Swedes rarely introduce each other, so what you have to do is introducing yourself to new people, without anyone to function as a mediator. In pre-pandemic times, this included a firm handshake, but with infectious diseases in mind, most Swedes will not touch. Maintaining eye contact is considered polite, and all genders greet one another in a similar fashion.
In general, Swedes avoid physical contact, unless when they meet friends, whom they usually hug as long as it is considered safe.
Equality makes an easy logic for names
Swedes are proud of their flat organizations and non-hierarchical relationships. In practice, this is great news, because you will immediately know what to call people. Everyone in Sweden is called by their first name. Surnames are used only when introducing yourself to new people, or in formal written contexts such as when signing a contract. Titles are never used, and if so, they will be subject to ridicule. Never try to express your politeness by disobeying this rule, it is actually impolite to address someone with their title.
- When posting a letter to someone, state the first name and surname on the envelope. Again, don’t be tempted to add a title of any kind.
- In an email, call people by their first name. If it is the first time you write to someone, you sign with your full name; if you are already acquainted, sign with your first name. Swedes start emails and letters with Hej.
- There is no formal pronoun in Swedish, so you use du with everyone. Du is often used instead of a name, that may feel too intimate, or to call for someone’s attention, so don’t be surprised if someone calls you du, or you. This is not impolite according to Swedes.
- Nicknames are sometimes used. Swedish nicknames follow strict phonological rules and are predefined. Hence, Henrik will always be called Henke and Ann-Kristin will likewise be Anki, but this doesn’t mean all people want to be called by their nickname. Call people what they introduce themselves with.
Swedes are said to be very good and loyal friends, but perhaps on a similar note, they are often seen as bad strangers. Many internationals, and Swedes alike, report how difficult it can be to get to know a Swedish person on a personal level. One reason is that Swedes don’t speak to strangers. If you haven’t introduced yourself to someone, they are likely to consider you a stranger and thus pretend you don’t exist. Swedes rarely make small talk in lifts or in other situations where they have to share a space with someone they don’t know. Expect a hej, or even nothing. In fact, many Swedes prefer to take the stairs, as this is not only a great opportunity for exercise, but also an easy way to avoid having to share the same space as strangers.
If you have recently lived or worked in a culture where people are more open to spontaneous and fleeting contacts, you may experience your Swedish colleagues as cold and distant. They may even seem disinterested in you. Please note that this should not be taken personally. Swedes are very careful not to intrude into others’ privacy, and they are simply trying to be polite and respectful by leaving you alone.