31 August, 2019

Unexpected Cultural Norms in Sweden

Coffee and buns

Presented by iBus Media

When moving to a new country it’s always helpful to study up on some of the cultural norms. There’s nothing worse than being caught off-guard when trying to blend in somewhere new. However, while most countries are forgiving when someone new breaks a cultural custom, some things should preferable be avoided. That’s why we’ve put together a list of cultural norms to help newbies out while they plan their move or trip to Sweden. 

Small Talk and Confrontation

If you’re traveling from another western country, like the US or UK you might have heard that the Swedish are a bit standoffish. While that might seem like the case, it is not a fact. The Swedish love to learn from others and they like to get to know other people better. While you might notice that the Swedish tend to avoid confrontation, that is more to avoid making anyone feel uncomfortable. If you take the time to have a chat with a local, likely you will make a friend that will be happy to see you anytime you’re around. So, if you’re a newbie don’t be shy!


When it comes to drinking in Sweden, you’ll find that there are differences. While buying rounds of drinks is popular in the UK and somewhat in the US, it is not something that is practiced in Sweden at all. The Swedish are money conscious, which means they prefer to avoid paying the cost of alcohol. In fact, most Swedish prefer to save money on the bar tab by drinking at home first. If you’re invited over, alcohol as a gift would be greatly accepted as it is seen as an expensive gift.  Beyond drinking alcohol, the Swedish love coffee and drink it at all hours of the day for any reason.


We all have numbers that we associate with being lucky. If you’re American, you likely find the number 7 to be lucky while the number 13 isn’t as lucky and considered to be a bad omen. Likewise, you can expect the same in Sweden. While the Swedish consider different numbers as lucky, their reasoning is a little different from other cultures. While 13 in commonly unlucky it is the same in Sweden, but the cultural superstitions go beyond just numbers.

Keys on a table

If you see a pretty patch of heather growing outside, don’t pick it and bring it into your house. It is an omen for death. If it’s Midsummer’s Eve and you want to know who your future husband might be, then silently collect seven flowers and place them under your pillow before you go to sleep, and you will dream of your future husband. Of course, the steps to seeing your future husband vary by region. A fun, yet different superstition is that when you sneeze and someone blesses your sneeze and you respond with, “thank you” or “prosit,” a tomte or gnome-like creature dies. Avoid killing a tomte by clapping your thanks instead.

Another seemingly strange superstition is to never leave keys on a table. This superstition stems from Swedish lore and tradition. The root of the reason? Don’t leave your keys in plain sight because someone might take them, and you would be responsible for that theft because you left them out in plain sight. Keys used to be important in Swedish Culture, but this superstition still holds true. 

Other Unexpected Quirks

There are other quirks that visitors may find just a bit unexpected or odd. Instead of referring to making in appointment or meeting in a few days, the Swedish prefer to number by weeks. So, you could end up with a meeting or an appointment in week 46 and then figure out how to work that one out.

In fact, the Swedish love to refer to just about anything they can with numbers. If you ask someone about their house, you will be told something like a two (meaning number of rooms) or 48 (meaning square meters). If you ask a youngster his or her age, they may say ‘98’, in reference to the year they were born. Birthdays are a big deal, and if you let it slip that your birthday is coming up, prepare for an early-morning wakeup complete with cake, singing, and presents.

You may not be expecting to hug anyone while in Sweden; however, you’ll find that if you spend some time talk to a Swedish person, the encounter will end in a hug. If you see this person again, they will greet you with a hug from that point forward. While it may feel a little strange, this is one norm that is better to embrace, and it’s rather sweet. 

While these cultural norms are a little different than those found in other countries, it’s those little quirks that bring charm when visiting a new place. While the Swedish may seem a bit standoffish at first, they are very warm and friendly once you take the time to get to know them. It’s why visiting or living in Sweden is so great. If you enjoyed learning about these norms, then check out some of our other articles for newbies.

The Newbie Team
The Newbie Team posts news, tips and general goodness that can be useful for all Newbies. We always try to find Newbie related information that will help all Newbies on their new life in Sweden.
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