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.
Talking to strangers in Sweden
Swedes feel awkward when a stranger starts talking to them.
If you start talking to a stranger on the street or when sit next to him or her on a bus, you might be perceived as a weirdo. Swedes will reply politely and answer all your questions politely. Try to round up the conversation as soon as the Swede takes a longer look at the mobile phone while you're talking.
Swedes have many ways to avoid a small talk situation. 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 smalltalk conversation.
One trick Swedes have come up with to avoid talking to you: they avoid eye-contact.
Quote from an imaginary Swede: “When I see people I have only met a few times before, I pretend to active on my phone and hope they don’t see me.”
It can actually happen that a person you know just passes by in the shopping street looking down on the phone or another direction. No worries, totally normal in Sweden. Don't take it personal, they do it with their fellow “old-Swedes” as well.
Mastering Swedish eye-contact avoidance gives you certain time efficiency advantages. Should you ever see a former one-night stand walking in your direction, just stare at your phone or straight pass her and pretend you haven't seen her. She'll definitely do exactly the same and both of you know why the other person is acting like that, but prefer silence over outspoken, time-consuming small talk awkwardness.
Swedish small talk topic
If you find yourself in a situation when your good manners tell you you HAVE TO make a short conversation, choose the right topic to talk about.
You will make most Swedes feel uncomfortable talking about anything but weather, vacations, and maybe the food they have in their shopping basket.
Oh you bought corn and minced meat – are you going to have a “tacco kväll” (tacco evening)?
After four or five sentences forward and back a Swede will say, “då så” or “nähä” to show you it's time to say good bye, he'll wish you to “have it so good” (ha det så bra) and go on with the grocery shopping. Then, a minute later, you run into him again in front of the toilet paper shelf and, of course, try to avoid eye-contact. If your eyes happen to meet, just put on an awkward forced smile.
Topics to avoid
Rather not talk about the following topics with a Swede who is not one of your closest friends, and definitely not in any small talk situation:
- the great red wine you drank last Tuesday evening
(they might think you're an alcoholic if you drink during the week)
… basically, avoid any topic that could potentially create conflict or very unpleasant feelings.
So, dear new-Swede, whenever you meet old-Swedes, simply talk about weather. It’s the safest way to do small-talk with another Swede without making him or her feel awkward.
More ways to Swedishness, read the book: How to be Swedish – A Quick Guide to Swedishness – in 55 Steps, here on Amazon