What Swedish People Are Like (Behaviors & Stereotypes Explained)

Last Updated on Categorized as Culture

You might have heard a funny stereotype about us silly Swedes and wondered, are they really like this? Or you might just be curious about Swedish culture, how Swedish people actually behave, or what the Swedish social etiquette is all about. Whatever your reasons, I bid you a warm welcome to this guide to what Swedish people are actually like.

Being a Swede, I have a pretty good idea about some of the questions you might have bouncing around in your head. Of course, personal anecdotes is not good enough on their own, so I’ve included relevant data and examples that support these views on what Swedes are really like, generally speaking.

So, What Are Swedish People Really Like?

In social settings Swedish people have been observed by both historians and business leaders to be generally more team-oriented, conflict-averse, empathetic, calm, structured, cold, and safety-focused than other nationalities.

What does this mean exactly? Well, let’s look at some typically Swedish behaviors, which will illustrate these tendencies in more detail.

Some Typically Swedish Behaviors

I catch myself laughing all the time at how predictable Swedes can be and how we collectively tend to behave in certain situation, and I’m not alone at noticing this. Here are some specific things that Swedes do all the time, and that visitors of Sweden (or locals while Swedes go abroad) notice specifically:

  • 🇸🇪 Swedes takes standing in line very seriously
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes are very concerned about daily and long-term climate
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes are big fans of being perceived as modern
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes think it’s very important that everything is fair
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes like to hug their friends and workmates
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes like to be nice and thank you for every possible thing
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes generally trust society as a whole and each other
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes have fika (coffee & pastries) all the time
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes are taught to be independent from a young age
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes like to dress in a decent and fashionable manner
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes have a strong need to reciprocate nice gestures
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes like to eat lunch on trays in a cafeteria
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes tend to be very melancholic, especially in the winter
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes are generally nature lovers and a fairly active bunch
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes cannot deal with awkward social situations very well
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes like to whine without actually doing anything about it
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes always take of their shoes whilst indoors
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes are usually painfully punctual
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes prefer weekends of binge-drinking over a daily glass
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes like to keep an informal tone
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes are often driven and ambitious
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes like to have smokeless tobacco stuffed in their mouth
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes generally aren’t very religious
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes like to be efficient
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes like to split the restaurant/bar bill
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes like epic sing-alongs broadcasted live to millions on TV
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes prefer to stay politically correct whenever possible
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes like to have giant strollers for their babies
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes leave their strollers with babies outside in the winter
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes are accepting of families with small children in public
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes do not like to talk to strangers, and stay quiet in public

What Are Swedish People Like in Work and Business Settings?

In business settings specifically, Swedes have been observed to be generally more team-oriented, preferring to delegate, like to keep things professional, wanting to be inclusive, and preferring clear instructions.

What Are Swedish People Like in Everyday Situations?

In everyday life Swedish people generally tend to act calm and reserved, seem a bit cold, keep things informal, prefer a well-planned approach, and are usually of the opinion that “maybe” is a conflict-avoiding way to say “no”.

What Are Some Typical Swedish Personality Traits?

Personality traits you are likely to find among the Swedish population include being fair, courteous, competitive, quiet, honest, creative, empathetic, structured, imaginative, cold, open-minded, responsible, humble.

What Values Do Swedes Embrace?

These are values the average Swede would likely agree with and support:

  • Fairness & Equality
  • Democracy
  • Solidarity
  • Liberty & Human Rights
  • Honesty
  • Traditional
  • Privacy
  • Informality
  • Environmentalism
  • Punctuality
  • Work-life balance
  • Forward-thinking

🇸🇪 Note that all of these observations are general and not something every single Swede necessarily agrees with. Still, they are fairly accurate in describing the vast majority of the Swedish population.

What Are Swedes Known For?

  • 🇸🇪 IKEA: The Swedish furniture giant spreads Swedish and Nordic design one giant labyrinth of cheap furniture at a time.
  • 🇸🇪 Meatballs: The Swedish national dish is usually eaten with potatoes, gravy, lingonberries, and pickled cucumbers,
  • 🇸🇪 Free Universities: Higher education in Sweden is free for all EU citizens, and still fairly cheap for non-EU citizens.
  • 🇸🇪 Pickled Herring: Swedes are adamant about eating these pickled delicacies at least three times every year: on easter, midsummer, and christmas.
  • 🇸🇪 Cinnamon Buns: Swedes have mastered the art of cinnabuns, with all kinds of mouth-watering combinations of this simple but potent pastry available in almost every food-related store or shop.
  • 🇸🇪 Environmentalism: Swedes generally take pride in their commitment towards a sustainable and environmentally friendly reality
  • 🇸🇪 Hot Chocolate: During the winter months thermoses and cafes fill up to the brim with hot coco to warm up the cold reality every now and then.
  • 🇸🇪 Public Healthcare: The Swedish welfare state means healthcare and health insurance for all citizens. It doesn’t always mean better care, but it does mean you will never have to worry about affording getting the care you need.
  • 🇸🇪 Swedish Jul (Christmas): Although some might claim that Swedish christmas is a christian celebration, the fact is Swedes have celebrated Yule/Jul around the winter solstice for a long time before the good word spread north. This is reflected in all the mythical tales and creatures that surround the holidays in Sweden.
  • 🇸🇪 Cars: From staples like Volvo and Saab to world record-setting speedsters from Koenigsegg; Swedes have had a nack for building good cars for a long while now (although the car makers are no longer Swedish-owned, they still operate and manufacture in Sweden).
  • 🇸🇪 Pop Music: What started with ABBA in the 70s continued with Roxette in the 80s, and eventually developed into Max Martin’s hit factory in the 90s. Swedes export a huge amount of pop music for its size, with more modern examples including Robyn, Swedish House Mafia, The Knife, Avicii, and Miike Snow.
  • 🇸🇪 Ice Hotel: Built from blocks of ice from the nearby river, the Ice Hotel in northern Sweden is both an every-changing work of art and a living experience like no other. I loved every single thing about staying in and being surrounded by ice, but also acknowledge how it might not be for everyone!
  • 🇸🇪 Parental Leave: Swedes have access to and are encouraged to utilize 480 days of paid parental leave per child. Employers are not allowed to replace you during this time, but instead welcome you back once you are ready to rejoin the workforce.
  • 🇸🇪 Design: Swedes love stylish home interior and creative design elements in their everyday life. From practical kitchen furniture to lavishly designed decorations with a red line of minimalism and functionality throughout.
  • 🇸🇪 Fika: Having fika is ingrained in Swedish social life, and generally happens multiple times per day for an average Swede. It usually means drinking coffee (or tea) along with a pastry of varying

How Swedes Like To Be Perceived

While not all Swedes are alike there are some common ways Swedes like to perceive themselves (according to scientists and authors):

  • Independent & democratic
  • Nationalistic
  • Modern
  • American-esque
  • Neutral
  • Egalitarian
  • Nature-oriented

The most common Swedish Stereotypes

When Swedes go abroad the most common stereotypes we encounter are that all Swedes are blond and blue-eyed, that all Swedes are often drunk on sun holidays, that Swedes are from Switzerland, that Swedes are promiscuous, that there are polar bears on the streets in Sweden, that all Swedes are shy and introverted, and that Swedes are stingy.

These come directly from a 2019 eBleach poll that asked 1062 Swedes which stereotypes they most commonly encountered while they were abroad, and this definitely overlaps with my own personal experiences. Here are the full results:

“What are the most common stereotypes about Swedes you have heard whilst traveling abroad?”

Source: eBeach 2019

Traveling Swedes are definitely met with a lot of interesting stereotypes, and while some are actually true there are a whole lot that luckily aren’t. Let’s see which ones are true and which ones are false next.

Swedish Stereotypes That Are True

  • Swedes are mainly blonde and blue-eyed
  • Swedes get very drunk when they are abroad
  • Swedes only work 6 hours per day
  • Many Swedes do like to eat rotten fish (surströmming)
  • Many Swedes pretend to be fashionable but secretly shop at Ullareds

Swedish Stereotypes That Are False

  • Swedes are not from Switzerland
  • Swedes are not more promiscious than other Europeans
  • Far from every Swede knows Zlatan Ibrahimovic personally
  • Swedes do have to work, money does not come through a hole in the door
  • Swedes don’t avoid dubbing films and series because their lazy, it’s because they prefer the original language with subtitles
  • Swedes do have electricity and roads (although it can get expensive in the winter)
  • Swedes do not walk around naked all the time
  • Swedes do experience weather warmer than 10ºC (50ºF)
  • Swedes do not ride a personal raindeer to work in the winter
  • Swedes (generally) do not bring a tube of Kalles Kaviar wherever they travel
  • Swedes do not avoid having more sex (and children) due to the cold and dark climate

The Social Behavior of Swedes

How Do Swedes Make Friends?

Adult Swedes primarily make new friends at their workplace or school according to Lernia, an education and staffing company. This is something we can see in data too, with three out of four respondents of a 2018 Demoskop poll saying good relations with their workmates is the most important source of their workplace happiness.

The fact that friendships are created primarily in closed institutions along with Swedes general tendency to be cold and quiet can make it hard to make friends in Sweden. This is something US expats have found out the hard way, as they rank Sweden in the bottom 10 globally in “ease of settling in”, with “making friends” being the weakest sub category.

While most Swedes are happy with their friends, and generally make friends aplenty at work or school as we’ve covered, there is a growing group of Swedes that are generally not very good at making friends at all, with one in eight saying they do not have a single close friend according to Swedish psychologist Anna Bennich (TV4 2021).

This illustrates how hard it can be to create and maintain friendships in the cold and dark north, so if you have experienced firsthand how hard this can be — it’s not you, it’s just Sweden.

Why Are Swedes Bad at Making Friends?

Swedish psychologist Anna Bennich offers a few theories on why Swedes are particularly bad at making friends when discussing this with TV4, and I have added a few examples I’ve seen myself again and again:

  • Swedes like to book appointments, which prevents casual visits
  • Swedes are not very spontaneous and prefer predictable outcomes
  • Swedes like to show off a prim and proper life, not a messy one
  • Swedes have a hard time letting other people in to their private life
  • Sweden has never been densely populated, which means less practice
  • Swedes fear being judged negatively by their social peers
  • Swedes are generally risk-averse, and do not like taking leaps of faith

How Do Swedes Flirt?

Swedes tend to get extra flirty in specific situations, with pre-parties (at someones home) before going out to bars and clubs being the most common place we flirt. We also engage in increasingly more sloppy flirting out at said bars and clubs.

Common ways to ask someone out in Sweden include inviting someone to a casual fika (coffee & pastries), a movie session (Netflix & chill), or a more formal dinner date (not as common).

A unique place Swedes don’t seem to mind flirting is up in the air. One in five Swedish men report that they’ve experienced “a flirt” with someone whilst flying according to a 2013 poll by Epinion, and twice as many Swedes report mile-high flirting compared to Danes and Norwegians.

And while Swedes love making new friends at work, they generally do not like flirting with their workmates. Only one in ten in a 2019 Manpower Work Life panel said they were fine with their workmates flirting with them.

What is Considered Polite Behavior in Sweden?

  • Standing in line and waiting for your turn
  • Participating in small talk about the weather
  • Being generally fair
  • Hugging friends and workmates
  • Saying thank you for the slightest thing
  • Dressing in a decent and fashionable manner
  • Reciprocating nice gestures
  • Clearing your tray after eating lunch in cafeterias or restaurants
  • Taking of your shoes whilst indoors
  • Being very punctual
  • Keeping an informal tone
  • Avoiding religious talk
  • Splitting the bill when eating or drinking out with friends and acquantances
  • Staying fairly politically correct
  • Showing compassion towards families with small children in public
  • Staying quiet in public

What is Considered Rude Behavior in Sweden?

  • Cutting in line and not waiting for your turn
  • Talking politics
  • Unfair attitudes and behaviors
  • Being short with workmates
  • Not reciprocating nice gestures
  • Dressing sloppy
  • Leaving your trash in public spaces
  • Leaving your shoes on in someones home
  • Being very late
  • Keeping an formal tone
  • Bringing up religion in general conversations
  • Avoiding the bill when eating or drinking out with friends
  • Being politically incorrect
  • Judging families with small children harshly
  • Being loud in public

Do Swedes Like Small Talk?

Swedes are usually not very good at small talk, which is perhaps why we sometimes refer to it as “cold talk”. Anna Bennich suggests that this could be why Swedes are particularly bad at making friends; usually avoiding it unless absolutely necessary, at which point we keep it to general observations and forecasts about the weather.

Are Swedes Private People?

Visitors to Sweden and expats living here usually remark on how it can be hard to get up close and personal with Swedish people, and how we can seem cold and unwelcoming in comparison to other cultures because of how rigid our societal norms are.

It’s not as common for Swedes to spontaneously invite friends over for dinner, whereas this is common in many other cultures all over the world (and specifically considered rude if you don’t). Swedish parents often like to plan out meals and play dates meticously, and it’s rather seen as a bit rude to intrude on these.

It should be added that Swedish youth and young adults are generally more flexible and open-minded when it comes to social encounters and privacy.

Are Swedes Awkward?

Swedes can be incredibly awkward out of principle, out of fear of sticking out from the norm too much, or out of distinctly disliking small talk. Standing out from the crowd is often frowned upon in many situations of Swedish life, and Swedes generally don’t get as much practice in social etiquette as other cultures might because of this.

Sources:

https://www.expressen.se/allt-om-resor/10-svenska-fenomen-som-fascinerar-turister/

https://www.informationsverige.se/en/jag-har-fatt-uppehallstillstand/samhallsorientering/boken-om-sverige/att-komma-till-sverige/finns-det-nagot-typiskt-svenskt/

https://www.regeringen.se/contentassets/feaa905631404ee9be0d03a638e560a9/bilder-av-sverige-i-utlandet-kortversion-pa-svenska

https://news.cision.com/se/ebeach/r/isbjornar-pa-gatorna–introverta-och-fulla–vanligaste-fordomarna-svenskar-moter-pa-semestern,c2928849

https://www.tv4.se/klipp/va/13317625/svenskar-daliga-pa-vanskap-vi-ska-inte-avfarda-kallpratet

https://www.internations.org/expat-insider/2021/northern-europe-40121

https://www.lernia.se/press/pressmeddelanden/2018/maj/svart-for-svenskar-att-fa-vanner-visar-ny-undersokning/

https://vdtidningen.se/hur-mycket-far-man-florta-pa-jobbet/

https://www.svd.se/svenskar-flortar-helst-pa-flyget

https://nyheter24.se/nyheter/inrikes/886842-stor-utlanningar-mest-hos-svenskar

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By Karl Andersson

As a native Swede with a Finnish mother, Karl identifies as both Nordic and Scandinavian. He left Sweden at 19 to explore the world, and stayed abroad for almost 8 years—during which he backpacked, worked every job there was, earned a degree from UC Berkeley, and met the future mother of his children. He ultimately returned to his native Malmö with his love, where they now have 3 Swedish-American boys eager to explore the world.

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