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Sweden Customs & Etiquettes


One of the main characteristics of Swedish culture is that Swedes are egalitarian in nature, humble and find boasting absolutely unacceptable. In many ways, Swedes prefer to listen to others as opposed to ensuring that their own voice is heard. When speaking, Swedes speak softly and calmly. It is rare that you were witness a Swede demonstrating anger or strong emotion in public.

In terms, Swedes rarely take hospitality or kindness for granted and as such, they will give often give thanks. Failing to say thank you for something is perceived negatively in Sweden.

Behaviours in Sweden are strongly balanced towards lagom or, ‘everything in moderation’. Excess, flashiness and boasting are abhorred in Sweden and individuals strive towards the middle way. As an example, work hard and play hard are not common concepts in Sweden. People work hard but not too hard, they go out and enjoy themselves, but without participating in anything extreme.

Due to the strong leaning towards egalitarianism in Sweden, competition is not encouraged and children are not raised to believe that they are any more special than any other child.

Family Values

The family in Sweden is extremely important and as such, the rights of children are well protected. The rights afforded to Swedish families to ensure that they are able to adquately care for their children are some of the best rights in the world.

Some of these rights are:

  • either the mother or father is entitled to be absent from work until their child reaches 18 months old.
  • either parent has the right to reduce their workload by 25% until their child reaches 8 years old (and is formally ready for school).
  • a parental allowance is paid for 480 days, which is intended for both parents. Sixty of these days must be used by the ‘minority’ parents. For this reason, this element of the allowance is often known as ‘Daddy’s months’.
  • you have the right to up to 60 days off per year to care for a sick child.

A number of people in Sweden however, challenge the degree to which these rights are truly positive as statistics suggest that women often fall way behind their male colleague in respect to position in pay. Having said that, anyone travelling to Sweden will notice the family friendly environment of most resturants and other such establishments.

Dining Etiquette

Although Sweden is a largely egalitarian and relaxed environment, hospitality and eating arrangements are often a formal affair. It is more common for guests to be invited to a Swede’s home for coffee and cake as opposed to a meal.

However, if you do get invited to a meal:

  • Be punctual as it is considered extremely impolite if you are rude. Confusing as it is, do not arrive too early either!
  • Dress smartly as to otherwise would be considered disrespectful to the hosts.
  • Never ask to see the rest of the house as Swedes are general very private.
  • When eating, keep your hands in full view, with your wrists on top of the table.
  • The European eating etiquette should be adhered to in respect to knife in the right hand and fork in the left.
  • Do not start eating until the hostess has started.
  • Do not take the last helping from a plate.
  • Finish everything on your plate as it is considered rude to leave any food uneaten.
  • Do not offer a toast to anyone more senior to you in age. When offering a toast then lift your glass and nod at everyone present looking from those seated on your right to those seated on your left before taking a sip. You should then nod again before replacing your glass on the table.
  • It is important that you do not discuss business at the table as Swedes try to distinguish between home and work.
  • During formal events, the guest seated on the left of the hostess typically stands to make a speech during the sweet, to thank her on behalf of the whole group.

Always write or call to thank the host / hostess within a few days of attending the dinner.

Gift Giving Etiquette

If you are invited to a Swede’s home then it is suggested that you take the same type of gift as you would give in the UK e.g. a bouquet of flowers or, a box of chocolates. If you choose to give flowers instead, then ensure that the bouquet does not include white lilies or chrysanthemums. The reason for this being that both types of flowers are typically given at funerals.

Since Sweden is such a child centred country, it is always recommended that you take gives for any children who may be part of the family who you are visiting.

If you are personally given a gift, then it is custom to open it upon receipt.





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