Moving to Sweden: Making Friends

Moving to a new country and then making new friends is hard. Moving to Sweden and making friends is like waiting for hell to freeze over. A friend over on Twitter ask me to write a bit about what’s it like to make new friends here.

First, the collection of articles on living in Sweden.

For me, I was lucky; I knew people who knew people. Still, it took a lot of random conversations with a lot of people to determine if I wanted to be friends with them.

Swedes for one, can take awhile to become friendly and become friends. Making friends with Swedes who have lived in the same city all their life is the hardest, probably the worst thing you can do. These Swedes have always had the same pillar of friends from grade school to gymnasium to university, plus or minus a few friends. As a result, they are stable, don’t need new friends, and don’t need more things to do. Skip making friends with these Swedes until you are settled down and comfortable with life.

I made the easiest friends with the Swedes who have lived abroad. They have more of open mind and can relate to nomads. You can meet these Swedes at pub quiz nights, international companies, meetup clubs, and even blogs (hi Hairy Swede!).

And it’s okay if you don’t have many friends; your possy in Sweden maybe smaller than what you had at home. But make friends with people you enjoy being with.

Here are some places, online and offline to meet more people in Sweden, not just Stockholm.

Meetup.com – Meetup has meeting all over the world. Find local meetings in the city you live. Stockholm and Gothenburg has regular meetings and outings and the people there are really friendly.

Couchsurfing – Surf on someone’s couch for the night and make a new friend. Great if you’re about to move to the city. You can also go to the couchsurfing meetups to meet people who host surfers or just want to hang out.

Working or attending university – Try not to work at an über Swedish company. You know which companies those; they’re large, impersonal, and no one cares about anyone else. University is great to meet other foreigners but difficult to dig up the Swedes. Work hard at initiating conversations with them.

Embassy or native culture events – If you are in Stockholm or Göteborg, you are lucky. There are always embassy/consulate events going on for citizens to feel back at home. In some of the smaller cities there maybe joint groups not run by the embassy but maybe a business or cultural group.

Yoga Lessons – A long shot but at least you get in shape and get out of the house.

Tech groups – There are tons of them here! Check out Geek Girls, Episerver, Robert Nyman’s Geek Meet.

Belly, Bollywood, African dancing – It’s unusual but again at worst case you get out of house and do something fun! Also check out Indian Dance Studio and Dans Dojon and Layali Dance Studio.

Swedish classes – A total hit or miss. You will meet foreigners, not Swedes so this should not be a priority on the list of making Swedish friends.

11 thoughts on “Moving to Sweden: Making Friends”

  1. I full agree with this! Swede’s who have been abroad or didn’t grow up in their current city are a LOT easier to befriend. Most of my friends are ex-pats (either current or were and are now back). Go Nomads!

    I often find Swede’s will be a lot more “I’ll call you”, “Let’s do lunch”, “Let’d do beer” but it’s rather shallow and of a politeness.

  2. Oh, I should also add, trying to break into those “close” groups. Unless you can speak Swedish, good luck! You’ll be take for more of an inconvenience.

  3. Andrew: It’s usually not out of politeness, it’s more of an invitation. No one wants to suggest something and be turned down, or impose or be annoying, so “let’s do lunch” is often sort of a suggestion/question, giving the other person the opporunity to suggest it and know that it is welcome. But if you wait for the same person that said “Let’s do lunch” to ALSO take the next step and suggest an occation then you may be be waiting for a long time…

  4. I find this post intresting. I have a friend that have been living California for the past 3 years and she tells me that she misses Sweden and her friends here. According to her it’s easier to get to know people in the US, however she doesn’t consider them all to be her friends. Her view of the American culture (she is half American btw) is that people talk but never listen or really care what you have to say, everything is more shallow. And I think that is the general view Swedes have when they move to the US. She feels like she has many acquaintences but not that many friends. I’ve only spent like a month in the US but that is kinda the impression I got as well. Like when they asked a question they didn’t really seem that intrested in the answer but instead just continued talking.

    I guess Swedes and Americans are on opposite sides of the friend-scale, Swedes got few friends but might consider many of them to be “close friends”. The general American might have many friends, although a Swede might consider many of those friends to be acquaintences rather than close friends. That might be one of the reasons Swedes have a close “pillar” of friends as you put it. You don’t just switch them out like you can do with acquaintences.

    (I’m kinda tired so I hope my comment made any sense)

  5. Most swedes don’t want to intrude. I’ve always been surprised when I hear people from the US talk about friends. When they talk about them, it sounds like they have hundreds of friends. Someone they’ve talked to for 5 minutes is considered a friend, or something similar. Again I think that goes to show how relations between us work a bit differently, or at least is viewed differently.

    It’s so common for me to hear how “cold” we are supposed to be.

    I’ll give you an example of how we work. A couple of months ago, I saw an old lady dragging a cart across a big pile of snow. I asked the old lady “do you need assistance?”, and she answered “No thank you, I’m fine”. My girlfriend, not being from Sweden, asked me why I asked her, why didn’t I just help the old lady. I said that that could’ve been considered rude, that I intruded. Now that said, many swedes if you ask them wouldn’t mind if people intruded a bit more, like when some relative has died for example. But this is the big oxymoron about swedes. We want others to intrude, but we don’t intrude ourselves.

    I remember another story from another american expat btw. I don’t know who wrote it, if it was in the comments on this blog or not. But it went like this: An american moved to sweden and started working here. Her view of the swedish culture was that it was very cold. Why? Because when she was new on the job, she hadn’t gotten any help. And why was that? She had been asked if she needed help, but said no. Since she said no, she was left alone. It’s very rare for swedes to insist, unless we know people well. And even then, we may not insist as much as in other cultures, I’m guessing.

  6. Wow, do you dance with Layali?
    I just accidentally discovered your blog through mention on google of Kanelbulledag, and what a find! I’m just a young university exchange student here in Sweden, but I’m here for a year and have a boyfriend here…and basically within two years I may be here for life, more or less. And already after four months in Sweden I’m experiencing some of your similar problems!
    Coincidentally, I have already started dancing with Layali. :P
    Thanks for the tips, I’m checking out your links now! Though for me the problem is also finding people in my age group…19 and 20 year old Swedes are, I think, even harder to get to know than the older ones, if only because they’re cocky and, as you said, already have their young hot possies.

  7. Solveig: Make sure you attend Layalis student shows in December! That’s a great way to make new friends, backstage everyone starts to talk to each other in a different way than during the classes. I met some of my best friends backstage!
    /One of the Layali teachers

  8. Solveig – Thanks!!
    I took a class long time back with Layali but one of my best friends is a teacher there.

    I can imagine young Swedes are even harder to meet since they’re just going out on their own in the real world. I’m now part of the oldie world since I’ve been here a few years and is for the most part, established and working. ;-)

    Perhaps you can meet friends through university groups community events? There are a lot of exchange students. And Layali!

  9. Hej,

    I am 43 years old, I live in Sweden and I want some swedish woman friends to praktik my swedish.

    I want woman friend between 35 till 60.

    No man contact me I am happily married.

    E.mail me: liveinsunshine@rocketmail.com

    Wait of your reply.

  10. Hi,

    I have moved to västerås from the south of sweden.
    I am working , but everyone is over 50 and not my age.
    And i have no friends here.
    I spend most of my weekends alone and crying.
    This is my swedish life.
    I come from overseas.
    I have a friend but she is in the south of sweden.

  11. You know i laughed a bit when i read this text about making friends in Sweden because sadly enough its true. Im a swede myself, born and raised here. You can meet a few fun friends at a party which you never talk with before. You have fun together that evening but then you don’t say a single word to each other after that One way to make new friends in sweden is when you attend the swedish gymnasiet or University or reading fun course such as music or dance. In conclusion you make friends in some sort of school. :) When you are older and graduated from university its harder to make new friends. People tend to stick to their own “gang” and its rare that someone new is let into that tight group.

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