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!