What are Common Customs and Social Norms in Sweden?
Customs and social norms in Sweden
If you’re an American moving to Sweden, you’ll need to investigate local Swedish customs and common cultural differences in Sweden to help you and your family, assimilate more easily into Swedish culture on arrival. Luckily, you can follow our in-depth guide below that takes you through everything from the Swedes anti-social façade and egalitarianism through to table manners and commonly used words.
What is the Swedish Anti-Social Façade?
Americans may find Swedes to be slightly unfriendly at first. While Swedes are reserved and somewhat cold, this should not be perceived as unfriendliness. Once you are used to the Swedish way of socializing, you will find that they are incredibly welcoming, friendly and generous.
What is Swedish Egalitarianism?
Modern Sweden is based on equality at all levels. This is evident in business, in families, and in everyday life. Wanting to be the best, the richest or the most talented isn’t the object of Swedish ambition. Instead, most Swedes are more concerned with ensuring that everyone gets what they deserve. This extends to the Law of Jante, which is common throughout Nordic countries. The Law of Jante—“You are not better than anyone else”—is a desire for common and collective success, rather than individual success.
What is Religion Like in Sweden?
The Church of Sweden (Svenska kyrkan) is Evangelical Lutheran and is the largest religion in Sweden, accounting for 64% of the population. However, it is only since 2000 that Swedes do not automatically become a member of the Church of Sweden at birth and record numbers of Swedes have left the church in recent years. In reality, Sweden is a fairly secular society, with surveys indicating that only 8% Swedes attend any religious services regularly and levels of worship drop every year.
Swedish society is marked by tolerance, and freedom of religion is enforced at a state-level. Sweden has a sizeable immigrant community, meaning that Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, as well as other religions are practiced throughout the country.
What is Considered Good Manners in Sweden?
Much like in America, good manners and politeness are important in Sweden. To ensure that you exhibit good manners when you arrive in Sweden, follow our list of tips:
- If someone does something nice for you, say ‘thank you’
- Hold the door open for people behind you
- Respect your elders
- Punctuality is important in Sweden, with many people finding it rude and disrespectful to arrive late to a social event or appointment
- Swedes rarely stand in line. At places like banks, there is often a ticket system. So instead of standing in line, take a number and wait
- Equality is very important in Sweden. All Swedes aim for a middle-level of normalcy, rather than trying to be better than anyone else. You should recognize this in your interactions with people
- If you are at a dinner, you should wait until the organizer of the dinner has said “Skal”, which is the equivalent of cheers. It is considered very rude to drink before this signal has been given.
What is Considered Good Table Manners in Sweden?
Table manners are important in Sweden. So, to ensure you make a good impression at your first dinner party or your first meal out a restaurant, follow these handy tips and tricks on good table manners:
- Eat politely and chew with your mouth closed
- Never talk with your mouth full
- Try not to make too much noise; do not slurp or loudly munch or crunch
- If something on the table is out of reach, politely ask someone to pass it to you
- Lift food up to your mouth, rather than bending over to eat it
- Place a napkin on your lap when eating
- If in a group, wait until everyone has been served before you start eating
- Keep your elbows in when cutting food
- Always use cutlery when eating; never pick up food in your hands, expect in rare exceptions to the rule, such as fried chicken and corn on the cob.
Swedish table etiquette follows the continental style in that the knife is held in the right hand and the fork is held in the left throughout meal. It is important to use a butter knife to butter your bread and after finishing your meal, the knife and fork should be placed on your plate next to each other.
It is also considered impolite to leave food on your plate.
There are some behaviors that should be avoided when eating in Sweden, including:
- Burping at the table
- Picking your teeth at the table
- Licking your fingers at the table
- Placing your elbows on the table
- Smoking at the table
- Speaking with your mouth full.
What is Communication and Conversation Like in Sweden?
Swedes are very reserved during conversation. While at first this may seem cold or brusque to some people, they rarely mean to be offensive. To help ensure you’re neither offended nor offend others when you first arrive in Sweden, follow these rules:
- Some topics of conversation, such as religion and politics, especially Sweden’s treatment of the Sami people, should be avoided at social gatherings, until you know the other guests well. Safe topics of conversation include sports, hobbies, travel and one’s children
- When speaking, it is important to make and maintain eye contact
- Swedes don’t like their personal space being encroached on during conversation, so maintain a buffer at all times
- Swedes use very little body language during conversation, so it is important that you are reserved with your own use of body language.
Does Sweden Use Metric or Imperial Units of Measurement?
Sweden uses the metric system, unlike the United States which uses the imperial system.
The Imperial system is based on the old British system of measurement (as ordered by the king, hence the name Imperial). The units of measurement in the Imperial system are yards, miles, feet, inches, pounds, ounces, and gallons.
The Metric system is an internationally agreed system of measurement. Based on the mètre des Archives and the kilogramme des Archives introduced by the French in 1799, the metric system uses the units of meter, kilogram and second.
Units of Measurement
Units of measurement in the Imperial system, versus those in the Metric system include:
- 1 inch = 2.54 cm
- 1 meter = 3.28 feet
- 1 mile = 1.6 kilometers
- 1 gallon = 3.78 liters
- 1 kg = 2.2 lbs.
Some tips and tricks to help remember how to convert units of measurement include:
- Converting miles to kilometers: Five miles is equivalent to 8 kilometers (this is an easier conversion to remember than 1 kilometer equals 0.62137119 miles). To convert miles to kilometers, the easiest way to formula to use is: divide the number of miles by five, subtract the answer from the number of miles, and then double the number left. For instance:
- 100 miles ÷ 5 = 20
- 100 – 20 = 80
- 80 x 2 = 160km.
- Converting pounds to kilograms: 2.2 pounds is equivalent to 1 kilogram (this is an easier conversion to remember than 1lb equals 0.45359237 kilograms). To convert pounds to kilograms, halve the number of pounds, and then subtract one tenth of the result. For instance:
- 100lbs ÷ 2 = 50
- 50 - 5 = 45kg.
- Converting gallons to liters: One liter equals 1.8 imperial pints, and there are eight pints in a gallon. Therefore, one gallon equals 4.55 liters. To convert gallons to liters, multiple the number of gallons by nine, and then halve the answer. For instance:
- 100 gallons x 9 = 900
- 900 ÷ 2 = 450 liters.
- Converting inches to centimeters: One inch is equivalent to 2.54cm. So, to convert inches to centimeters, you simply need to multiply by 2.45. For instance: 100 inches x 2.45 = 245 centimeters
- Converting feet to meters: There are 3.28 feet in a meter. So, to convert feet to meters, take your measurement (in feet) and divide it by 3.28. For instance: 100 feet ÷ 3.28 = 30.48 meters.
In Sweden, temperatures are expressed in Celsius instead of Fahrenheit (as in America). A few key temperatures to remember:
- 32°F = 0°C (freezing)
- 70°F = 21°C (comfortable)
- 100°F = 38°C (uncomfortable).
What is the Swedish Language Like?
English is widely spoken in Sweden, thanks to the emphasis placed on learning English at school. It is rare to meet a Swede who can’t speak English; usually only older generations or immigrants (for whom their second language is Swedish) cannot speak English. However, it is important that you try to learn some Swedish, particularly as understanding people around you will help you feel more at home.
Common Swedish Phrases
Try substituting the following Swedish words for their English counterparts:
- “ja” means “yes”
- “nej” means “no”
- “tack” means “please” and “thanks, thank you”
- “tack så mycket” means “thank you very much”
- “ingen orsak” means “you're welcome”
- “hej” or “hej hej” means “hi, hello”
- “god dag” means “hello” and “goodbye”; “literally, good day”
- “god morgon” means “good morning”
- “god förmiddag” means “good morning” (used from around 11am until noon)
- “god middag” means “good afternoon” (used at noon)
- “god eftermiddag” means “good afternoon” (used from noon until around 5pm)
- “god kväll” means “good evening” (used from around 5pm)
- “välkommen!” means “welcome!”
- “vi ses!” means “see you!” (informal)
- “vi ses snart!” means “see you soon!”
- “vi ses senare!” means “see you later!”
- “ha en bra dag!” means “have a good day!”
- “ursäkta mig” means “excuse me” (to get attention or move past someone) and “sorry”
- “förlåt” means “sorry”
- “inga problem” means “no problem”
- “det gör inget” means “don't worry about it”
- “pratar du engelska?” means “do you speak English?”
- “jag pratar inte svenska” means “I don't speak Swedish”
- “jag pratar lite svenska” means “I speak a little Swedish”
- “jag pratar väldigt lite svenska” means “I only speak very little Swedish”
- “var snäll och prata långsammare” means “please speak more slowly”
- “kan du säga det igen?” means “could you please repeat that?”
- “jag förstår” means “I understand”
- “jag förstår inte” means “I don't understand”
- “jag vet” means “I know”
- “jag vet inte” means “I don't know”
- “var är toaletten?” means “where is the toilet, please?”
The Swedish language has nine vowels: a, e, i, o, u, y, å, ä and ö. These differ in terms of the type of sound and length of sound that they make:
- a is pronounced as the "aw" sound in claw
- e is pronounced as the "e" sound in fell
- i is pronounced as the "ee" sound in fleece
- o is pronounced as somewhere between that of "o" in "close" and "oo" in "moose”
- u is pronounced as the "oo" sound in "moose"
- y is pronounced as somewhere between the "oo" in "moose" and "y" in "any"
- å is pronounced as somewhere between the "o" in "close" and "o" in "pot"
- ä is pronounced like the "a" in "apple"
- ö is pronounced like the "u" in "full"
- j is pronounced like the "y" sound in yellow.
The Swedish constants also have a difference pronunciation when compared to English:
- c is pronounced as an “s” before the letters e, i or y; and as a “k” elsewhere
- ch is pronounced as a “k”, or not pronounced at all
- g is pronounced as a “j” before the letters e, i, y, ä or ö; and as a “g” elsewhere
- gn is pronounced as “gn” if it is at the beginning of words; and as “ŋn” elsewhere
- rg is pronounced as “rg” if it comes before the letters a, o, u, å; and is pronounced as “rj” elsewhere
- lg is prounounced as “lg” before a, o, u, å; and “lj” elsewhere.
For more information on Swedish pronunciation, visit Learning Swedish.
What is a Credit Rating?
Maintaining a good credit rating is important in Sweden, as it influences loan and credit card applications. There are three major credit bureaus in Sweden (UC, Soliditet and Creditsafe), which collect credit rating information. Several factors affect your credit score, some of which include:
- The amount owed on your credit accounts
- Your total available credit limit
- Your total debt
- Your promptness in paying bills
- The number of credit accounts you hold
- Payment or credit issues, such as bankruptcy, loan defaults or foreclosures.