early days. Mauritz Stiller and Victor Sjostrom were gifted visionaries of the silent period, who also gained international interest to Swedish filmmaking. Famous Swedish actors and actresses include Greta Garbo, Ingrid Bergman, Stellan Skarsgard, Max Von Sydow, Lena Olin, Ingrid Thulin and Peter Stormare.
Some 600,000 Swedes belong to various choirs. In the 1970s and early 80s, the group ABBA was the essence of Swedish Pop music. The 1990s saw Roxette emerge as popular and successful singer in the U.S. Other Swedish Rock groups that have won world-wide recognition include Europe and Ace of Base. Some of the world’s most popular singers have had their albums produced in Sweden, such as Britney Spears, Bon Jovi and the Backstreet Boys. Gothenburg is also famous for hosting the Death Metal sound. Many of the bands in this trend, such as In Flames, Opeth and Dark Tranquility, have had increasing commercial success in the U.S. and Europe. Swedish Hip Hop is also a booming genre, but has not attracted international fame. Sweden is home to several reputable singers. Jenny Lind, often referred to as the Swedish Nightingale, toured the U.S. in the 1850s. In the 1950s, Jussi Bjorling was one of the few non-Italian opera performers who achieved international recognition as well.
Sweden has an active and vibrant tradition in literature. The Nobel Prize in Literature is awarded by the independent cultural institution, the Swedish Academy, established in 1786 by King Gustav III to promote the Swedish language and its literature. Famous Swedish authors include Selma Lagerof, August Strindberg and Astrid Lindgren.
Frescos, baptismal founts and altar pieces of churches are the oldest art remains of Sweden. The motifs were developed around religious beliefs and focus on Jesus Christ, the devil, purgatory and the Virgin Mary. In the 19th Century, the painter Carl Larsson shaped the image of the idyllic countryside in his picturesque and naive illustrations. Swedish architecture has developed for centuries. Some buildings were made of wood before the 13th Century. However, some were also constructed of stone, as seen in the 11th-century Lund Cathedral, which follows the Romanesque style of Northern Italy. Many early Gothic churches, such as the Malmo, Ystad and Helsingborg, also spot the country’s landscape. In other parts of Sweden, cathedrals were erected as seats of the bishops, such as the Skara Cathedral, made of brick dating from the 14th Century, and the 15th-century Uppsala Cathedral. Older structures include some significant fortresses and other historic buildings, such as the Borgholm Castle, the Eketorp and Nykoping fortresses, the Halltorps Manor and the Visby wall. The Middle Ages saw the erection of many grand mansions, castles and fortresses, such as the Gripsholm and Vadstena Castles, and the Kalmar fortress. In the centuries that followed, Baroque and Rococo architectural styles covered Sweden, as seen in the city of Karlskrona, which is now designated as a World Heritage Site. The 19th Century was characterised by Classicism and Historicism, and resulted in the development of Neo-architecture. Many of Sweden’s churches and castles were built between 1850 and 1910. The great Stockholm exhibition in 1930 marked the rise of Functionalism, which dominated the next few decades. A notable project in this trend was the Million Programme, which offered affordable living in vast apartment complexes.