Planning on moving to Sweden sometime soon? Congratulations – it’s a beautiful country with one of the world’s highest standards of living. Swedes also have their own way of doing things. We’ve put together a short list to give you a heads up and a chance to practise before moving to Sweden.
Swedes are master planners and love to plan ahead. No group activity, business or social, ever seems to take place without at least one planning meeting. There can even be meetings to plan the planning meeting. If you want to arrange a meeting, be prepared for it to be scheduled weeks or months ahead and don’t be surprised if that “welcome dinner” takes place several months after you arrive in Sweden so everyone has a chance to plan and schedule it in their diaries.
2. Being on time
The concept of being a polite 10 or 20 minutes late doesn’t exist in Sweden. Make sure you show up on time, if not a polite 10 minutes early, especially for business meetings. This applies in particular to networking events where people tend to come a little early and don’t hang around after the scheduled portion of the event.
You will do a lot of this in Sweden, both physically, standing in line and also waiting on the telephone in queue systems. A lot of places operate a ticketing system whereby you take a number and wait for it to appear on a screen. Get in line – Any attempt to circumvent the queue will not be well received so don’t even try. Queuing is now so regulated that the only place left to indulge in the sport of competitive queue hopping is in supermarkets when a new checkout is suddenly opened.
4. Eating outdoors
Swedes love to eat outdoors. As winters are so long, summer in Sweden in not just a season, it’s an event to be savoured and maximised. This means that you will often be expected to sit outside and enjoy it, even when it’s so chilly you need blankets.
Swedes have been practising this for a long time, almost to the point where many see it as a moral obligation. If you are not sure how this works or if you don’t usually feel motivated to recycle, beware of the environmental police. There are a lot of these in Sweden, all self-appointed. Forms of cautioning will range from disapproving looks to being told off in no uncertain terms. A separate blog article on how to recycle and deal with waste in Sweden will follow.
6. Drinking coffee
This is a whole institution in Sweden and even has its own verb – fika (pronounced fee-kah). Drinking coffee, preferably accompanied by something sweet to eat, is the way Swedes like to get together and socialise, whether at work, catching up with friends or even for a first date. Coffee is often served black so it’s probably a good idea to get used to it. Milk is often available but if you take sugar, make sure you have your own supply with you as it is practically a banned substance in more fashionable Swedish homes.
7. Eating cinnamon buns
Cinnamon buns (bulle) are the classic accompaniment to drinking coffee. A lot of newbies to Sweden love them but they can also be an acquired taste. As you will be served them a lot and often proudly told that they are home-made, it’s probably a good idea to learn to like them. You can buy them at most IKEA stores worldwide.
8. Eating shellfish
Prawns, crayfish and all forms of shellfish are immensely popular in Sweden. To avoid social embarrassment, it’s a good idea to learn how to deal with the shells and eat them neatly in advance of moving here. Alternatively, you can always claim to be allergic.
9. Drinking snaps
This is also very popular, especially at midsummer and crayfish parties. It’s strong stuff, so probably a good idea to try in advance to test your tolerance levels. Drinking snaps is usually accompanied by snaps songs. Song sheets are often provided at parties but if you’re out to impress and feel like practising in advance, here’s a link to the most common snaps song, helan går.
10. Jumping into cold water
If you really want to prepare thoroughly for Sweden, practise jumping into cold water. Classic summer enjoyment in Sweden consists of jumping into lakes or the sea, usually followed by cinnamon buns and coffee or alcohol, depending on the time of day. A sauna will often be available to warm you up afterwards. On a good summer, however, water temperatures can be pleasant by July. For serious preparation for Sweden, including the winter season, try a sauna followed by rolling in snow or jumping into an icy lake.
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