The Swedish Subculture Keeping 1950s America Alive

Stefan Olsson via Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Stefan Olsson via Flickr // CC BY 2.0 / Stefan Olsson via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Going to a raggare meet feels like stepping out of a time machine. Attendees sporting slicked-back hair and leather jackets roll up in vintage hot rods, ready to spend the day drinking beer from the can and listening to Elvis Presley. The scene could be mistaken for the American South in the 1950s, until someone opens their mouth and starts speaking Swedish.

Raggare (from the Swedish "raga," which means "to pick up girls") is one of Scandinavia’s more bizarre subcultures. It originated with Swedish teens in the 1950s as that generation’s form of rebellion. Following World War II, the neutral country was in good economic shape compared to the rest of Europe: American cultural imports flowed across the border and lower class citizens finally had the money to buy them. Rockabilly music infiltrated Sweden, and more importantly, hot rods became popular. As American cars gained favor with the youth, so did the American greaser aesthetic.

Stefan Olsson via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

But raggare differed from its U.S. counterpart in one major way. Instead of fading away from the public consciousness, it persisted as the decades progressed. In 1978, the annual Power Big Meet began as a place for raggas to get together and show off their retro vehicles. Today, the event in Västerås, Sweden is the world’s biggest classic car show.

Though the subculture is far from obscure (their numbers were estimated at half a million in 2009) it’s certainly lost the youthful vibe it had in the 1950s. Many of today's members are older and can afford to buy the cars that have shot up in value in the past 50 years. But if young raggare devotees feel excluded by the high prices of vintage cars and Swedish gas, they do have options—painting an old Volvo black and bringing it to the meet isn’t unheard of.

Stefan Olsson via Flickr// CC BY 2.0