Although you might see Swedish cities full of cafés and bars that are frequented all day and night, many Swedes would argue that the best place to meet and hang out with friends is still at home.
I would even say that many otherwise seemingly reserved Swedes warm up a little bit in a nice, homely environment. But what can you expect from a Swedish visitor?
Well, first of all, expect them to show up on time, or even early
In big cities, spontaneous visits are rare, and you have probably agreed on this occasion weeks in advance. Your guest is very likely to be meticulously punctual, as arriving later than 15 minutes after the agreed hour is considered very rude.
The first thing your Swedish visitor will do is to take off their shoes and leave them by the front door, regardless of the season. Swedes judge shoes as unarguably dirty, and they will be very careful not to stain your floors.
Second, they are very likely to make a comment about how difficult or easy it was to find your house, or their impression about the surrounding area. They might ask about access to public transport, local amenities or the closest ‘water’ (read, lake, sea or possibly a river). Later, they will report all of this, often in form of praise, to whoever is interested.
Very abruptly, they might also enquire about how much you paid for your house or flat, or if you rent it. Although this is obviously very blunt, it is actually not an attempt to get an idea of your personal financial capacity, but rather an attempt to get some insider information about the local price range. All Swedes above the age of three are genetically modified to always keep an up-to-date mental map of the current housing market and its fluctuations.
Before sitting down, your guest will probably expect a little tour of your house or flat
This habit has even been honoured with a term – ‘husesyn’ in Swedish, and it is the very opportunity for your visitor to admire various aspects of your living arrangements, before being able to relax and proceed to social interaction. Interior decoration is a popular hobby – or life philosophy, amongst most Swedes, and not only aesthetic aspects are considered.
Storage arrangements are subject to great fascination, and so are creative solutions to small spaces.
During this tour, you might be a little shocked that your Swedish visitor has a very different definition of privacy than you. Inspecting your bedroom is considered a perfectly normal thing to do.
Dinner or lunch is probably agreed upon in advance, and require some formal invitation
If you have invited your friend between 11 am and 1 pm, they probably expect lunch. Between 5 and 8 pm, they will believe there will be dinner. Other times of the day, coffee is always a well-received icebreaker, also in the evening. You being the host, it is your decision if and what you would like to serve.
It is worth noting though, that with the security of holding a cup of coffee in their hands, your Swedish friend is much more likely to dare to try something exotic from your home country.
Bear in mind that many Swedes suffer from various forms of self-diagnosed intolerances or diets
Certain seemingly harmless substances, such as wheat flour, are assumed to be a huge threat to their metabolism and moral. Hence, they find it perfectly natural to offend you by declining your generous offer of something that you spent hours and days preparing, from rare ingredients imported for this special occasion. If you, unlike me, would like to cater also for such guests, I advise you to keep a stash of almond milk and tree bark to offer as a healthy alternative for these occasions.
Serving alcohol during daytime is regarded with suspicion – if you are not a student.
As you are about to sit down in your living room or kitchen, you might be shocked to hear your guest suggesting an alternative location!
If your house is equipped with a balcony or a garden, and the temperature is reaching 12 degrees Celsius on a sunny spot, your friend will fail to understand why you should stay indoors. A Swede is programmed to soak up whatever little warmth and sunlight there is. If there is no balcony, they might down their coffee as fast as they can, and then suggest a little walk. This is not to be interpreted as some sort of attempt to escape your house, but another symptom of this need to spend as much time as they can outside. In fact, staying indoors on a beautiful day will probably give your friend a slight panic attack.
In general, Swedes do not really see the point in sitting down and talking
Instead, they prefer to engage in some sort of activity. This could be, as I mentioned, walks, but also board games, sports, logistical ventures. In fact, helping out with some practical problem is considered an agreeable approach to hanging out. If your guest, like many other Swedes, is not the most skilled at small talk, this could be an opportunity to ease an awkward moment. Simply suggest that you should bake a cake, assemble some IKEA furniture, or, again, go outside.
Do not be surprised if your guest asks if they can borrow the bathroom
This is just a direct translation from Swedish.
If your visitor is staying overnight, you might get the impression they are avoiding you
Swedes are very careful not to disturb their hosts, and value your privacy as top priority during their stay. They believe the perfect guest is independent, spending a substantial proportion of their stay on their own.
They would be really happy to borrow a set of keys, in order not to interfere with your daily life and freedom. If they stay overnight, you might wake up at seven to discover that your guests have already had their breakfast, tidied the kitchen, and departed for a day-trip. Please do not interpret this as a disinterest in you.
Regardless if your stay lasted one hour or three days, you are likely to receive a written thank you within a couple of days
This will take the form of a text, email or even a card sent in the post. Actually, the whole visit will probably be punctuated with various thanks. They will thank you for food, coffee, lending them various things (including your bathroom), and last of all – they will thank you for the last time – tack för senast. Expressing our gratitude is the politest thing to do, according to Swedish norms. And although you might get a very different opinion, your Swedish guest will do anything to be as polite as possible during their visit.
What to talk about?
Swedes are not famous for their small talk skills. Read more on my blog post on this topic.
Written by Sofi Tegsveden Devaux
After many years of international experience, Sofi now runs her own company, Bee Swedish, specialising in Swedish language, culture and communication. She believes that Swedish culture is much more complex than most newbies, oldies – and especially Swedes themselves, realize. Her work aims to create mutual understanding and bridges for collaboration through curiosity, a critical mind-set and a sense of humour. She hopes that her blog posts can provide some useful insights into the particularities of the Swedish mind.