Call Me Dave


I am rather tickled by Lord Ashcroft’s book about David Cameron, Call Me Dave. 

Why does it tickle me? David Cameron has been ribbed (well, ridiculed) because he tells people to call him Dave. This would never be the slightest issue in Sweden because they don’t use titles.

Nope, no titles. No Mr, Mrs, Ms, Mx, Dr, Professor, Reverend, Sir, Madam, Lord, Lady. Nothing. You just call people by their first name. No matter who they are. If you fill out a form you just use first name and last name. My doctor is Mårten for example. I am not even sure what his last name is. If Mårten is not available I go to Elin – and I don’t know her last name either!

I have taught everyone from the Prime Minister to the future Queen of Sweden and have never used anyone’s title, just their first name. The only exception to this would be if I interacted with the Crown Princess in public. Then I would use her title. Otherwise I just call people by their name as expected and everyone is happy.

Newspapers just use names for people, no titles. So the Prime Minister is Stefan Löfven. Not Mr Löfven or Mr Prime Minister. Same on television. When I have taught him I  have called him Stefan. Compounding this issue, Swedish very seldom uses capital letters. So they do not even have that to show any form or distance in writing.

In the late 1960s there was a reform in Sweden (the so called du-reform) which the more formal ‘ni’ – used to refer to people formally and respectfully – was abolished and only the less formal ‘du’ remained. In Afrikaans, my second language, we also had this, which presumably came from Dutch. Jy was used to refer to people you were close to in social standing and relationship and u was for people to whom you wished to show respect – the elderly, those higher than you in social status and so on. I imagine it was the same in Sweden.

The strangest thing is, in South Africa I never called my bosses by their first name. Even after they retired and asked me to use their first names, I couldn’t. I was so used to that professional distance between us that I was unable to overcome it. Yet in Sweden I never had a problem calling people by their first name only, which is strange because I deal with far more major players here than I did in Africa.

In Sweden not only are there no titles but the management structure is very flat and management is done by consensus, which tends to make decision making slower. There is a law, The Swedish Co-Determination in the Workplace Act which regulates this and means that employees are more empowered within their role at work.

In my job, my clients find this very difficult when in a multi-cultural environment. They are not sure how to address people and find it difficult when people give them ‘because I say so’ type orders. They are afraid of being too informal in person and in writing, and they are not sure how to give orders.

Swedes also dress rather informally at work. They tend to dress down for work and up for parties whereas other countries tend to dress up for work and down for parties!

Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

5 thoughts

  1. I went for an eye test today, the young optician called me in by my ‘title’ and surname even though I am on friendly first name terms with the person who owns the business, I was treated in a very formal way – he wore a tie. Our GP calls us in by our first and surname with no title, all the GP’s are very relaxed, no ties or jackets. I recently led a course for a religious order, I was introduced just by my first name and everyone who spoke to me used my frst name. I always introduce myself to everyone with just my first name. I have not had a boss for many years but call everyone I do work for by their first name. Yes, times have changed – good.

  2. Dropping titles or calling someone “Dave” when his first name is David???? I just can’t do it.

    There are different reasons for that.
    First of all l think that if people have a title, using it is a way to show respect to it. For instance nobody would call their doctor Peter or even Mr Jones but Doctor Jones.

    Here no one calls someone who is not a friend or a relative by their first name. It would be considered as very rude. Children are taught to say “good morning Mrs Smith” and not just “good morning Madam”.

    An other reason for not dropping the titles is that unless we are very familiar with someone, we ignore their first name.

    Personaly l hate it when people are too familiar (with me or in general) and l think that using a title is not a way to show distance at all. One can be very close and still use titles.

    When l was living in England it really shocked me that some famous people (like the Prime Minister, members of the royal family…) were called by their first name.

    I guess that each country has its habits and we have to be aware of them when one wants to adapt to a multi-cultural environment.

  3. It really is amazing how times have changed. When I was in my 20’s I would never address my bosses by their first names, but 30 years later it is so different. I watch the younger folks in the company I work for address the senior executives by their first names, but like you, Janet, if I saw an old boss on the train or in town, I would NEVER address him by their first name..

  4. Thank you! I never realized that there were no titles in Sweden …I imagine calling all the administrators in an annual education plan meeting for my son (special needs) by their first names…. it makes me happy and giggly – puts one on a more level playing field I would think! In lieu of people looking down upon a parent because they are “not” the “educator” – because a parent may ask for what a child needs in lieu of what the school district wants to give which is two totally different things…. does Sweden include all of their children or do they segregate the special needs children from the rest?

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