What is Scandinavia?

Eric Tallberg

Depending on geographical location, linguistic facility, and point of view, Scandinavia is a most confusing, interchangeable, and, often disputatious term. Non-Europeans seem airily unaware of the imprecise nature of the Scandinavian question. Europeans, however, in their vehement support of tradition, and maniacal dedication to precision and categorization, are quick to correct a misplaced definition of “Scandinavian.” They are, however, not so quick to notice that the word Scandinavia is commonly misspelled as Scandanavia.

There is no real agreement as to whether Iceland is or is not part of Scandinavia.
There is no real agreement as to whether Iceland is or is not part of Scandinavia.

Geographically, the term Scandinavia refers to the Scandinavian Peninsula. This peninsula is the northernmost region of the European continent, with the extreme northern areas of the Scandinavian Peninsula extending into Antarctica. The nations of Norway, Sweden, and Finland, specifically, the northern portion of Finland, make up the Scandinavian Peninsula; citizens of these nations, therefore, consider themselves true Scandinavians.

Sweden is a country in Scandinavia.
Sweden is a country in Scandinavia.

Laplanders, those peoples inhabiting the arctic region of the Scandinavian Peninsula have traditionally raised reindeer as farm animals. Reindeer are, of course, integral to the legend of Santa Clause, thus contributing to the myth that this jolly old man lives at the North Pole. However, residents of the Scandinavian Peninsula will dispute any foreign claims that Santa is a Scandinavian, the North Pole being separated from the Scandinavian Peninsula by the Arctic Sea.

Historically, language seems to have been a major factor in determining various peoples or nations as Scandinavian. The term Skandinavien is common to the Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish languages and is, today, a common delineation of nations comprising Scandinavia. Finland, the Faroe Islands, and Iceland, however, continue to be included in the Scandinavian linguistic mix, correctly or not, because of the similarities of their languages to those spoken on the Scandinavian Peninsula.

The various dictionaries of the world don’t do much to clarify matters relating to a definitive distinction of Scandinavia. Nearly every dictionary agrees that Norway, Sweden, and Denmark are true Scandinavian nations, but there, agreement ends. No set criteria seem to be in place to include or exclude Finland, Iceland, and/or the Faroe Islands, among other smaller territories and possessions, into various dictionary definitions of Scandinavia.

Further muddying the northern waters is the fact that at the beginning of the 20th century, political, social, and cultural similarities between Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland have comprised what’s known as a “Nordic welfare state.” Thus, for those outside the Scandinavian Peninsula, there is a commonly accepted interchanging of the terms "Nordic” and "Scandinavian." It appears that, depending on the oscillating political and cultural correctness of the Nordic welfare state, Finns, Danes, and the Icelandic peoples consider themselves either Scandinavian or Nordic. The term “Nordic,” unfortunately, gained some lasting infamy during the reign of Adolf Hitler in Germany.

Norway is a Scandinavian country bordering Sweden and Finland in the farthest reaches of Northern Europe.
Norway is a Scandinavian country bordering Sweden and Finland in the farthest reaches of Northern Europe.

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Discussion Comments


Scandinavia is Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Most foreigners don't understand at all. It's not just about geography, but about the similar culture and language.

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