What Swedish People Are Like (Behaviors, Stereotypes & More)

Last Updated on Categorized as Culture
hero what are swedish people like2

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 born-and-bred Swede, I have a pretty good idea about some of the questions you might have bouncing around in your head. However, personal anecdotes are not good enough on their own in my opinion, so I’ve also included plenty of relevant data, studies, and examples that support these experiences and views on what Swedes are really like, generally speaking.

Table of contents
  1. Swedish Behaviors & Personality Traits: What Are Swedes Really Like?
    1. What Are Some Typical Swedish Personality Traits?
    2. Do Most Swedes Really Behave in a Similar Way?
    3. Some Typically Swedish Behaviors in Everyday Situations
    4. What Values Do Swedes Embrace?
    5. How About in Business Settings, What Are Swedish People Like at Work?
    6. How Swedes Like To Be Perceived
  2. The Most Common Swedish Stereotypes
    1. Swedish Stereotypes That Are True
    2. Swedish Stereotypes That Are False
  3. Relationships in Sweden: Friendships, Flirting & Family Life Among Swedes
    1. How Do Swedes Greet Each Other?
    2. How Do Swedes Generally Make Friends?
    3. Why Swedes Tend to Be Bad at Making Friends
    4. Do Swedes Like Small Talk?
    5. Are Swedes Private People?
    6. Are Swedes Awkward?
    7. So We Hate Small Talk and Tend to be Private & Awkward—How Exactly Do Swedes Manage to Flirt?
    8. How Do Swedes Ask Each Other Out on Dates?
    9. Do Swedes Tend to Get Married?
    10. Swedish Parenting Culture
  4. Swedish Appearances: What Do Swedes Actually Look Like?
    1. Are Swedes Actually Blond and Blue-eyed?
    2. How Tall are Swedish People?
    3. How Swedes Like to Dress: The Most In-Demand Clothing Brands in Sweden
    4. How Swedes Actually Dress: The Most Common Clothing Brands in Sweden
    5. Swedish Traditional Clothing: National & Regional Folk Costumes
  5. Swedish Impact & Fame: What Are Swedes Famous For?
    1. What Are Swedes Known For?
    2. Swedish Inventions
    3. Famous Swedes
  6. Unwritten Rules in Sweden: The Dos and Don'ts Among Swedes
    1. What is Considered Polite Behavior in Sweden?
    2. What is Considered Rude Behavior in Sweden?
  7. Swedish Food Culture: What Do Swedish People Eat?
    1. Swedish Breakfast Habits
    2. Swedish Lunch Habits
    3. Swedish Dinner Habits
  8. Media, Sports & Pop Culture in Sweden
    1. Most-watched TV programs in Sweden
    2. Most-watched Swedish-made series or movies in Sweden
    3. Swedish Sports Interests
Show Table of Contents +

Swedish Behaviors & Personality Traits: What Are Swedes 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 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, and humble.

So what does all of this mean in reality? Well, let’s look at some typically Swedish behaviors, which will illustrate these tendencies and personality traits more clearly.

As you’ll see throughout this article, these tendencies have been identified in many different studies and polls regarding Swedes’ behaviors and interests, and as a Swede, I would generally agree that large parts of the population share most of these traits, activities, and interests.

Do Most Swedes Really Behave in a Similar Way?

If I would list all of the Swedes I’ve encountered (as a late-thirties Swede who likes to travel and chat with people, that’s likely tens of thousands), I’d describe the majority of them as part of a larger collective consciousness — a Swedish hivemind if you will.

swedish midsummer nordicperspective.com
Swedes dancing around a maypole during Swedish midsummer

We can see how the Swedish hivemind actually looks like by looking at what Swedes do in their free time, and what their interests are:

  • Three out of four Swedes partake in a physical activity (more than 20 times per year) in their free time.
  • Three out of four Swedes also spend time in the outdoors (e.g. in the forest or by a lake) at least once per year in their free time.
  • 44% of Swedish men (and 30% of women) spend a few times per year out on a boat to fish or just to ride around, either lakeside or oceanside.
  • 61% of Swedes go out on a cultural event (such as theatre, concert or dance show) at least a few times per year.
  • 74% of Swedes read books at least a few times per year, and 40% read books every week.
  • 60% of Swedes go on a vacation for at least one week per year.
  • The majority of Swedes have access to a vacation home every year (including summer houses, caravans, or motorhomes), with half renting it and half owning it.
  • The most popular interests in Sweden are everyday ones; Between 30 and 38% of Swedes list listening to music, reading, travelling, watching movies and TV, and cooking as their main interests.

Sources: SCB 2017, Intressekompassen 2015

Some Typically Swedish Behaviors in Everyday Situations

I catch myself laughing all the time at how predictable Swedes can be and how we collectively tend to behave in certain situations, and I’m not alone in noticing this.

On top of cold hard data from the polls above, I would also add the following typically Swedish behaviors from my personal experiences and observations:

  • Swedes are generally friendly and cooperative, prefer to avoid confrontations, honest, set in their routines, and likely to put safety first.
  • Swedes generally like to watch and take great collective interest in family TV productions such as Kalle Ankas Julafton, Melodifestivalen, Eurovision Song Contest, and På Spåret.
  • Swedes generally like to engage routinely in wholesome social behaviors such as daily fika (coffee breaks) with co-workers and friends, weekly lördagsgodis (candy and snacks on Saturdays) with family, and weekly fredagstacos (Swedish-style tacos on Fridays) with family.
  • Swedes between 15–35 years old generally like to partake in slightly less wholesome social behaviors such as getting close to or beyond black-out drunk on Fridays and Saturdays.
  • Most Swedes do not like small talk, and have a fairly standard set of small-talk topics, including: the weather, the local football (soccer) team, the price of fuel and electricity, and any past or upcoming summer vacation plans.
swedes eurovision wien 2015
Swedes at the 2015 Eurovision in Wien. Photo: “Spazieren in Wien” by MichaelGubi is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

To get an even better idea of typically Swedish behaviors, here are some more things that Swedes do all the time, and that visitors of Sweden (or locals while Swedes go abroad) notice specifically:

  • 🇸🇪 Swedes take 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) as often as possible
  • 🇸🇪 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 do not deal with awkward social situations very well
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes tend to complain without actually doing anything about it
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes always take off their shoes whilst indoors
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes are usually painfully punctual
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes prefer weekends of binge drinking over a daily glass of wine or beer
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes like to keep an informal tone in most situations
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes are often driven and ambitious
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes like to have smokeless tobacco (snus) stuffed in their mouth
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes generally aren’t very religious
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes prefer to be efficient with their own and other’s time
  • 🇸🇪 Swedes like to split the restaurant/bar bill when eating in a group
  • 🇸🇪 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 Values Do Swedes Embrace?

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

  • ⚖️ Fairness & Equality
  • 🗳 Democracy
  • 🤝 Solidarity
  • 🗽 Liberty & Human Rights
  • 😇 Honesty
  • 🎅 Traditionality
  • 🕵️‍♀️ Privacy
  • 🤷‍♀️ Informality
  • 🌿 Environmentalism
  • ⏱ Punctuality
  • ❤️ Work-life balance
  • 📈 Forward-thinking

How About in Business Settings, What Are Swedish People Like at Work?

In business settings specifically, Swedes tend to again be very team-oriented, and other than this we usually prefer to delegate instead of micro-manage, like to keep things professional, want to be inclusive, and prefer clear instructions over creative leeway.

How Swedes Like To Be Perceived

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

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

🇸🇪 Note that all of these observations are general and not something every single Swede necessarily agrees with. Still, looking at polls, studies, data, and my personal experiences in general — they are fairly accurate in describing the vast majority of the Swedish population.

The Most Common Swedish Stereotypes

When Swedes go abroad the most common stereotypes we encounter are:

  • All Swedes are blond and blue-eyed
  • All Swedes are often drunk on sun holidays
  • Swedes are from Switzerland
  • Swedes are promiscuous
  • There are polar bears on the streets in Sweden
  • All Swedes are shy and introverted
  • 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

So as you’ve already learned, some of these stereotypes are actually true! Here are some typical Swedish stereotypes that are spot-on, for better or worse:

  • A majority of Swedes are blonde and blue-eyed
  • Swedes do tend to get very drunk when they go abroad
  • Many 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 (a notoriously cheap outlet)

Swedish Stereotypes That Are False

Of course, some of the stereotypes we encounter are just silly, or at the very least not very representative of the population as a whole. Here are some examples of Swedish stereotypes that are generally false:

  • Swedes are not from Switzerland
  • Swedes are not more promiscuous 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 they’re lazy, it’s because they prefer to watch in the original language overlayed 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 reindeer to work in the winter (I wish!)
  • 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 (I’d say the opposite in fact!)

Relationships in Sweden: Friendships, Flirting & Family Life Among Swedes

How Do Swedes Greet Each Other?

While the handshake has long been the generally preferred way to greet a fellow Swede according to Dan Andersson, Human Rights lecturer at Lund University, Swedes these days seem to prefer to hug each other instead.

hugging and laughing by school

He explains that Swedes are conditioned from an early age to engage in more intimate ways, with child games commonly including both kisses and hugs to your friends and classmates. As an example, I remember playing a game called Ryska posten starting in the 4th grade or so, which fairly often included kissing random participants (sometimes with the tongue too!).

We can see the preference for hugging in other studies too, with 42% of respondents in a 2014 Sifo poll saying that they prefer greeting acquaintances with a hug, and 39% of office-working Swedes in a 2019 ManPowerGroup poll responding that they prefer hugging their co-workers.

How Do Swedes Generally 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.

swedish friends talking on street in malmo
Swedish friends talking on a street in Malmö

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 Swedes Tend to Be 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

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.

So We Hate Small Talk and Tend to be Private & Awkward—How Exactly Do Swedes Manage to Flirt?

Believe it or not, Swedes do manage to flirt with each other despite all of our social handicaps. On top of universal avenues of flirting such as dating apps and bars, we especially love to flirt when traveling.

One in three have experienced a romantic flirt on a trip according to a 2014 Research Now poll, and more than half have flirted with someone on a train or boat according to a YouGov poll from 2015.

Maybe it’s our Viking heritage, or maybe it’s just because the majority feel more relaxed whilst traveling (which 59% of Swedes do according to the same YouGov poll) — whatever the cause, it seems to be in our nature to get extra flirty on trips.

Along these lines, Swedes don’t seem to mind flirting up in the air either. 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.

swedes partying flirting
Swedes partying and flirting. Photo: “Tompa’s party” by wili_hybrid is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Even when not traveling, Swedes tend to get extra flirty in specific situations at home too — with pre-parties (at someone’s home) before going out to bars and clubs being the most common place we flirt.

As a natural progression of the night, we also engage in increasingly more sloppy flirting out at said bars and clubs.

How Do Swedes Ask Each Other Out on Dates?

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).

And while Swedes love making new friends at work and seem to be positive to office romances in general, they generally do not like flirting at work.

Only one in ten in a 2019 Manpower Work Life panel said they were fine with their workmates flirting with them, and only 15% of Swedish office workers think it’s appropriate to flirt in any type of way in the office, according to a 2019 Inzio poll.

Do Swedes Tend to Get Married?

Around 42% of Swedish adults are currently married as of October 2022 according to SCB, and after a period of increased popularity between 2001 (when 39 157 couples married) and 2019 (when 53 017 couples married), the marriage rate of Swedes has once again gone down to around 38 000 newlywed couples per year.

swedish wedding
Swedish wedding. Photo: “Bröllop – Fredrik & Caroline” is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

To put it in perspective, Swedes are not as likely to be married as Americans or Brits for example, with about 50% of adults in the US and UK being married.

Swedish Parenting Culture

Parenting in Sweden is often centered around the child, with both parents expected to be involved in their upbringing (as opposed to one stay-at-home parent and one working parent).

Still, both parents are usually able to work full-time after around a year of paid parental leave, as every Swedish child has the right to heavily subsidized childcare and schooling from one year of age to adulthood.

people in a park europe scandinavia park baby together nature lifestyle outdoor mother walking child

In my own and my friend’s experience, Swedish kids are generally left to choose their own path in life, with parents ready to support and act as role models rather than tell them exactly what they should do with their life.

Swedish Appearances: What Do Swedes Actually Look Like?

swedens u21 womens football 2015
To get an idea of what Swedes look like, here is Sweden’s U21 Women’s National Football Team (celebrating their U21 Euro Championship win in 2015).
Photo by Frankie Fouganthin is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Stereotypical Swedish traits and facial features have since the early 20th century included straight, blonde hair; blue eyes; tall figure; a straight nose; thin lips; and non-prominent cheekbones, according to Werner & Björks 2014 book Blond and Blue-eyed.

Are Swedes Actually Blond and Blue-eyed?

As cliche as the depiction of a blond and blue-eyed Swede is, it does actually seem pretty close to the truth. More than 60% of Swedish people have light-colored hair (ranging from blond to light brown), and at least 50% have light-colored eyes (blue, green, or grey) according to a 2006 study by Peter Frost titled European hair and eye color.

Prevalence of light hair in Europe. Data source: Peter Frost 2006
Prevalence of light eyes in Europe. Data source: Peter Frost 2006

To check how this looked in real life, I compiled a list of all the hair and eye colors of 103 family members and friends, who all are born in or around Malmö in southern Sweden (one of the more culturally diverse cities in Sweden I should add).

scandinavian people speaking hanging out in garden
Stereotypical Swedes hanging out in the backyard during summer

I then categorized the colors of their hair and eyes as either light or dark, and got these results:

Author’s Family & Friends Hair Colors

Source: Nordic Perspective (2023)

Author’s Family & Friends Eye Colors

Source: Nordic Perspective (2023)

In other words, 85% of my friends and family in southern Sweden have light hair (ranging from blonde to light brown), and 75% have light eyes (blue, green, hazel, or grey).

Though it is only a small group, it at least gives you an insight into what actual Swedish people look like in 2023.

skolavslutning kaglingeskolan glostorp kyrka
An example of typically Swedish hair colors, ranging from blonde to dark brown. This is 9-year-old me (2nd from the left), my classmates, and our teacher at our 3rd-grade graduation.

How Tall are Swedish People?

According to a 2020 study by Rodriguez-Martinez, Swedish males reach an average height of 180 cm (5 ft 10⅞ in), while the average Swedish female is 167 cm (5 ft 5¾ in). This can be compared to males in the US reaching an average of 177 cm (5 ft 9¾ in) and US females 163 cm (5 ft 4⅙ in).

Here’s how Sweden compares in height to the top 50 tallest countries in the world:

Show more +

Data: Rodriguez-Martinez 2020

If you want to dive deeper into how Swedes and other Scandinavians look, I’ve written an in-depth article about what Swedes and Scandinavians in general look like.

How Swedes Like to Dress: The Most In-Demand Clothing Brands in Sweden

I analyzed the most popular auctions on Tradera (Swedish second-hand online market owned by Ebay), and compiled a list of the most bid-on clothing brands (sorted by number of total bids):

  1. Fjällräven
  2. Acne
  3. Peak Performance
  4. Odd Molly
  5. Rodebjer
  6. Arket
  7. Hope
  8. Mini Rodini
  9. Filippa K
  10. Eytys
  11. Gudrun Sjöden
  12. H&M Trend or Premium

Source: Tradera February 2022

How Swedes Actually Dress: The Most Common Clothing Brands in Sweden

Here are the most common clothing brands listed on the same auction sites, along with winners of Evimetrix Swedish Brand Award (which awards the most popular brands in Sweden for various categories, including clothing):

  • Fjällräven
  • H&M
  • Lindex
  • Dressman
  • Kappahl
  • Everest
  • Soc
  • Twilfit
  • Zara

Source: Tradera 2022 + Winners of Evimetrix Swedish Brand Award

If you would like to find out more about Swedish clothing culture, and read more about as well as find out where to shop the different brands, I’ve written an article about the best and most popular Swedish clothing brands:

Swedish Traditional Clothing: National & Regional Folk Costumes

On top of modern everyday fashion, Swedes also wear traditional Swedish folk costumes occasionally during holidays such as midsummer and the national day, as well as for special events such as weddings and graduations.

Here’s a collection of different folk costumes from the different regions of Sweden to get a better idea of how they look:

traditional swedish folk costumes nordic perspective scaled
Traditional Swedish folk costumes

If you would like to dive deeper, you can find out everything you need to know about traditional Swedish folk costumes by reading the article below:

Swedish Impact & Fame: What Are Swedes Famous For?

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

Swedish Inventions

From the invention of the Celsius temperature scale in 1742 to the development of Minecraft in 2011, Swedish inventions have had a surprisingly big impact on the way humans in general live their lives. 

Here are just a few of the most impactful Swedish inventions that have changed the world:

  1. The First Three-point Seatbelt
  2. The First Pacemaker
  3. Dynamite
  4. The Adjustable Wrench and Monkey Wrench
  5. The Celsius Temperature Scale
  6. Minecraft
  7. The First Household Refrigerator
  8. The Zipper
  9. Bluetooth
  10. The First Bolt Cutter

View more examples and read more about the most influential Swedish inventions that had a great impact on the world as a whole.

Famous Swedes

At this point, you are likely somewhat of an expert on how Swedes behave, but I figured it could be useful to see some real-world examples as well. Here are some of the most famous Swedes you’re likely to know:

(Tap the names to read more about each person)

You can find more information about famous Swedes and Swedish accomplishments in my epic guide to Swedishness (what Sweden is known for).

Unwritten Rules in Sweden: The Dos and Don’ts Among Swedes

You’ll likely have a better idea of what Swedes are like now, so let’s move on to what Swedes expect of you and each other next as far as norms and behaviors go.

In other words, here are some of the unwritten rules of Swedes:

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 a 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

Swedish Food Culture: What Do Swedish People Eat?

I’ve written more in-depth articles on Swedish food habits that are linked below, but I wanted to include the highlights here to give you an idea of how and what Swedes like to eat.

Swedish Breakfast Habits

The average Swedish breakfast consists of two slices of bread with butter and cheese, a boiled egg, and a cup of drip coffee (Nexus 2021), with yogurt / sour milk also being included in a different poll (YouGov 2019). Approximately 2/3 of Swedes (3/4 in Stockholm) claim to eat bread for breakfast.

frukost swedish breakfast
A fairly typical Swedish breakfast: a cup of coffee, a bowl of müsli in filmjölk (sour-milk), and rye bread with butter and cheese. Photo: “Frukost” by Nisse Bergman (Uninspired for a year and counting) is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Here are the top 10 most popular breakfast choices among Swedes according to a 2019 poll by YouGov:

  • 1. Sandwich 55 % 
  • 2. Filmjölk (Buttermilk) or Yoghurt 34 % 
  • 3. Eggs 30 % 
  • 4. Oatmeal 27 % 
  • 5. Cereal 25 % 
  • 6. Crispbread 24 % 
  • 7. Fruit 17 % 
  • 8. Smoothie or Shake 7 % 
  • 9. Sausage 3 % 
  • 10. Breakfast Cake 2 %

In our family, I’d say Müsli and/or Rye Cereal with Yogurt or Milk is the most common choice around our table in the mornings. While I was growing up and living with my parents, we often had sandwiches with butter and cheese.

Swedish Lunch Habits

During the work week, Swedes often go out to restaurants for lunch, eating a Dagens lunch (daily lunch special) that is usually priced around 100 kr ($9 USD / £8 GBP). This meal usually includes a main course, vegetables, some type of bread, a drink, and a coffee afterward.

This is of course not an everyday thing for most people due to the cost, and when we don’t go out to eat Swedes usually bring lunch boxes from home in the form of leftovers or a sandwich or two.

Swedish Dinner Habits

An everyday dinner for the majority of Swedes consists of a protein source primarily made up of ground beef or pork (meatballs, meat sauce, sausage, etc.), chicken or fish, combined with carbs in the form of pasta, potatoes, or rice.

It’s also common to eat pickled and preserved vegetables and fruits such as cucumbers and lingonberries, as well as a sauce of sorts (gravy, tomato, etc.).

The “national dinner course” of Sweden: Meatballs, mashed potatoes, lingonberries, and a creamy brown sauce

Here are the top 10 most popular everyday dinner choices among Swedes according to Food Friends Matrapporten 2021:

  1. Spaghetti Bolognese 9.5%
  2. Chicken and side dishes 9.1%
  3. Pasta dishes 8.9%
  4. Fish 7.2%
  5. Korv Stroganoff 4.5%
  6. Salmon 3,7%
  7. Meatballs and side dishes 3.5%
  8. Sausage and side dishes 3.2%
  9. Soups 3.1%
  10. Sallad 2.1%

In our family, I’d say Spaghetti Bolognese takes the number one spot as well, and when I do the cooking it’s often Korv Stroganoff that gets requested by the kiddos. 

While I was growing up and living with my parents, we often had Spaghetti Bolognese and Korv Stroganoff as well, along with Fish, Meatballs, Sausage, Chicken, and Salmon.

Media, Sports & Pop Culture in Sweden

Most-watched TV programs in Sweden

TV ProgramDateNumber of Swedes Watching
Kalle Ankas Julafton1 (Christmas Broadcast)2020-12-244 519 000 (43% of total population)
Melodifestivalen 2019 Final2 (Music Game Show)2019-03-093 652 000 (35% of total population)
Eurovision Song Contest 20213 (Music Game Show)2021-05-223 039 000 (29% of total population)
På Spåret4 (Game Show)2021-01-082 970 000 (28% of total population)
Sweden vs. Ukraine Euro 2020 (Football/Soccer)2021-06-292 832 000 (27% of total population)
Source 1A Disney Christmas special as part of the Swedish national Christmas broadcast. 2A music competition where the winning song and artist gets to represent Sweden in the Eurovision Song Contest. 3A song contest featuring representatives from all the European countries and other countries within the European Broadcasting Area. 4The most popular game show in Sweden, and a quiz program in which famous Swedes sit inside a “train” booth and try to answer questions centered around Swedish locations. (Total population in Sweden as of 2022-10-05 is 10 493 565)

Most-watched Swedish-made series or movies in Sweden

Swedish Series or MoviesDateNumber of Swedes Watching
Tunna blå linjen1 (Police Drama series)2021-01-171 431 000 (14% of total population)
Leif & Billy2 (Comedy series)2021-02-201 387 000 (13% of total population)
Kan du vissla Johanna3 (Family movie)2021-12-241 365 000 (13% of total population)
Sjölyckan4 (Comedy series)2021-04-171 252 000 (12% of total population)
Karl Bertil Jonssons Julafton5 (Animated Christmas movie)2021-12-241 230 000 (12% of total population)
Source 1A drama centered around a group of police officers in Malmö, Sweden. 2A former YouTube comedy show that is now on public television, centered around two slightly dim brothers from Norrland, Sweden. 3A movie that takes place in 1950s Stockholm, and follows a young boy and his search for a new Grandpa. Is shown annually on Christmas Eve. 4Comedy series from creator Felix Herngren centered around the Stockholm archipelago during the warm summer days. 5 An animated christmas movie for the whole family from 1975 by Per Åhlin. Based on a Robin Hood-esque christmas story by Tage Danielsson. (Total population in Sweden as of 2022-10-05 is 10 493 565)

Swedish Sports Interests

Football (soccer) is by far the most popular sport by number of participants in Sweden, with around 1.2 million active Swedish footballers in 2020. This means one in five Swedish athletes chose football as their sport, with around 6 million active athletes in total in the country.

Source: Riksidrottsförbundet 2020

malmo ff supporters football soccer allsvenskan skane sweden
Malmö FF supporters in the Swedish football league (Allsvenskan)

When it comes to watching sports, Swedes also strongly prefer football (soccer) with the total of all average attendances landing at 179 526. But Ice Hockey isn’t very far behind, with 129 301 (meaning around 72% of the spectators that football draws).


If you made it all the way through the article, congratulations! You are now officially an expert at all things Swedish, and well-equipped to navigate the weird world of Swedes without any issues.

You’ve hopefully learned more about what Swedish people are like in general, how we behave, what we look like, how we relate to one another, and what we like to do.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below!


Sources:

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

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

https://www.jstor.org/stable/451589

https://www.jamestownswedes.org/2020/05/swedish-american-surnames.html

https://www.jstor.org/stable/289144

https://www.scb.se/hitta-statistik/statistik-efter-amne/befolkning/amnesovergripande-statistik/namnstatistik/

https://www.scb.se/hitta-statistik/artiklar/2017/tre-av-fyra-idrottar-pa-fritiden/

https://www.forskning.se/2017/06/13/hej-hur-helig-ar-handskakningen/

https://www.mynewsdesk.com/se/intressekompassen/documents/intressekompassen-2015-43777

https://www.informationsverige.se/sv/jag-har-fatt-uppehallstillstand/fritid-kultur-och-foreningsliv/

https://www.mynewsdesk.com/se/snalltaget/pressreleases/taag-och-baat-aer-de-mest-floertvaenliga-faerdmedlen-2556802

https://www.mynewsdesk.com/se/momondo/pressreleases/svenskar-aelskar-att-floerta-paa-semestern-1003405

https://via.tt.se/pressmeddelande/ny-undersokning-kramar-ar-ganska-okej-pa-jobbet-men-var-forsiktig-med-flirtandet?publisherId=783398&releaseId=3251102

https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2021/families-and-living-arrangements.html

https://hj.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1514611/FULLTEXT01.pdf

https://issuu.com/tulipfood/docs/tulips_middagsrapport_a4_21_pdf

https://www.foodfriends.se/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Matrapporten_2021_web.pdf

https://idrottsstatistik.se/foreningsidrott/medlemmar/

https://www.svt.se/sport/artikel/publikbarometern-2020

Show all sources +

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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.

3 comments

  1. I am a third generation in Smerica half Swede ( my dad was full Swedish and his parents immigrated here before he was born) and I still have a majority of those Swedish traits so I think it is more a matter of genealogical inborn temperament than geography. I think ancestral bloodline plays a bigger role than many would like to admit and the “23 and Me” DNA testing company even confirms that those with such genes do tend to drink more caffein, especially cocoa and so forth. Perhaps health care in the future will start with DNA results and be less of diagnostic guesswork and the doctors personal impressions. For example I carry two different variants of risk for Celiac disease, one from each parent. Without the DNA results my dermatologist refused to even believe there was any such thing as Celiac intolerance for gluten. But gene testing proved one in 100 people worldwide that they’ve tested have Celiac for real and others like me are at risk. I am enjoying your newsletters and wish I could have visited Stockholm where one of my ancestors, a Gustovdotter, was born. At age 74 I doubt I’ll ever see the ancient homeland but I watch some fave You Tubers who post wonderful vids about Sweden. It runs deep in our blood yo the 5th and 6th generation even when the culture was lost and we became “anglicized” in America. Peace be upon the entire world.

  2. I live Pennsylvania on the east coast of the US. I have swedish ancetors and looking into learning more about Sweden. I am making this year the year to do much research as I can find out all I can. After doing so I plan on traveling to Sweden. I read your article and noticed that there are a lot of things that describe Swedes describe me as well. So, i guess my Swedish roots or heritage trinkled on down to me. I am excited reading about Sweden and enjoyed reading your article and look forward to learning much more.

    1. Hi Marilyn!

      Happy to hear you’ve embarked upon your journey to connect with your Swedish roots!

      I suppose a lot of people would call many of these behaviors common sense, but some are pretty unique for the region I’d say. 🙂

      Karl

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