Foreigners visiting Russia like to complain about customer service. It can be pretty horrible sometimes. Waiters and salespeople come across as rude, impatient, or just uninterested, and service can be unreasonably slow.

Russians (and others) who have been to the US like to retort that American customer service is irritating, overbearing, and fake. All the “can-I-help-yous” and “have-a-nice-days” and “my-name-is-Jenny-and-I’ll-be-your-waitress” and small talk and smiling seem quite absurd if you’re not used to it. And working in customer service can suck, with pressure to work fast, be nice, and pretend that “the customer is always right” (because, let’s face it, sometimes the customer is wrong).

As in so many things, Russia and the US are extremes. And, as in so many things, Sweden seems to have found the happy medium. Customer service here is helpful, efficient but not rushed, and devoid of emotion. They give you what you ask for, usually with just a nod of the head and a quiet “varsågod” (“you’re welcome” or “there you go”) and then it’s as if you disappear from their field of vision. Sometimes the American in me finds this a bit abrupt, and I stand there feeling a bit silly, like “is that all? Should I say something else? Did I piss them off?” But after a second I remember where I am, and I remember what it’s like in Russia, and I appreciate Sweden for, as always, being so reasonable.