10 Things to Know About Swedes

Do you have Swedish friends and wonder their behavior is strange or just Swedish?  What makes Swedes different from the other Europeans?  And if you are visiting or just moved to Sweden, what should you know about them?

  1. Swedish men are shy. It will take some time to speak to one, especially if you don’t know him.  Swedish guys that you know, through the office or elsewhere, are easier to deal with. It’s said that even Swedish girls can be shy too.
  2. Like water is to plants; alcohol is the same to Swedes. If you meet a guy at a party, give him an extra beer, it’s sure to liberate his speaking ability. For that matter, give a girl an extra beer too.
  3. Swedes are passive, both the men and women. Many can even be passive aggressive because they do not like to vocalize issues.  They prefer to avoid conflict at all costs.
  4. They can be direct. Going completely against #3, Swedes are ironically direct people.  However, their directness can be subtle and hard to read.  For example, if your manager says to ‘get a little more work done,’ what they mean is ‘you’re in the dump right and really need to kick ass at work.’  You could say that in some ways this quiet directness is similar to being passive aggressive.  It takes time to read them.
  5. Social systems are closed. In many European societies, making friends is difficult, almost painful at times.  Becoming friends with Swedes and joining their social circles is arduous.  Most Swedes hang out with friends from gymnasium (high school) or college and have a tight, small social network.  Hanging out with coworker Swedes, is rare. However it is possible to make lots of friends as a newcomer.
    Here are a few options to making new friends:

    • Join a company which is international and has many foreign employees;
    • Join a small but new company that is also part Swedish and part foreign employed;
    • Attend clubs or general expat events.  This option is dangerous because you could end up with lots of other foreign friends and forget about the Swedes.  But, there are always a few Swedes at these mixers, find those folks and chat them up.
    • Find activities that you used to do in your home country and do them in Sweden too! Yoga classes, ballroom dancing, knitting, gym, sailing, belly dancing, and much more. Don’t mope at home hoping for friends to magically appear or be depressed by TheLocal forum group; get yourself out there and you will start to meet new people.
    • Seek out some good Swedish online communities to learn more about Sweden and make virtual friends that can hopefully transcend into reality.
  6. Swedes do not like to be late. I love to be late, it is my motto; I just am unable to get myself to parties exactly on time.  Dinner plans or coffee dates, I will be there, otherwise, forget it.  Still, in Sweden, you do not go anywhere late. Their motto is to be punctual, so stick to it.
  7. Swedes are stylish. They are not the drop dead fashionistas of Paris or Rome, but the Swedes have their own ultra modern, sleek style.  Swedish households say it all, gorgeous and beautifully decorated.  Be prepared, being stylish in Sweden is expensive.  There’s a reason why Nordiska Galleriet (not NK) charges 10.000SEK (approx $1,300) on a wrought-iron chair. However, I have to say, their clothing fashion reeks of the 80s too much.
  8. In Sweden, people have no desire to give better service. We all know it: Swedes suck at customer service.  Restaurants, shops, airline counters, you name it and they will give you no service.  It is not case of bad service, you just get no service.  I understand now that for many Swedes, they consider too much customer service as intrusive. And Swedes can be annoyed when asked “Can I help you find something?,” “Do you want another drink?”, while Americans expect that kind of questioning from service professionals. But sometimes I wonder, can’t people just smile more? Is it that hard to communicate with others.  There’s a lot of discussions that Swedes do things on their own, but mammal societies are socially based.   Why would we want to move backwards and become more unsocial?
  9. Silence is golden. It is okay to not speak every second of every moment.  Þorbjörn and I sometimes sit at the breakfast table silent for 10-15 minutes before either one of us speaks.   If your Swedes seems unusually quiet, they are not mad or annoyed at you, they just enjoy a bit of peace and quiet.
  10. Swedes love nature. Sweden is a beautiful country and they take great pride in taking care of the natural landscape.  If you have a day off, you will walk around the city or go hiking, but never stay indoors.  Most Swedes seem to have Swedish summer houses, a place to relax and get away from bustling life. I admire that they take nature seriously and it is even evident in recycling habits.
  11. They love potatoes and herring. I don’t like herring but I do love potatis med graddfil!
  12. Fika is a religious experience.Everyday of the week, Swedes love coffee, love kakor (cake), and love to talk (they can!) in a profound experience called the fika. You cannot get away from and you cannot live without. Consider it to be a high end coffee break with the icing on top too.

And there you have it! What else should we know about Swedes?

43 thoughts on “10 Things to Know About Swedes”

  1. Don’t forget we tend to plan everything we do at least 4 days in advance as well :). Actual spur of the moment things are quite rare to occur when you encounter swedes (heck we even plan which bar to go to on a Friday at the Monday morning fika at the workplace).

  2. Another thing to know is that if you are invited to a party/barbecue usually you have to bring your own food and drinks, probably your host will offer some dessert and coffe but only that.

    About point 5 I agree that it can be hard to make friends in Sweden, basically you have to approach little by little until they start to feel comfortable with you…but this can take some time, be patient.

  3. since i’ve faced many of these points in making friend process, i could agree with almost most of them. it was pretty tough though at first cuz our culture(persians) is totally different than Sverige’s culture.

  4. totally ok with everything, but I have to say that incredibly (according to what you say) I had a really good customer service. Always helpful, smiling at me and they even refilled my glass without asking at the restaurant!

  5. I´m american and have been told that i should not try to speak to women on the street?? I´m in Goteborg. Is this a no – no here?

  6. To Scott: That’s true, speaking to strangers on the street is considered odd in Sweden. The women will only think of you as intrusive and strange, with very very few exceptions. Swedes have a hard time trusting other people, until we get a feel for who you are we’re scared of you. You could be a crazy stalker, rapist or serial killer for all we know. It probably sounds ridiculous to you (and I admit it is) but somehow this is where we’re at, we are extremely careful. Most Swedes agree that our behaviour is exaggerated, but we don’t really know how to change it. A conversation on the street will not be enough to assure us.

    Swedes are, however, assured by the following:

    *Mutual acquaintances.

    *Alcohol (not if You get drunk on the street naturally, but if they are drunk and if you are in at a club/bar/party)

    *Mutual venue (meaning: the same class/workplace/dance-class etc. Any closed space where it is certain that you will run into each other for a longer period of time. Public transportation is NOT included.)

    *Kind-looking dogs. If you are out walking with your Labrador we see your caring side. There is even a Swedish movie called “The Dog Trick”. In this case, it could be alright to talk to a stranger, but do not ask them personal questions (like phonenumber) unless the conversation is going really well. Instead, try walking the same rout everyday and talk to this person several times before you ask something more personal.

    *Babies/small children. Works the same way as the dog trick.

    *Kind looking friends. If you walk out from a group of kind-looking people to talk to a stranger, they will see that you are normal, social and liked. If you walk out from a group of people with bomberjackets and shaved skulls (or something similar), this will have the opposite effect. If any kind of group is laughing, you will scare the Swede away as well.

    Good luck :P!

  7. I just finished reading through your entry and not only was it enormously entertaining, but also eye-opening to the sorts of things to expect. It is my hope to study abroad in Sweden in a year’s time.

  8. I have a Swedish boyfriend and I must say there is a lot of truth in what you say. In effet, it takes time to gain the confidence of Swedish guys but once they get to know you, they are friendly,caring and always respect your opinions.

    For the social systems, I don’t think it is that close. I have talked to many Swedish people on the net and eventually met 2 of them. Once you show that you make an effort to understand and appreciate their culture, they will even propose you to join their social network.

    The fika…? Yeah, drinking coffee is really part of the Swedish culture. You cannot get away from that :P The customer service isn’t necessarily bad but it isn’t as exaggerated as in North America. They will help out with kindness and courtesy but they won’t stay around you all the time.

    And… for the silence, yes, it is true. They can sometimes seem absent and not talk to you when you are around but it is just in their calm nature.

    I hope my comments can help people understand better the Swedish culture and improve relationships with their Swedish boyfriends/girlfriends if anyone wonders! :)

  9. Smek – you’re so right. I have trouble counting from 1-10, hardest numbers ever. ;)

    Thank you Jen and Michela for the comments.

    Tyler – I hope you have the opportunity to come to Sweden. You will enjoy it here!

  10. Hi, i’m planning to visit sweden soon with my boyfriend and I will like to know what we should go, what we have to see, to really understand Sweden. We don’t want to go where their’s only tourist, even if he really want to go to the Absolut Icebar. We’re planning on going to Malmo and Stockholm.

  11. They say Swedes don’t complain.Which is probably why,when returning clothing or whatever,they look at you as though you have 3 heads!
    My swedish girlfriend complains all the time…and not just about me!So i don’t know how true this is.

    I’m English and have lived in Skåne for 2 years.I don’t speak Swedish but i have Swedes come over to me to talk all the time,from little kids,to bikini clad hotties in the 18-30 age range,to old couples.
    What’s my technique?
    Simple – i’m one of the very few people in Sweden who metal detect all the popular beaches down here!
    Swedes may be shy and reserved,but wander along a beach in headphones and waving a metal detector around..and all that vanishes as burning curiosity kicks in,lol.
    Sigh..if i were 20 years younger i’d run amok around here! :P

  12. Aaron: Yes, of course -.- Every Swede is a scumsucking ass***e who cares about his personal image to the degree that he/she covers up a murder.

    What planet did you come from again? You didn’t say.

  13. Formica, you made really laugh hard. Unfortunately I censored out part of the a-word so it may not be as funny anymore.

  14. Glad at least something good came out of it :P I could repeat it if anyone wonders ;) That’ll be my contribution to the community :P

  15. 1. Swedish men are shy.
    Tell that to the girls I’m with, I often have a tendency of accelerating relationships even :)

    2. It doesn’t work for everyone, some stay away from drinking at all cause it either affects your head badly or harms your body. It’s part of the culture(though) and often a beer is part of the dinner like the wine is in other countries, actually often it’s wine you drink for dinner and many have started with wine. I thought most countries partied like rockstars in the weekends?

    9. Silence is golden.
    I’ll link you to a story I found yesterday which explains exactly why it’s not solely negative:

  16. i’ve never been to sweden nor have i met a swede, but if everything on this list is true then the swedes see to be a bit odd, cold and distant.. eastern europe is the exact opposite and thats why i love it!

  17. Are there cheap local hotels in Sweden? Do i need to change my dollars to Euro?

  18. I could get to know Swedish people, but by then I will be an old man.

    Unfortunately I can’t be reborn in Sweden and spend my whole life at school with them so that they decide that they can trust me.

    I gave up a long, long time ago. Their loss.

  19. This sounds like a list describing me lol. I’d love to live in Sweden some time after I leave school. I think I’d be OK with he arduous friend-making thing, it takes a long time for some people to become friends with me too.

  20. I found myself agreeing with most of these things, however, I disagree with number 2- My mother is swedish, so I am half swedish- I know a lot about the swedes. Not ALL of them are drunks, as you make them out to be. They don’t LIVE on alcohol, they just prefer the occasional drink.

  21. Also, what you need to know about the swedes are that they have no morals.
    They will bump into you in the street and not even think about saying sorry.
    They will look at you funny because youre a gipsy or an immigrant.
    They think they’re the best at everything, and when you proove that they’re wrong, they will either:
    1. Get upset
    2. Give you a weird look and not even look at you and take it offensive.
    3. If you say that they’re wrong in any kind of way, they will try to proove to you that they’re right.

    And they need instructions in everything. If you work in a coffee shop, you will have to repeat a thousand times that they need to get their coffee on the other side of the bar. And even if you repeat it, they will not understand.

    They demand good service, even if they’re shitty people talking with a bad attitude.
    Even if you give them good service, they will not appreciate it.

    And dont even try to be friends with them IF youre different, if you have another religion och etnicity and DONT DRINK. They love to drink and they love to party.
    If you tell a swede “lets have a coffe instead of going out partying” They will take it really bad and you’ve ruined their night.
    And they’re very very very distant. And they’re very arrogant and need to be correct and cordial all the time.

    Do not come to sweden if you like warm people and dont like to drink.

  22. Would it be considered very weird or creepy if I a (good-looking) woman speaks to an attractive guy on the street? :)

  23. @Crystal – If you had something interesting to say to good looking stranger, then go for it. Otherwise, he could think you’re nuts.

    Don’t say, “hey, good looking stranger”! :-)

  24. Swedes are very kind and helpful people, though they do not approach you, they are ready to help you any time you need…
    Swedes never think they are better than anyone else, as sandra just said, also I disagree “they have no morals”!! it is not fair at all, they have the best politeness and moral and I bet it is impossible someone bumps into you without saying forlog (sorry)…
    However, in comparison, in Iran where I came from people are warm and friendlier but this is their culture and we must respect their life style…

  25. Hello, im a swede.. i gotta agree with some posts ive seen in here.. we really are kind people, really almost.. dumb-kind.. or maybe its just me? but basicly if a stranger approaches me and asks for something, i would help them out with basicly anything without even thinking about it..
    so strange.

  26. Swedish people is like everyone else, some are shy and some outgoing! that’s it!
    Enjoy your visit here in Sweden!

  27. I love the Swedes and am friends with a lot of them, use to been Married to a Swedish girl and lived in Sweden. Had to get a divorce, was going crazy I wanted to kill myself no one talks smiles, they are very boring but great people. Its living in America and meeting Swedish people I really got to become friends with them, and truly understand that it never was personal. I come from a Mediterranean culture, Italian and French where everyone laughs, talks and puts themselves out there and I couldn’t get it when I was living there. Anyway I find the people to be pretty good, different from what I expected, probably would never live there but it is a beautiful country. Were just too different.

  28. I love the Swedes and am friends with a lot of them, use to been Married to a Swedish girl and lived in Sweden. Had to get a divorce, was going crazy I wanted to kill myself no one talks smiles, they are very boring but great people. Its living in America and meeting Swedish people I really got to become friends with them, and truly understand that it never was personal. I come from a Mediterranean culture, Italian and French where everyone laughs, talks and puts themselves out there and I couldn’t get it when I was living there. Anyway I find the people to be pretty good, different from what I expected, probably would never live there but it is a beautiful country. Were just too different.

    Another Comment I had to make is to Sandra, I actually had a conversation with a Swedish Friend of mine, Their Racist. Actually Europeans are more Racist than American’s I have to say, I remember my French Grandmother being racist against Arabs. Anyway that might answer Sandra’s delima, we argued a bit then realized that I was right. The thing was they couldn’t get it that they are racist, in Europe people don’t talk about it so they think their not racist but they are when making a per-judgement on anyone based on Race, Color or Religion you are racist/prejudice. No matter if you think you are right that prejudgement is wrong, even if your black or a minority and doing it to a white person. The Action is wrong and happens in USA but Europe is in denial sorry to my fellow Europeans but your in denial and that is what France is dealing with. Europe and the World has to accept that its becoming Global and their isn’t anything wrong with that. Its hard to do that for older generations and I do sympathize but ignoring it or attacking it makes it worst. Good & Bad people come from all religions and ethnicity, sorry to say that Christians are not saints look at what has happened in the past, same with Jews. All three religions have their faults. I personally am an Agnostic now, use to be Catholic. I am living a John Lennon philosophy and Belief and has helped me open my eyes more about Reality.

  29. Swedes might be shy but in that case you haven’t been in Gothenburg! They talk to anyone about anything and they’re extremly friendly. And yes, many people in sweden are shy and a bit cold but not everyone, some are really outgoing and loves to meet new people. I think that some of these comments are very racist against sweden (i’m swede). Where a special people with special little rules but that doesn’t mean we don’t break them. There’s different personalitys, like any other contury.

  30. I’ve been with two Swedish men now…both were extremely passionate and kinky in bed…Amazing lovers. So I’m surprised to hear the comments about Swedes being sy and cold and all of that. I’m part Swedish myself, and no one would ever say that about me..but maybe Swedes let loose and go crazy when they come to the states, then all that sexual repression comes out lol

  31. @Sandra

    Best at everything? Have you never heard of ‘lagom’? We’re supposed to be good at everything, but we’re not allowed to be too good, because then we have to apologize. But if we’re not good enough, we also have to apologize. If you’re great at something, you’re not allowed to boast, and if someone praise you, you’re supposed to deny it (like if someone compliments on your clothes and you say “what, this old thing”, though I suppose that can come off as arrogant?)

    I guess I’m not very Swedish then, considering I actually say sorry if I bump into anyone (maybe not always, because sometimes I get too stressed to notice). And I don’t find anything odd with people who look foreign. Or is that because I watch a lot of foreign television shows?

    And I don’t mind good service, and I give my thanks…but do you have any idea how creepy it is having someone working in the shop standing there smiling and looking at you while you’re looking at things? That is seriously disturbing, dude.

    Drink and party? The lot of us? You have gotta be kidding me? Most the people I am close to are different in various ways, and few of us are interested in drinking or partying. The closest we get to parties are manga/anime/game conventions. Oh, and I am way used to being seen as weird. And people don’t just look at you funny because you’re an immigrant. I’ve been looked at with disgust just because I was laughing and joking with some other people, but that girl? Well, me and her didn’t get along very well in my book.

    You’re right about one thing though: I find you offensive.

  32. I really regret why I chose to live in Sweden.
    Please don’t think that I have any racial opinion againt Swedes, also nothing personal.
    But unfortunately, many of these comments are true!
    The wall of their social network is unbreakable!
    I have lived in Sweden for more than 5 years. Except a few Swedish coworkers, all of my friends are non-Swedes.
    Finding a Swede to talk with outside of the working environment is a dream. Even if that dream come true, you may never see that person again.
    I don’t discourage you to come and live in Sweden. However, coming to this country, especially if you don’t have a family, can be a painful experience.

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