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Measuring up in Sweden – 7 figures you need to know

Aug 22, 2016 anne_pihl
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Swedes like to get the measure of things and quantification seems to be in their DNA. When hiring skis, I was always amazed that whoever was working behind the ski desk could guess my weight (for the bindings) within a 2 kilo margin of accuracy, despite my wearing bulky ski gear. Taking the step to buy my own skis had more to do with escaping the ordeal of having my weight and other measurements called out in front of the waiting queue than any significant progress on the skiing front.

If you’re going to live in Sweden, here are seven figures you need to get a handle on

 Your height and weight

– In metric please.  If you’re not sure how to convert feet, inches, stones and pounds, check out this online metric conversion site It’s surprising how often you will be asked for this information. In case you’re wondering how you measure up to Swedes,  the average Swedish man stands at 179.7 cm tall (5ft 10.7in) and the average Swedish woman is 165.7 cm (5ft 5.2in).

The size of your home

When asked about your home, Swedes like hard data.  Forget the description of a charming Victorian 3 bed semi. Swedes expect housing information packaged into the number of metres squared and the total number of rooms. E.g. a 3 roomed apartment, 70 m2. Note: when you are asked in Swinglish “How do you live?” which you are guaranteed to be, this is the information that is actually being sought, rather than an existential question. For more information on apartment descriptions see

Your exact body temperature

Swedes don’t stay home from work with general colds or flus. They call in sick with “a fever of 38. 2 degrees”, for example. Any illness you may have will not be taken seriously unless accompanied by an exact temperature reading. Note: Normal body temperature in metric is 37 degrees – wild guessing could easily backfire.

Water temperatures

Swedish conversation about water temperature in summer time is way up there with conversation about the weather- When swimming, it is the first question you will be asked. The usual answers in English of “freezing” or “pleasant” just don’t cut it – A precise temperature is the expected answer.

Years of birth

Unless you’re a whizz at maths, you should know the years of birth of anyone in your immediate family by heart. When asked their age, Swedes often answer with their year of birth. While it’s confusing when a thirty-something answers that they are for example ‘78, you’ll soon get used to it. Children in particular are described in terms of their year of birth rather than their age.

Personal numbers

If you’re going to be resident in Sweden for more than 12 months, you will be allocated a personal identification number, which consists of your date of birth and 4 additional figures. Regardless of whether you are having a medical examination or just hiring a film, you will be asked for this number everywhere. Warning: Not knowing your child’s personal number may elicit some amused eye rolling if you are a father but more likely an embarrassed silence if you are a mother, as it is generally viewed as a major parental gaffe.


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