Sweden has a reputation for being a society that embraces social equality; one which enjoys a good international standing for feminism, as well as strong stances against racism and fascism.
Are you considering a move to Sweden?
Before moving to any country, it’s a good idea to have an idea of the social values, expectations and shared ideas of its people.
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A Guide to Swedish Culture and Tradition
Interested in Swedish culture, Swedish tradition, and the general way of life?
Let’s take a look at some of the unique quirks of life in Sweden…
Multiculturalism and Liberal Attitudes
Like the UK, there is a strong current of multiculturalism in Sweden.
The Swedish people are very tolerant and liberal minded with the statistics on things life gender equality showing Sweden as a world leader.
Homosexuality has been legal since 1944 with same-sex marriage able to adopt since 2003 and marry since 2009.
The country is very multicultural with 15% of Swedes hailing from another country and 20% of under 18s coming from a family other than Sweden. 85% of the 9.9 million inhabitants enjoy the city life which makes up just 3% of the country’s land area; forests cover almost 70% of the rest.
Lagom: The Swedish Stiff Upper Lip
The Swedes adopt an unspoken societal code of conduct called lagom for which there is no direct English translation.
Loosely, it means ‘appropriate’ or ‘in moderation’ and relates to the expectation that Swedish people like to blend in and not indulge in public shows of emotion.
Don’t Be Late in Sweden!
Along with their aversion to ‘sticking out’, the Swedes despise tardiness and value punctuality in all of their dealings whether they are business or pleasure.
However, they do like to keep things casual when it comes to work and, unless you are attending a large meeting with foreign clients it is likely the dress code will be jeans and a shirt.
But Be Prepared to Queue…
Like the British, Swedes like to queue and most establishments will have a ticket machine in operation. Think back to the days when these were in use at the deli counter in your local supermarket except they are everywhere including pharmacies, tax offices and small shops.
Work-Life Balance: Family Wins in Sweden
Speaking of shops, many close early and do not open at the weekends. Family is a huge part of Swedish life and they take the opportunity to spend time with each other when they can. Fathers play a big part in parenting owing to the fact that the 480 days of paid parental leave can be taken equally by both sexes.
In fact, many businesses shut down altogether during July so that employees can enjoy the (brief) summer.
Ikea: A Motto For Life
And on another shopping related tradition, no guide to the Swedish way of life would be complete without mention of their most famous exports; Ikea. Offering affordable, practical but stylish homeware and food the store exemplifies the Swedes love of bargains and design innovation.
Brutal Winter, Great Parties
Winters in Sweden are very long and dark and in the northern parts of the country the December days are only a few hours long. However, the chance to see the Northern Lights is greater as you get closer to the Arctic Circle and the perks of being able to ski, go dog-sledding and snowmobiling outweigh the long nights.
Christmas is another highlight of the season with numerous markets and fairs to experience traditional Swedish pepparkakor and warm glögg. Gothenburg is home to one of the worlds largest Christmas parties and has over 5 million lights on display.
Fika: A Nation of Coffee Lovers
One of the most common cultural traditions can be found in the drinking of coffee. Swedes love their coffee and have an almost daily ritual, called fika, in which coffee is shared with family and friends. An opportunity to bond, fikas can occur between colleagues on a coffee break or as a daily meeting with friends.
Many people fika on a first date. 😉
Brits Drink More Than Swedes (Surprise, Surprise)
Like some other Scandinavian countries alcohol is only sold in Sweden under state license only. This has had an effect on the national alcohol consumption which is moderately low at 9.2 litres per capita per annum. This is a little lower than the UK’s which stands at 11.6 litres. The main tipple of choice for Swedes is wine.
Abba, Pop Music and Death Metal
The arts in Sweden are valued highly and the country has a strong literary and musical history. A nation that spawned the global phenomenon of Abba, the music scene in Sweden is big but is mainly focused on indie pop/rock and death metal. Sweden is the world’s biggest exporter of pop music relative to it’s GDP.
Another huge export is the sensational Nordic noir literary genre upon which many popular British television programmes and international movies have been based.
Sweden is a World Leader in Environmental Sustainability
A nation that has long supported environmental sustainability, Sweden has an almost zero waste record with just 1% of their rubbish ending up in landfill. The country generates almost 50% of its energy from renewable sources and is a world leader in the biofuels, solar and wind power markets.
A member of the European Union, Sweden has kept its own currency, the krona and has a monarch as its head of state though the government is democratically elected parliament.
Have any questions about Swedish culture and tradition? Any interesting experiences that have conflicted with your expectations?
Let us know your thoughts on cultures and traditions in Sweden below.