15 January, 2018

Foreigner faux-pas


There are things that are just not done in Sweden and things that you definitely do. Here are a few I have picked up on… mostly the hard way.


Swedes are very environmentally conscious, and recycling is a huge ordeal. My first week, I remember lugging all my recyclables down the street to the recycling bin. I stood in front of massive bins with labels like ‘white plastics’ and ‘green and brown glass’, shocked at how carefully people here sort their rubbish! Related to recycling, Swedes often bring their own reusable bags to grocery stores. Every plastic or paper bag you need because you “forgot yours at home” will cost you!

Dressing for the weather

Don’t be fooled by the sliver of sunshine you can see out of your window in October, it’s probably way too cold to wear that skirt! Always check the temperature before stepping out, and LAYER. Most buildings, stores and transportation is warm inside, so layering your clothes is useful, when you get too warm or too cold you always have something you can take off or put on. Swedes are extremely practical when it comes to how they dress, most people dress like they care more about being warm than being fashionable.:-)


Don’t fight the power of Fika. Certain hours of the day, offices and streets are less full because everyone is having a coffee and cinnamon bun! Don’t expect a table at a full café to open anytime soon because people tend to take their time when having Fika. Efficiency is definitely important in business and life in Sweden, just not during Fika! Once you embrace the daily tradition, you’ll definitely find yourself craving a kanelbulle at 3pm.

Grocery shopping

Don’t assume that tube you picked up is toothpaste, it could be anything! Swedes package a lot of food and pastes in tubes that look just like toothpaste tubes. Don’t assume that carton of “milk” you quickly grabbed from the dairy section is actually milk. Swedes sell a thicker more yogurt like version in cartons that look identical to milk cartons. Don’t try to decipher pictures on labels, that jam that you think is raspberry could be almost any flavor. When in doubt, ask!

Small talk

I walked past many local Swedes on my very first day, suitcase in hand, smiling at everyone. I was surprised to not see anyone smile back, let alone even make eye contact. I remember thinking about how rude people must be. While most people are extremely willing to help you with directions or identify the name of something, small talk is almost non-existent between strangers in Sweden.

Written by Ritika Maltani
Ritika Maltani is a Singaporean citizen. She lived all over the world. She graduated from the University of Miami, and she hopes to pursue a career in teaching or law. She took a gap year to travel and decided to live in Stockholm with her boyfriend for a while. She loves reading, writing, great food and trying new things.

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