This just came up in, of all places, the archives listserv:
BP's chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg has been taken to task for a statement he made to reporters after a meeting with President Obama and other White House officials: "I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies are really companies that don’t care, but that is not the case in BP, we care about the small people."
Apparently, many listeners were put off by the seeming condescension of the phrase "small people." But the Language Log blog trolls the comments at various sites and finds several people claiming to be native Swedish speakers, who offer up variants on this explanation:
In Sweden we often say “den lilla människan” (lit: “the little human”) when we talk about someone or a group of people who either is up against larger forces or odds, or simply have been unfortunate enough to be caught in the middle between (much) bigger and more powerful players/forces/events.
Plus, would anyone in the US even blink if a Gulf Coast fisherman said, "Someone's got to stand up for the little guy"?