Talking to Swedes – Conversation Etiquette, What to Do & Avoid in Sweden

Talking to Swedes - Conversation Etiquette in Sweden

Swedish chit-chat etiquette

Basic unwritten rules and norms to know when you talk to a Swede, in private situations or at work.

  1. Don’t interrupt. They won’t interrupt you.
  2. Don’t think Swedes are not listening or interested in what you say, just because their facial expression seems a little still.
  3. Avoid talking about illnesses, politics, religion
  4. Do talk about the weather, recent journeys, or comment on the place you are at right now
  5. Avoid small talk
  6. Avoid eye contact, in order to avoid small talk. This may confuse you, since you had a great chat with Åke about how to bygga altan (building a terrace) when you met him at the pub, but now he stared the other direction when he went pass you in the city centre. This is normal. Most Swedes do it. They usually only engage in small talk if both accidentally didn’t manage to avoid eye contact at the same time. Don’t take it personal. They do it with other fellow Swedes as well. It’s part of Swedish culture. You will get used to it. And, to be honest, after years of resistance, I adapted to this behaviour as well. 🙈 😀
  7. Keep small talk to it's socially acceptable minimum
  8. Don't show off. Swedes like things lagom. And there is a thing called jantelagen.
  9. Don’t talk to strangers, unless you accept being perceived as a weirdo. Swedes will react in a polite way, they will answer your questions. But make sure to end the conversation as soon as they start staring into another direction or on their mobile phone. 
  10. Keep physical distance. More than an arm's length.
  11. Don't do spectacular physical gestures and facial expressions. You're not in Italy.

Conclusion: For a successful conversation with a Swede, just communicate the way you usually do when you're tired and freezing.

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