People and Culture in Sweden

Remember how your parents used to tell you to keep your elbows off the table during meals? Or that it’s rude to slurp your soup? Well there’s good news guys, these American cultures and customs don’t always translate to other countries! While the local people you meet won’t expect you to be fluent in their language, culture and customs, it is important to familiarize yourself with them.

The most important thing to remember while you’re abroad is that things will be different. But, different doesn’t mean wrong. Be open, be curious, and read more about the culture you will be stepping into. Get excited about LIVING the life you’ve only dreamt and read about until now!

People and Culture in Sweden

Official name: Kingdom of Sweden

Population: 9.7 million

Capital City: Stockholm

Geography: Sweden lies between Finland and Norway in Northern Europe.

Culture of Sweden:

  • Swedes typically prefer to listen during conversation rather than making sure that their own voice is heard.
  • In Sweden, everything is done in moderation. For example, the motto “work hard, play hard” is not a common notion. Rather, the Swedish work hard but not in excess and then enjoy a good time but not to any extreme.

Non-verbal communication:

  •  Personal space is valued in Sweden so be conscious that you do not get too close to anyone and avoid unnecessary touching.

Other customs to be familiar with:

DO: Be punctual if you are invited for a meal at someone’s home.

DO NOT: Ask to see the rest of the house – Swedes are very private.

DO: Keep your wrists on top of the table in order to keep your hands in full view.

DO NOT: Take the last helping from a plate.

Phrases to know before you go:

While most Swedes are fluent in English, they’ll appreciate you taking the effort to learn some Swedish phrases.

Hello. Hej. (HAY). Also hejsan (haysan). In informal contexts, you can also use tjena (Schenah – soft e), or tja (Scheh’)

How are you? Hur mår du? (Hoor mor doo?)

Fine, thank you. Tack, jag mår bra. (Tack, yag moor brah)

What is your name? Vad heter du? (Vaad HAY-tehr doo?)

My name is ______ . Jag heter ______ . (Yag HAY-tehr _____ .)

Nice to meet you. Trevligt att träffa dig (TRAYV-leet at TREH-fa day)

Thank you. Tack. (TACK)

You’re welcome. Var så god (VAHR saw good)

How old are you. Hur gammal är du? (Heur gah mal air deu)

Yes. Ja. (YAH)

No. Nej. (NAY)

Excuse me. (getting attention) Ursäkta (Ooshehk-ta)

Excuse me. (begging pardon) Förlåt (Fur lowt)

I’m sorry. Jag är ledsen (Yaag air lessen)

Farewell Adjö (A-juuh)

Goodbye Hej då (Hay doe)

I can’t speak ‘Swedish’ [well]. Jag kan inte tala ‘svenska’ [så bra] (Yaag can eenteh taahla ‘svenskah’ [sooh brah])

Help! Hjälp! (Yelp)

Look out! Se upp (Say oop)

Good morning. God morgon (Good Morron)

Good day. God dag (Good daag)

Good afternoon. God eftermiddag (Good eftermeedag)

Good evening. God kväll (Good kvell)

Good night (to sleep) God natt (Good natt)

I understand. Jag förstår(Yag fur stoar)

I don’t understand. Jag förstår inte (Yag fur stoar ihn ter)

Where is the toilet? Var ligger toaletten? (Vahr liggeh twa-LETT-en)

Sweden phrases

Other Resources:

Basic Swedish Phrases

Etiquette in Sweden