Even as Europe goes, Scandinavia is a more unusual destination for an American traveling abroad. First choice is usually Great Britain, France, Germany, or Italy, partly because these countries are so important to our heritage and history. So, I find it interesting that I sometimes feel so at ease here, I forget that I’m in another country. Why is that?
One big factor is that English is the language of travel. However, that’s true no matter where you go in the world anymore, with very few exceptions.
I think my feeling of being “at home” in Scandinavia has more to do with all the unspoken norms and values. This is what we eat, and when, and how. Stores are open at this time. Shopkeepers acknowledge you in such and such a way, but don’t bother you otherwise. We allow X amount of personal space, eye contact, privacy-in-public. This is how we dress. These are the expectations around gender. Etc. It’s all so familiar, so similar to my own, native culture, that I know what to do and what to expect of others, without thinking about it.
This is not the case in, for example, Italy. At least, not for me. When I’m in Italy, I’m aware at every moment that I’m in a place that is utterly foreign to me—charming, enthusiastically friendly and open, but completely foreign. Perhaps if my heritage and family life had a big dose of Italian ancestry, I’d feel differently, but it seems to me that American culture is modeled far more along Scandinavian lines than Italian. My heritage isn’t Scandinavian, either, but it’s northern European enough that the norms and values here feel like my own.