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40+ Facts About Living in Sweden That Made Us Say, “Wait, What?”

40+ Facts About Living in Sweden That Made Us Say, “Wait, What?”

What’s it Like to Live in Sweden?

Whenever a new list comes out ranking the countries who have the happiest population, Scandanavian nations also seem to make up the top five. In fact, since 2013, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland have all been in the top ten in the annual World Happiness Report. In this article, we want to focus on one of those nations — Sweden — and some of the interesting and quirky facts about living in this Nordic land!


Sweden Is No. 1 for Patents


While Sweden is only the 15th biggest country in the European Union (by population size), it leads the way with the number of given patents, as it’s a nation that places a lot of emphasis on digital technology (did you know Spotify was founded in Sweden?)


Sweden Is No. 1 for Patents

Other inventions that can be attributed to the Swedes include the three-point-seat belt, the pacemaker, oat milk, the pipe wrench, the walking frame, and more.



Green Nation


Sweden is one of the greenest countries on the planet, with its citizens incredibly environmentally conscious. In fact, Sweden is currently fifth in the world on the Environmental Performance Index.


Green Nation

Check out some of these numbers — just 1% of the trash in the country is sent to landfills, 52% of it is used to produce energy, and 47% is recycled. The Swedes are so good at converting waste to energy that they actually import trash from other nations in order to support the work of its companies producing energy!



A Lack of Hierarchy in Swedish Society


Swedish management in professional industries, as well as society in general, is very people-oriented. Everyone addresses one another by their first names, so there’s no need for impersonal titles, regardless of an employee’s standing within a company.


A Lack of Hierarchy in Swedish Society

And at schools, students refer to their professors by their first name. It’s not an indication of a lack of respect — just a reflection of societal practice!



Moral Values Are Prioritized in Sweden


One would think that honesty and sincerity should be important in all countries and cultures, but sadly, that’s just not the case around the globe.


Moral Values Are Prioritized in Sweden

Yet in Sweden, these two values dictate daily life. People regularly admit their mistakes immediately lest they be found out to be liars later, and it’s considered extremely rude to push someone to take some food after they have declined your first offer.



Respect the Privacy of the Swedes!


Many a tourist to Sweden has discovered that the common, “Hi, how are you?” or “Isn’t this weather great?” small talk introductions that are typical in places like the UK and USA don’t really fly there.


Respect the Privacy of the Swedes!

Nope — Swedes love their privacy, and that extends to small talk. That extends to cashiers and taxi drivers, as well as offices and businesses. The best option is to get to the point, but politely!



That Also Means No Personal Questions!


Respecting privacy and personal space in Sweden extends to asking personal questions about family and previous workplaces, as you might expect. In some cultures and societies, such questions are typically meant to show a person’s interest in someone, but in Sweden, it’s simply considered rude.


That Also Means No Personal Questions!

Hence why a non-Swede could easily be surprised when a local quickly and abruptly changes topics if they think a conversation is straying anywhere close to personal territory.



Getting to the Point Is Appreciated


So, what’s left if personal questions and invading private space is frowned upon (to put it lightly)? Well, whereas in some countries skipping the small talk and getting down to business might seem direct and rude, the Swedes actually consider it polite to be brief.


Getting to the Point Is Appreciated

Yes, they don’t like useless conversations in Sweden — which is why friendly meetings often start with a long pause. People don’t try to speak in a vain attempt to avoid silence.



It Can Be Tricky to Make Friends When Moving to Sweden


It should probably come as no surprise, based on the last few points, that while physically moving to Sweden is easy, making friends isn’t. Probably something to do with respecting privacy, personal space, and no small talk.


It Can Be Tricky to Make Friends When Moving to Sweden

Hence why many transplants to the northern country have found it difficult to move past the polite but straightforward “hi” and “bye” phase. Swedes are notoriously careful about choosing which people to let into their lives, so making friends takes time and a lot of patience.



The Key to Making Swedish Friends? Hobbies


Not really unique advice for Sweden specifically, but the best way to make friends is to pick up a hobby you enjoy, where you’ll invariably meet people who are into the same things you like.


The Key to Making Swedish Friends? Hobbies

While there are a host of hobbies you can pick up in Sweden — just like anywhere else — the Swedes place particular emphasis on physical fitness and personal health, so best to target those areas to make friends.



Finding an Apartment Is Also Tough


The cost of living in Sweden is quite high, as is the case in most places these days. It’s particularly tough to find an affordable place to rent or buy in the capital city of Stockholm (though salaries in the city tend to be much higher than in other places in the country).


Finding an Apartment Is Also Tough

As one would expect, it’s cheaper to live in the suburbs of Stockholm, where the quality of living is still very high, but the prices are fortunately lower (though it’s still relatively expensive)!



The Importance of Laundromats


For some reason, in Sweden it’s easier to get the vaunted three ‘V’s — Villa, Volvo, Vovve (dog) — than it is to find a private washing machine (probably something to do with the difficulty of getting an apartment in the first place).


The Importance of Laundromats

Enter laundromats, and the strict rules surrounding their use in Sweden. Given their popularity (some would say necessity), some laundromats aren’t allowed to be used after certain hours, and it’s expected that customers wash the machine they use.



Paper Currency Is a Rarity in Sweden


You’d think that with the popularity of laundromats in Sweden, its citizens would have spare change on them at all times. But, apparently not.


Paper Currency Is a Rarity in Sweden

The vast majority of people (and businesses) prefer to conduct their transactions with credit and debit cards, or by phone. Some places don’t accept hard cash at all, while only certain vending machines accept coins. In fact, there’s talk of Sweden becoming the first country to go completely cashless. The exceptions to this rule are gym lockers and shopping trolleys.



Lax Business Hours in the Summer


Compounding the issue of not accepting cash — if you’re a visiting tourist, of course — most shops are only open until five o’clock on Saturdays, and are completely closed on Sundays altogether.


Lax Business Hours in the Summer

To further exacerbate things, in the summer months (July to August) most shops are closed, even cafes and restaurants! The reason being is that this is the vacation period when most Swedes travel, so don’t make any plans during this time!



Specific Butter Knifes — or Smörkniv


Everyone has probably seen a butter knife in their life — heck, you probably have one in your kitchen at home. But let us tell you that the Swedes take the concept of a butter knife to a whole other level.


Specific Butter Knifes — or Smörkniv

The smörkniv is made from wood or plastic, and its purpose is meant to be communal. That means that the knife literally belongs to everyone seated at the table. That means no using the knife when it’s not your turn, and no putting it on your plate. And obviously, don’t use it to cut anything other than butter (conversely, don’t use any other knife for butter either).



PUT THE COOKIE DOWN


Arnold Schwarzenegger would be a fan of the Swede’s attitude towards cookies — specifically, the last cookie on the table (for those of you who don’t get that Jingle All the Way reference, shame on you).


PUT THE COOKIE DOWN

Come the end of a meal, any meal, the last cookie (or sandwich or piece of cake) must be left on the table. The reason is that Swedes are so humble, they’d never presume that they’re entitled to the last treat. You have to wait at least 15 minutes, politely ask if no one wants the last cookie, and then you can have it (but you’ll still get some side-eye from people around the table).



The Swedes Love Lingonberries


Lingonberries are small creeping plants of the heath family, and are related to the blueberry and cranberry. Its jam is very sweet and is frequently used to accompany various dishes in Sweden, ranging from meatballs to pancakes (but oddly not bread).


The Swedes Love Lingonberries

The Swedes are also passionate about the great outdoors, amplified by the Right of Public Access (Allemansrätten), which allows everyone to enjoy nature freely. So, many people grow up picking lingonberries in the forest to make their jams.



Lines Are Respected


Lines, and observing the ‘unwritten rules’ of the line, is a serious deal in Sweden. Doesn’t matter where you are — from banks to the pharmacy and local grocery store — if there is a line, you’re expected to wait your turn and be patient.


Lines Are Respected

Many businesses have a ticketing system to help with facilitating their customers, but even so, lines are extremely well maintained. Talking or complaining whilst waiting line is frowned upon.



Don’t Raise Your Voice


The Swedes must have extraordinary patience. In addition to respecting the process of lines, you’re expected to be mild-mannered during an argument!


Don’t Raise Your Voice

That means no screaming or raising your voice, even if you’re having a friendly argument and you’re simply excited to make your point. Doing so is, as you guessed it, extremely frowned upon — as the Swedes are, on average, very soft-spoken.



The Quality of Your Socks Is Very Important


It’s fairly rare to go to someone’s home in the U.S. and be asked to take off your shoes (though it does happen). But in Sweden, it’s common practice to place your shoes in a sko hylla under the coat rack.


The Quality of Your Socks Is Very Important

Which is where the importance of a fresh, clean pair of socks comes into play. No one wants to be that person who peels of their grimy shoes to unleash a horrid stench, hence why the Swedes always have clean, stylish socks — a cool pair of socks can often become the talk of the party!



The Swedes Are Always on Time


Punctuality is important in a lot of cultures, and the Swedes are no different.


The Swedes Are Always on Time

Regardless of whether it’s for a social gathering, doctor’s appointment, or business meeting, arriving late is extremely frowned upon. Conversely, arriving too early isn’t ideal either! You don’t want to give the impression that you’ve been waiting for someone to arrive and make them feel awkward. So, make sure your watch is running smoothly!



Planner’s Paradise


Considering how important punctuality is to the Swedes, it should come as no surprise that they are also master planners. Public transportation in Sweden is a testament to this, as is multiple Swedish citizens being so well organized that they can tell you what they’re doing on any given day months in advance.


Planner’s Paradise

In addition to planning for business purposes, the Swedes use planning for group activities as a means of socializing.



All Hands Mentality at Work


Remember how there isn’t much of a hierarchical structure in Swedish businesses? That philosophy extends all the way up to the CEO. It’s not uncommon to find the head of a company chipping in at the office or making tea for their colleagues.


All Hands Mentality at Work

There’s a big emphasis on team-building activities in Swedish firms, so don’t be surprised to find members of upper management join in with these group social activities after work.



Meetings About Meetings


The Swedes may be reserved in private, but in the workplace, they love to voice their opinions during meetings — a practice that is actively encouraged.


Meetings About Meetings

It’s not uncommon to have a meeting about preparing for another meeting, and managers typically share an open-plan office with their employees. Everyone is welcome to give their opinion or raise problems or issues during these meetings, and each person is listened to with sincerity. There is no fear of reprisals either. Sounds like a pretty nice office culture!



Freedom of (Personal) Information


It may seem like a paradox, given our earlier points on Swedish privacy and personal space, but phone numbers and email addresses are widely available in the country.


Freedom of (Personal) Information

It’s fairly easy to look up anyone’s contact details online, and if you’re calling from a respected and well-known company, you won’t be immediately rebuffed if you try to get in touch with a CEO or senior public official directly. Oh, and one other random fact — Sweden itself is the first country in the world to have a phone number!



Five 0’Clock Is Closing Time


The average weekly working hours in Sweden typically range to about 40, with employees clocking in from 8:30 am or 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Lunch breaks are one hour, taken at any point from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm.


Five o’Clock Is Closing Time

Now we’ve all heard the spiel about working a 9 to 5, but in reality, most of us end up staying longer at the office to deal with the inevitable additional work that gets dropped on our desk. Not so in Sweden. Five o’clock means home time, and the office empties rapidly. Working overtime is neither valued nor seen as necessary, and is in fact seen as a reflection of poor time management and planning.



The Sacred Tradition of Fika


Fika — coffee breaks — is an almost sacred part of Swedish work culture. Fika provides an opportunity for workers to socialize with one another, and chat in an informal way.


The Sacred Tradition of Fika

Fika is not meant to be taken at your desk, and answering work calls during this time is not appropriate. Newcomers to Sweden will likely be taken aback at the copious amounts of black coffee consumed during fika, not to mention the inability to refuse a fika invitation (even when you have pressing deadlines).



Generous Maternity and Paternity Leave


Parental leave is an employee benefit in almost every country, but whereas mothers are typically only entitled to 12 weeks of paid maternity leave in America, Swedish parents are entitled to 480 days of paid parental leave, based on income.


Generous Maternity and Paternity Leave

Each parent has an exclusive right to 90 of those days, with the rest of the allotment split between them. Obviously, family time has high priority in Swedish working culture — if only more countries could follow their lead!



Paid Vacations for Taking Care of Your Child


We all know the importance of taking care of a child, especially one that is sick, which is why we will often willingly sacrifice a working day without pay (if all of our vacation allowances are used up) to tend to them.


Paid Vacations for Taking Care of Your Child

But in Sweden, parents have no qualms about leaving the office to pick up their kid(s) from school, or taking a prolonged vacation to take care of them, safe in the knowledge that they will still receive 80% of their paycheck.



A Healthy Supply of Vacation Days


33 days off is a pipe dream for the average worker in America, and even most of the European Union. But, Swedes have the longest holidays in Europe, with an average of 33 vacation days per year.


A Healthy Supply of Vacation Days

Compare that with the two weeks off in the U.S., or even 25.2 days in the EU, and it seems the working Swedes have a great deal. In fact, Swedish employees are entitled to take four consecutive weeks off, which explains why things grind to a halt in the country during the summer months.



Six-Hour Workdays


You might have seen the fairly recent news that some companies in Sweden have experimented with shorter workdays, based on recent studies suggesting workers are only productive for six hours at the office.


Six-Hour Workdays

So, while the six-hour workday isn’t commonplace in Sweden (yet), it’s a testament to the country’s history of strong workers’ rights legislation and unions. Swedish workers are fortunate to have some of the best benefits in the world.



The Swedes Let Children Be Children


The Swedes understand that kids don’t want to sit around like statues, so they are encouraged and allowed to run around, climb, explore, and make noise in the great outdoors and at parks.


The Swedes Let Children Be Children

In other nations, helicopter parents are a real thing, and you’ll probably receive some scathing looks if you have the audacity to let your kids run around and fully explore their curiosity (like climbing trees or dangling upside down precariously from a high bar). Not so in Sweden, where kids are outdoors in all weather, and no parents are judging you!



Sweet-Tooth Swedes


Saturday is a time for relaxation for most people, seeing as it’s the first day of the weekend. In Sweden, it’s also an occasion to chow down on sweets.


Sweet-Tooth Swedes

Known as Lördagsgodis, or Saturday sweets, the average Swedish family — with two adults and two children — eats 1.2 kilos of sweets per week, most of it on Saturdays. The tradition has its roots in some dubious medical practices from the late ’40s and ’50s, when doctors from Vipeholm Mental Hospital in Lund intentionally fed large amounts of candy to patients to intentionally cause tooth decay for research purposes.



The Swedish Naming Law


We’ve all heard about a friend of a friend who condemned their infant to years of ridicule on the playground after giving them some kind of ridiculous name like ‘Sunshine’ or ‘North West.’


The Swedish Naming Law

Thankfully, in Sweden, your chosen name for your newborn baby has to be approved by the Swedish Tax Agency before it can become official, thus prohibiting names like ‘Ikea’ or ‘Volvo’ being unfairly lamped on to the poor kid.



Friluftsliv


How a person relaxes is, well, a deeply personal choice. Some prefer a cup of tea by the fireplace, others a pint at the pub, or maybe a pizza and a good movie. For the Swedes, it’s friluftsliv (pronounced free-loofts-liv) — which literally translates as ‘open-air living.’


Friluftsliv

The act of getting outdoors for lunchtime — whether you’re taking a run through the forest, a swim in the lake, or a hike up the mountain — is so important in Sweden that some companies build it into the working week.



Allemansrätten


It may be because 86% of the Swedish population lives in cities (hence their desire to get into nature), but every person in the country has the right to roam freely in nature.


Allemansrätten

This means that you don’t have to pay to set up a tent or cross into private land, or swim in lakes. The only exceptions are private gardens, near a dwelling house or land under cultivation. Sweden is one of the few countries in the world to allow allemansrätten — the right to roam.



Be Careful When Inviting a Friend Over to Watch a Movie


If you invite a friend over for a movie, with all sincerity and a genuine intention to relax and enjoy a flick, your Swedish comrade will still likely assume you want to do something more…intimate.


Be Careful When Inviting a Friend Over to Watch a Movie

That’s because the phrase “Ska vi kolla på en film tillsammans?” (“Shall we watch a movie together?”) has become synonymous with asking someone if they’d like to do the horizontal tango. So, Netflix and chill won’t really work in Sweden…



No Mingling With Strangers


It shouldn’t come as no surprise that people don’t really talk to strangers on the street, considering the previous sections on keeping your space, no small talk, and no personal questions in Sweden.


Group of diverse people riding a train

It doesn’t matter if you’re waiting in line at the coffee shop, standing next to someone on the bus, or crossing paths with a person who lives on your floor. If they’re a stranger, you’ll have no luck trying to start a conversation.



The Swedes Can Be Direct


So, what’s the tally now? Reserved, private, no small talk, no interaction with strangers — add being straightforward and direct to the list.


The Swedes Can Be Direct

The Swedes will take your first answer to any question at face value, so don’t expect a Swede to insist on an offer if you felt you were being polite in turning down their first offer. You could end up like one tourist to the country, who initially refused an offer to sleep in a friend’s bed and immediately ended up spending the night on the floor.



The Swedes Forage in the Summer


If they’re not enjoying four weeks of consecutive vacation and traveling, many Swedes use the summer as an opportunity to go into the woods and pick berries and mushrooms.


The Swedes Forage in the Summer

The freedom to roam act means you can pick most plants, with the exception of those restricted by the landowner and/or protected plants and flowers. For example, all orchid species in Sweden are subject to statutory protection, and you can’t cut down damaged or growing trees.



Swedes Have a Deep Fear of Badgers


There are plenty of animals in Swedish forests, including moose and wolves. And while the latter deserves a wide berth and plenty of respect, it’s actually the badger that terrifies the Swedes the most.


Swedes Have a Deep Fear of Badgers

The reason stems from a folk belief that if a badger does bite your arm or leg, they won’t let go until they hear the bone crack. To combat this irrational fear, some Swedes stuff their socks with crispbread so that, if any badgers should bite them, the break of the crispbread will fool them into thinking they snapped a bone.



The Screams of Swedish Students


No — that’s not the title of an indie horror flick. We were all students once, so we know that studying for exams can be stressful. People let off steam in various ways, but the students of Uppsala University have a rather unique solution.


The Screams of Swedish Students

Every night at exactly 10 pm, on a street in an area called Flogsta, students open their windows and let out collective cries of fury and angst, a tradition that has come to be known as “The Flogsta Scream” — one that has spread to other cities across the country.



Swedes Have a Complicated Relationship With Drinking


Drinking has been strictly policed in Sweden ever since the 1920s, when the pro-booze lobby won a narrow referendum on whether the country should follow the Americans and implement prohibition.


Swedes Have a Complicated Relationship With Drinking

Now though, if you want to buy booze outside of a pub or restaurant, you need to get it through the state off-licenses (the “Systembolaget”), places that are full of posters warning about the dangers of drinking. There are also no discounts or bulk buy incentives on these beverages.



Speeches for All at Swedish Weddings


While there’s a frankly outdated format of the patriarchal trio giving speeches at weddings in the U.S. (bride’s father, groom, best man), the democratic and egalitarian Swedes allow anyone to give a speech at a wedding.


Speeches for All at Swedish Weddings

It seems that weddings are the places where the Swedes come alive, and it’s not uncommon for speeches to start in the early evening and run through midnight, with everyone from the bride’s parents down to the groom’s friend’s girlfriend’s second-cousin-twice-removed taking the mic.



Most of Sweden Is Covered by Forest


With the Swedes’ love of the outdoors and the Right to Roam act, it shouldn’t be a shock to learn that 57% of the country’s land area is covered by forest.


Most of Sweden Is Covered by Forest

23 million hectares of Swedish land is forest. The high number is down to, in large part, the Swedish Forestry Act of 1903, which is considered one of the first pieces of environmental legislation in the world. The act states that anyone harvesting forest is obliged to regenerate it.



Cold, Dark Winters


You may already know that Sweden is prone to particularly brutal winters, thanks to its northern geographical location.


Cold, Dark Winters

In some northern parts of the country (which sit above the Arctic Circle), it’s not uncommon to get as little as three hours of sunlight per day in the midst of winter. On the flip side, you’ll be able to see the natural wonder that is the Northern Lights. And you’re rewarded in the summer when you get long hours of sunlight and warm temperatures.