How to Make Friends in Sweden – What to Do & Avoid

Making friends in Sweden

According to some polls, Sweden is the worst country to make new friends. And yes, Swedes can seem a little reserved or even cold. But once you understand their culture and social norms it becomes much easier to connect and make friends with Swedes. Let me share some tips with you!

Making friends with Swedes

When you come to Sweden, you will notice that Swedes are over all nice and friendly. But does friendliness mean Swedes are also easy to make friends with?

After spending more than a decade in Sweden, I learned a couple of unwritten rules and cultural norms one should bear in mind when communicating with Swedes. I have been in numerous conversations where I noticed “Well, this didn't go too well”, or “The other person is confused by the way I express myself”. In this post, I want to show you how and where you can easily meet Swedish people and what you should consider during your first conversations or interactions. Let's make friends with Swedes!

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How to make friends with Swedes

Be aware of cultural differences

Something that is considered normal in your home country can be perceived as rather weird in Sweden. Be aware that different cultural norms and unwritten rules exist, and that some can be difficult to detect. It takes time to observe and learn the social codes and norms that prevail in Sweden.

“Vi borde ta en fika snart!”

What Swedes say in the end of a small talk situation in public

For example, it takes a while until you understand whether a person is just polite when they say “let's have a fika soon!” or whether they actually mean it. Some say it just because it sounds friendly in the moment.

Be open to adjust

Be aware you might have to adapt some cultural behaviours in order to be welcomed. For example, in my old country, Germany, it is very common that people bond by complaining passionately about something that isn't perfect. When talking to a new person in Sweden, the only thing you should complain about is the weather. ;)

More about small talk in Sweden – why Swedes avoid eye contact

Meet Swedes who are more open to internationals

It's easier to connect with people who already have been abroad or where a family member or maybe a parent comes from another country. Those who already have an international background or been abroad for some time (for studies, work or long travel) have usually experienced cultural differences and pitfalls themselves and can relate to your experience being abroad. These people also tend to be more curious about getting to know new cultures and new people.

Find places where Swedes want to interact with you and maybe find out about your culture or language. For example, if you’re Spanish, join a Salsa class. If you’re French, go to a wine tasting. If you’re British, well, go to a pub.

How I made friends in Sweden

Bonding over a drink

The best way to make friends with a Swede is to get to know them when they are slightly drunk or abroad.
If you meet a meet a Swede who is drunk and abroad – their talkativeness reaches unexpected dimensions. 
At a company Christmas party, when everyone tends to get a little tipsy, Swedes bond more with each other than during all rest of year. 

To make friends in Sweden you need a lot of patience … or alcohol.

Further quick tips to find friends in Sweden

  • Ask yourself how you made friends in your home country. Apply that to Sweden but be aware that you might have to be a little more patient. 
  • Observe how Swedes communicate. Learn the unwritten rules, rituals and norms of Swedish communication. 
  • Dare making awkward conversation mistakes, and the learn from it. Accept that Swedes will find you a bit weird and at times “too much”. Learn and go on.
  • Join an association, find a topic that interests you or where you have expertise and share it with other Swedes. 
  • Sign up for a course or program at a Swedish university or evening classes (komvux).
  • Join online groups. Some of which even organise meetings. For example on Meetup, or Facebook groups, like “Expats in Sweden” or “new in Stockholm”. Some people even go to CouchSurfing events (without surfing any couch).
  • If you’re from a native English speaking country, just stand at a bar and start speaking with your typical accent. Swedes love practicing their English skills with native speakers. 

What to avoid

Things you should avoid when you get to know a Swede:

  • Don't try to make friends with Swedes by talking to strangers in public. Swedes prefer to mind their own business when standing at the bus stop or wait in the queue at the local café. They might think you are a bit weird, unless you are asking them a tourist question, “Where is the best kebabpizza around?”, which they will politely answer with a smile.
  • Don't communicate with intense body language or loud voice.
    People in non-Nordic countries tend to speak with a louder voice, have intense facial expressions and exuberant gestures … which, for a Swede, can be a little alienating.
  • Don't brag.
    Swedes are humble. They don't show off with their achievements. The only things they try to be best at is their modesty.
    (More about Swedish modesty and humbleness, read these articles about lagom and jantelagen.)
  • Don't take a Swede's invitation for granted when he or she says it while being drunk.
    Don't take it too seriously, wait until they repeat that invitation when they are sober again.
    You should come to our paintball event next weekend!
    An invitation from a Swede is serious only when expressed while being sober.
  • Avoid small talk or keep it as short as possible.
    Sweden is the country where small talk is considered a social duty rather than pleasure. When you meet an acquaintance or coworker on the street or in the shops, just keep the conversation very short – one to three minutes of talking about the weather, upcoming vacation or the other person's dog should be enough.
  • Don't expect your work colleagues to become your best friends. Although there are exceptions, Swedes tend to separate work and private life. They rarely have an afterwork in a pub where they blend their colleagues with their non-work friends.
  • Don't make any sexual innuendos or jokes.
    Unless you consider the person a close friend. It is very uncommon that Swedes comment or intentionally misinterpret something in a sexual way, to lighten up the atmosphere or just joke around when you are at a party or dinner.
    (More about partying in Sweden.)

Conclusion

In order to make friends with Swedes it might take more time to get through their hard outer shell. But once you’ve managed, you might have found a friend for life.

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