How Many Scandinavian Countries Are There?

How many Scandinavian countries are there?  I thought I knew.  The answer always seemed easy in school.  There are four.  Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland.  But it turns out the answer isn’t as easy up close as it is from a distance.  What is Scandinavia?  Do you define it by the geographic location?  By the language?  By the cultural similarities?

Stavanger, Norway

If you define Scandinavia by geography, the answer would be that there are two Scandinavian countries:  Norway and Sweden.  These are the two countries located on the Scandinavian peninsula.  Denmark is connected to Europe and Germany.  Finland is connected to Russia.

If you define Scandinavia by a shared Viking culture, then you need to include the Faroe Islands and Iceland.  You might even want to stretch that to Minnesota and North Dakota.  I have even seen Estonia added to this list.

If you define Scandinavia by shared language similarities, then German, Dutch and English are all closely related to Norwegian, Danish, Icelandic and Swedish.  Tom and I have noticed this.  If we try saying a word out loud, a lot of the time we can figure out what it means.  Finnish is part of a completely different language family, the Uralic.  For instance, the phrase “thank you” comes out “tak” in Danish, “dankjewel” in Dutch, “danke” in German, and “takk” in Icelandic.  But it is “kiitos” in Finnish.

Wikipedia describes Scandinavia in this way:

Scandinavia is a subregion of Northern Europe, with strong historical, cultural, and linguistic ties between its constituent peoples. Scandinavia most commonly refers to DenmarkNorway, and Sweden. It can sometimes also refer to the Scandinavian Peninsula (which excludes Denmark but includes a part of northern Finland). In English usage, Scandinavia is sometimes used as a synonym for Nordic countriesIceland and the Faroe Islands are sometimes included in Scandinavia for their ethnolinguistic relations with Sweden, Norway and Denmark. 

Now isn’t that nice and clear?

Perhaps the most common denominator for Scandinavia is the Viking heritage.  People from the North Sea area participated in large-scale raiding, conquest, colonization and trading throughout Europe and North America.

Another common denominator that Tom and I have noticed is that Scandinavians are happy, pragmatic people.  They give a good part of their income to the government, and, in turn, the government guarantees them a certain standard of living.  Their economies all use the Nordic model.  Healthcare and education are free to everyone who lives and works there.  They value getting along with each other over personal rights.

Apartment buildings in Oslo

It is always interesting to learn about a different culture.  There are some similarities among the countries but the people are proud of their differences as well.  Scandinavia is not as clear-cut a location as I thought it was.  Fortunately we have another three weeks to explore more of it.