Student Life in Sweden – Quick Guide

Study in Sweden - Student Life in Sweden

Are you going to study in Sweden? Here are the most important things you should know about socialising and party life as an exchange student in Sweden.

Quick Guide from a Former Exchange Student

Things I wish I had known before I came to Sweden as an exchange student …

Here are a few aspects of student life in Sweden that might be useful in order to avoid common pitfalls and make the best of your time as a student in Sweden.

Disclaimer: In the following text oversimplifications and exaggerations may occur.

Book about Sweden - How to be Swedish

Now that you plan your semester abroad in Sweden, you probably not only want to make use of the excellent study conditions at your Swedish university of choice. Most likely you also want to connect with Swedes and maybe even make friends for life.

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?

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!

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.

More about how to make friends with Swedes, here

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, discussing imperfections of diverse things. When talking to a new person in Sweden, the only thing that is acceptable to complain about is the weather.

How I made friends with Swedes, personal story

Bonding over a coffee

Some Swedes might interpret the invitation to a fika as a flirting attempt. If you invite a Swede for a fika, alone, and you really just want to meet for fika, be sure to make clear that you just want to hang out and have absolutely no romantic or sensual intentions.

What is Swedish fika

Bonding over a drink

The fastest way to get to know a Swede is to get to know them when they are a bit tipsy (or abroad – e.g. when they are in Magaluf or Thailand). If you meet a meet a Swede who is drunk and abroad – their talkativeness may reach unexpected hights. 

Alkohol works as a socialising lubricant for those “holding-back” Swedes, who can finally turn into very expressive and flamboyant communicators.

Understand Swedish drinking culture, here

At many organisations’ Christmas parties, when everyone tends to get at least a tiny little bit drunk, Swedes bond more with each other than during all rest of year. 

What to avoid

Things you should avoid when you want to connect with 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 or expensive belongings. The only things they show off with is their high levels of modesty.
  • 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 at least, 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 fellow student on the streets or in the shops, just keep the conversation very short – one to three minutes of talking about the weather, upcoming exams or the other person’s dog should be enough. Then it’s time to round up the conversation with a friendly “Du får ha det så bra!” and continue with your day.
  • 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 they are at a party or dinner.

3 Reasons why Swedes don’t want to be friends with you, here

Bonus tip for introducing yourself

“Where are you from?” is a question, you will be asked many, many times during your studies in Sweden. Finding a way to tell what country you are from, without saying its actual name, is usually a good start into any conversation. Get creative!
I used to say “I’m from a country that’s mainly known for [some typical things people associate with Germany]”

Guide to Swedish culture & popular traditions

Party like a Swede

Greeting Swedes at parties  – getting used to awkward hugs

In some countries people give kisses when they greet each other. In Sweden, friends hug.
When you meet new people at pre-parties, just greet everyone with a handshake, smile and say your name. It’s okej to forget their names after having shaken everyone’s hand. They have probably forgotten yours, too.
Once you have had exchanged a few words with them, in a more personal context, you are lifted to the “at parties we hug to say hello”-level.

How to party like a Swede, here

Sing at parties!

Get used to singing Swedish snapsvisor (drinking songs) out loud.

Parties start early, accelerate quickly and finish abruptly when the pub closes – unless someone has organised an after party, in which case the night finishes … with either cheap micro-oven food, kebab, unnecessary discussions with a stranger about a topic you don’t actually care about, or the unity of two souls feeling an urge to connect in a physical way.

Stop being serious on the dance floor!

Dirty (ugly) dancing

Not all Swedes have a lack of rhythm. Actually some are rather good at it. Unfortunately they are less like to show it (unless they performa a dance called “bugg”), because “fuldans” (ugly dancing) is commonly observable on Swedish dance floors. Just pull out your weirdest dance moves and join the group.

Even the most glamorously dressed Swedes join battle, pulling off the strangest moves while putting on funny facial expressions when dancing.

Most popular Swedish drinking song “Helan går”, lyrics and translation

Dance floors in Sweden can get very bumpy. Don’t put on your best shoes. Someone will definitely step on them. If you’re lucky it won’t be a high heel of the staggering girl trying to pass through the crowd. Get used to elbows hitting your back waist and head. Don’t expect an excuse. If someone turns around and shows he or she is sorry, it’s probably because that person thinks he made he or she made you spill your drink – which, of course, in Sweden is much worse than experiencing physical pain.

Crossing a Swedish dance floor is a similar experience as a game of American Football, except, in American Football you actually have a higher chance of making it to the other side without getting bruisers.

Last words, before you put into practice what you just learned: The upcoming months or years are full of opportunities – get out and connect as much as you can – what you’re about to experience is far better than the best series on Netflix. Unless watching that series is combined with some chill with that very special new Swedish “friend” of yours, of course. :)

More about Sweden

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.