How to be Swedish – in 10 Easy Steps

10 Steps to Swedishize yourself

You are going to spend some time in Sweden, for travelling, work or a semester abroad? You wonder how to blend in and act like a typical Swede?  Follow the 10 steps to Swedishness below.

For more steps and ways how to become Swedish, read the book: How to be Swedish – A Quick Guide to Swedishness – in 55 Steps, e-book and paperback, here on Amazon

Let’s start with the top 10 list – steps to Swedishness:

 

1. Drink a lot of strong coffee

Winters in Sweden are long and dark. To get some extra energy and heat Swedes found coffee to be the drink of their choice.  

Swedes really love coffee, they drink an average of 3,2 cups a day. It is an essential part of their daily routines. One in the morning, several at work, and in the evening one cup (to avoid falling asleep during an episode of “Wallander”).

But beware, Swedes don’t drink their coffee they way you used to in your old country. Swedish coffee is strong. Very strong. So strong indeed, you will notice when you pour your standard amount of milk into it and your coffee resists turning from black into brown. Basically, you can consider Swedish coffee a bit stronger as Espresso and slightly weaker than tar.

That said, the first time you try Swedish coffee, only try a little Espresso-size mug, to find out which impact it has on your digestion. Just make sure you drink your coffee with a toilet within a few seconds reach. So, get your digestive system prepared for your 3,2 cups of strong coffee per day!

Once you’re used to Swedish coffee, every other coffee in the world will taste like black colored water.

Drink strong coffee in Sweden - how to be Swedish

 

2. Take off your shoes

You received an invitation to come over to a Swede’s home. You are a bit nervous because you’re not used to Swedish culture and customs yet. You ring the doorbell and your Swedish friend opens the door for you. You say “Hej!”, your friend says “Nämen, hejjj! Välkommen in!

What do you do once you have stepped over the oversized door sill onto a fine door mat? Right. You take off your shoes and place them carefully in front of the vast shoe collection sorted in a practical two level sko hylla (shoe shelf) under the coat rack.

If you’re not used to taking off your shoes at home, you want to make sure not to embarrass yourself with socks that not only look like Swiss cheese but maybe even smell like it.

So make sure to always wear a pair of fresh, immaculate socks when you visit a Swede!

 

3. Find it difficult to receive a favor

Swedes have good personal qualities. They can be generous and welcoming. Plus, many Swedish people have a good memory.

In combination this means, Swedes can remember that you invited them for a beer, even if it’s a while ago and that they haven’t invited you back yet.

When you’re out for drink with a Swede, it’s completely fine if you invite them for a drink. But have a look at a Swede’s face when you indicate to the waiter that you pay for both. Your Swedish friend will make the same facial expression as a student trying to memorize vocabulary. If they won’t have the chance to invite you to something that same evening, they will take care to equalize the debt next time you meet, even if that is just for a fika. You invited him for a beer in a Swedish pub before? Expect the best latte macchiatto with cream and syrup in return. Remember, alcohol is expensive in Sweden.

A way to reduce the feeling of guilt, in situations of receiving a favor, is to say “thank you“, a lot. “Tack, tack, tack-tack!

So, if a Swede ever invites you for something, don’t forget to return the favor within an appropriate time… say, the same evening or at the latest next time you meet for a fika.

 

4. Fear magsjuka, stomach flu

No one wants to be ill. Including Swedes. But there is one illness they particularly try to avoid, “magsjuka“, the stomach flu.

What happens when you have magsjuka? It’s when the content of your digestive system splits up into two parties. One leaving your body the way it entered it. The other party taking the backdoor. Both in a hurry. Which makes you hurry to the bathroom, and stay there for a while until you can return to your bed, drink tea and continue watching streamed movies from the internet.

It is also a bit unpleasant to have, because Swedish people around you will treat and avoid you as if you were a zombie.

In Sweden you often hear the word magsjuka in connection with the following words…

  • … don’t go to work!
  • äckligt (disgusting)
  • … handsprit (hand sanitizer)
  • var är toan? (where is the toilet?)

Well maybe not the last point, since people who have magsjuka, and move around in the public, usually don’t admit they have it.

Have some fun, go on public transport during rush hour. Pretend calling a friend and say loud and clearly “My doctor just told me I have magsjuka”. Then, enjoy the reactions of the people around you and pick your favorite seat.

So, be aware of magsjuka, use plenty of handsprit and hold your breath as long as someone stands closer than an arm length in front of you.

Fear stomach flu magsjuka - How to be Swedish

 

5. Have a fredagsmys, cozy Friday

Swedes take their work very seriously. They come in time. They leave in time. To recover from a stressful workweek some Swedes decided to introduce a relaxing activity on Fridays, called fredagsmys, literally “Friday cosiness”.

Ideally a fredagsmys happens right after having taccos for dinner. Having taccos for dinner is called a tacco kväll, “tacco evening”. Which is a great compromise if two people in a relationship haven’t been not  able to agree whether to eat pizza or sushi that evening.

Finding the right food for a (hopefully) romantic and relaxing Friday still tends to be less difficult than finding a TV show or movie both parts agree on. Important: Don’t forget some crunchy snacks! Chips are widely associated with a Fredagsmys in Sweden. Rumor has it that a chips producer (OLW) came up with the idea of fredagsmys to promote their snacks. Their TV advertisement was underlined with a catchy melody that every Swedes knows “Nu är det freeedagsmyyys… “. Just ask a Swede and they will hum it for you (with slight embarrassment).

So, it’s Friday (soon), put on your comfy sweatpants and gather with other family members or your partner in front of your TV and satisfy your need for snacks, entertainment and cuddling.

Fredagsmys cozy Friday - How to be Swedish

6. Be bad at small talk

It’s maybe not too uncommon that people get easily nervous when they have to talk to strangers. But what’s a bit different with the Swedes is, they even feel uncomfortable talking to people they have already met before.

If you’re in Sweden and start talking to a stranger on the street or on a bus, you might be perceived as a weirdo. Swedes will reply politely and answer all your questions with a friendly smile on their face. But, please, try to round up the conversation as soon as the Swede takes a longer look at the mobile phone while you’re talking.

Of course they can talk a little when they meet a friend. But when they meet someone that’s just a acquaintance they do everything to avoid an awkward small talk conversation. One trick Swedes use often to avoid talking to you: they avoid eye-contact.

It can actually happen that a person you met before just passes by in the shopping street staring on the screen of their phone or simply into another direction. No worries, totally normal in Sweden! Don’t take it personal, they do it with their fellow “old-Swedes” as well.

 

Whenever you bump into a Swedish friend, and accidentally made eye-contact, simply talk about weather. It’s the safest way to do small-talk with another Swede without making him or her feel awkward.

Be bad at small talk - How to be Swedish

 

7. Avoid your neighbors

You have moved into your Swedish apartment. Now, just like every Swede, once in a while, you have to leave your apartment. For shopping laktosfri yoghurt, work or going to spinning classes at the gym.

Leaving your apartment, fellow soon to be new-Swede, can bring you into a tricky situation. To get to your bike or car, you first have to pass through the hallway of your apartment building. Danger zone. Why? Because you could bump into one of your neighbors. And you don’t like to meet them because they might potentially attack you with small talk.

You don’t want to waste your precious time engaging in dull conversations about the weather, do you?. “Tjeeena! Vilket fint väder idag!”

On your way out you first listen carefully or check your titthål (door spy) if a neighbor is currently patrolling in the hallway. If you hear steps outside, wait a few seconds!

To make the waiting time feel less awkward, check whether you have all your keys, wallet and mobile phone with you. Then, if no one is outside, get out and quickly lock the door! Once you’re outside the house, you’re free.

Avoid the neighbors - How to be Swedish

 

8. Eat candy on Saturdays, lördagsgodis

Swedes have the highest consumption of candy in the World. 17kg, that’s the amount of candy (including pastry) you’ll have to eat to become like an average Swede. But most Swedes, particularly the younger ones, are not allowed to eat candy whenever they want. Swedish parents prevent children from eating too much by adapting a rule they themselves learned as children: Sweets, preferably/only on Saturdays.

The concept of limiting oneself to eating candy primarily on Saturdays is called “lördagsgodis” (literally Saturday’s candy) and very popular among Swedes, not only on Saturdays

To get your weekly sugar dose, you first have to find the godisvägg, close to the cashier in your lokal supermarket. Godisvägg is the “candy wall”. It’s usually opposite the “chocolate shelf”. Together they form the “sugar canyon”. Before that you’ll have to pass deep freezers filled with ice cream. Those 15 meters will certainly put your food discipline to a hard test.

Have candy on Saturdays: "lördagsgodis" - How to be Swedish

 

9. Dream of living abroad (at least for a while)

Sweden is a small country. Not that small actually, at least when it comes to land area (450,295 km2 /
175,896 sq mi). But with a population of 10 million people, Sweden is considerably small.

Although the country of Sweden is unarguably beautiful – due to it’s vast nature and eye-pleasing landscapes – Swedes tend to dream about living somewhere else – at least for a period of time, at some point of their life.

Because Sweden is a bit cold and dark in the winter, Swedes like to be in southern, sunny places. Many Swedes also consider themselves as “a bit boring”, therefore they seek a surrounding with more “passionate” and “energetic” people in countries with a more expressive culture. Often, Swedes want to feel free and discover the world – pretty much like their Viking ancestors did.

You, as a new-Swede, should get used to conversations with old-Swedes in which they tell you that they would love to work in a sunny country during the winter and then come back to live in Sweden during summer to experience this most wonderful of Swedish seasons.

Many Swedes have made traveling experiences right after school or after finishing their studies. Particularly those in their late teens or twenties will tell you that they want to travel to travel through Australia in a mini-bus, work as an au pair or make an internship in the United States – there especially in Los Angeles or New York – go backpacking in South America or work as a bar tender in London.

By the way, real Swedes are easy to recognize on a plane. Those otherwise so workday-alcohol-abstinent folks – once being liberated from home-pressure and jante-mania – are among the first to order a little bottle of wine. Justifying their choice with the words “det är ju semester”, “it’s vacation after all”.

So, choose your destination for your three month (at least) trip … and don’t forget to update your Facebook cover image or profile picture, showing you walking over Brooklyn Bridge, overviewing Machu Picchu or resting on the roof of a Volkswagen Bulli in the Australian desert.

Travel like a Swede - How to be Swedish

 

10. Be safety-conscious

Good news for you if you also prefer things to be safe. Sweden really is the right place for you.

Swedish safety-thinking can be found in many places. As in Swedish products. For example, have a look at IKEA’s assembly instructions – half of the pages are safety instructions, showing you how to install that shelf in a way so it won’t tip over on your toddler. Yeah, those pages you usually skip reading.

 

The two areas Swedes are bad at when it comes to safety: elevators and sex

Yeah there are still elevators without the inside door. Get your shoe laces stuck in the door and your shoes are likely to be torn off your feed.

When it comes to sex, Swedes tend take fewer precautions. No surprise than that the use of condoms among Swedes isn’t as widely spread as chlamydia. Many Swedes avoid condoms even in casual encounters. In 2007 the EU warned for a special type of chlamydia from Sweden, that even got the name “Swedish chlamydia”.

The absence of using condoms is compensated by the use of a safety-item you can find in almost any Swedish wardrobe: the more and more popular”flexväst“, reflection vest. To become a real Swede you must own one and put it on when you walk outside in the dark. Which, in winter is almost the whole day. According to many Swedes, this is necessary not to be killed in a car accident. The uprising popularity of the flexväst has the effect that almost all Swedish pedestrians, in winter, look like Minions.

All in all, living in Sweden is likely to be more safe than staying in bed.

So, go ahead, be safe, live in Sweden – and put on a flexväst!

Be safety-conscious - How to be Swedish

 

 

More ways to Swedishness, read the book:
How to be Swedish – A Quick Guide to Swedishness

in 55 Steps

How to be Swedish - by Matthias Kamann
How to be Swedish – by Matthias Kamann

Available as paperback or e-book

now on Amazon

 


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