Swedish unspoken rules and codes – By Jackson

They say when in Rome do as the Romans do, so here are a dozen do’s and don’ts you need to learn as you come to Sweden.

  1. Observe the 1-meter bus stop rule
    Swedes in particular have space rules. While at the bus stop its hard to find people next to each other unless they are couples or friends. So when you are at the bus stop or even sitting on a bench or inside the bus make sure to keep the 1-meter rule and look for an empty seat.
  1. Do not cut the queue line.
    Swedes do not line up in a queue but everyone knows the order. While at the bank, post office, bus station, train station and entertainment facilities make sure to look for a ticket number for the queue and it will be considered extremely rude if you cut or jump the line.
  1. Do not call unless it’s an emergency.
    Most people in Sweden prefer texting over calling. It’s easier for one to say yes or no over text than over a phone call. This is one way of people avoiding confrontation unless it’s an extreme emergency, then you can call.
  1. Do not pay or pick up the tab for someone.
    While in Sweden it’s common for the men and women to pay for their tabs be it at any social place. Everyone considers themselves independent especially the ladies, so it may seem polite to pay for her but don’t impose that on her.
  1. Always learn to say “tack “(Thank you) after offered any help.
    “Tack” is the first Swedish word you need to be familiar with as this means thank you. Always say “tack” to show a sign of appreciation after offered any kind of help.
  1. Handshakes or hugs on meeting someone.
    When it’s your first  time meeting someone, a handshake is mostly the accepted means of greetings. A hug is usually acceptable if it’s the second time you are meeting the person or if you both know each other.
  1. Always be on time.
    Swedes hate it when someone is late and is also considered rude if you are late and failed to inform them you would be late earlier. So it’s better to be 5 minutes earlier before the agreed time.
  1. Do not be the first or the last in starting tasks.
    It’s common in Sweden for people not to be the first to start something or the last to finish, be it tipping, eating or doing any other thing. It’s mostly considered a sign of bad luck. WEIRD I KNOW.
  1. Do not interrupt someone when they are speaking.
    It’s considered extremely rude to cut off someone when they are speaking and they haven’t finished speaking. So be cool and wait for your chance to speak.
  1. Avoid eye contact when in public places.
    It’s considered extremely weird and creepy to stare and make eye contact with people in public place and to make the matters worse you don’t know them.
  1. Do not speak loudly while on phone.
    While at public places and you have to pick up a phone call, it will be considered rude to speak in a loud tone. Make it a point to speak in a tone that does not alert everyone.
  1. Keep quiet while at the cinema or theater.
    While at the theater or cinema, it will be considered rude to start talking or making phone calls while its silent and everyone is watching a movie. Excuse yourself and go out if you need to make a phone call or talk.

/Jackson

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11 Comments

  1. I quite agree on the list, except number 8, which really puzzles me. I don’t recognise that at all, did someone explicitly say that means bad luck or is it an observation of how Swedes behave without being aware of it?

    As for the last one, yes, that would be considered extremely rude. In fact, even excusing yourself and go out might be considered rude – keep your phone turned off at the cinema!

    Thanks for the list, I’ll keep it as one of the things to show my foreign colleagues when coming working in Sweden 🙂

  2. Great list. Number 8 IS true but maybe not all Swedes has picked up on it. Most avoid to be the first or last person on the dance floor or to join or exit a group of people doing anything ;D

  3. Thank You very for sharing this list before coming Sweden I try to keep these in my mind. 🙂

  4. A friend of mine told me about rule no 1 and i thought she was joking.
    Thanks for the insight. get more codes and rules please.

  5. When it comes to number 8 on the list, it may be true in some sense. E.g. If it is only one cockie left on a tray, it is commonly called “The Swedish”. It can sometimes be considered rude to take the last one, without carfully ask and offer to share it with everybody present in that situation.

    I think this has to do with that many people dislike a greedy attitude.
    When it comes to the other things mention in numner 8 i don’t recognize it at all. Specially not the part when Swedes think it means bad luck…

  6. Great list! 🙂 But as a native Swede I have some comments 😉

    About number 2: I think it’s more common to have actual queue lines than to have the ticket number queues, even though the ticket system is very common in certain situations and certain kinds of stores. Swedes like to queue to everything, so even when it’s not expected to queue, people do it to be polite to others who came there earlier.

    Number 7: Sorry but that’s not true, at least not when it’s a dinner at a friend, a birthday party, family meeting or suchlike, but it’s true when it comes to cinema movies, when you’ve booked a place/table/chair (for example at a restaurant or at a formal dinner) and other occasions where you’re Really expected to be on time. There’s the saying, “Fint folk kommer sent.” (“Nice/posh people arrive late.”), which means that you don’t want to come to a place to “intrude” when the host isn’t ready with the preparations. It’s very common for Swedes to be exact on time, sometimes people wait outside until the clock strikes the time to arrive. If you’ll be a bit early you should really call the host beforehand and ask if it’s okay. If the host says yes you will be expected to help the host with the last preparations for the occasion. Otherwise you come on or after the said time. But don’t be more than half an hour late if you haven’t informed the hosts beforehand.

    Number 8: This is especially true when it comes to food or cake. Don’t take the last bite until you’re completely sure no one else wants it. Look at the people around you to see if someone else is glancing at the cake/food. If you see that someone else glances at the edible stuff, ask “I want a piece of the cake, is there someone who wants to share it?”. If no one is glancing you can ask something like “Is there anybody else who wants the last piece?”. It’s very common with situations like “You take it.” “No, you take it.” xD But to take the last piece of something has nothing to do with bad luck, it’s just a way to be polite. If a kid wants the last piece you should always offer it to the kid even though you really really want it too. I know, it can be painful, but you can buy something for yourself on the way home if you still crave some cake. 😉

    Number 12: Turn off your phone when you’re at a cinema, theatre, lecture, official meeting or suchlike. It’s OKAY to have your phone on silent, but be aware of that if someone in the room has hearing aid the phone signal may disturb the hearing aid when you receive a text or call. It’s different with different types of hearing aids and today most work fine even though people use phones nearby, but it’s polite to turn off the phone anyway, or put it on fly mode.

  7. So that means:
    People in other countries…
    -Would love to physically be at close to each other as possible
    -Love queue jumping, actually they encourage you to do so
    -They fall over themselves to pick up tabs for someone else specially females because they are so dependent
    -They never say thank you or please
    -They always hug/kiss and smooch strangers at the first meeting
    -They’re never on time
    and they generally behave like savages, unless they live in Sweden.

    This is nothing but insult to foreigners living in Sweden

  8. Hi there

    Abviously someone called “moderator” didn’t like my comment I left yesterday and removed it. unlike the writer, I didn’t covertly insult anyone, Shame on you!
    “Censure is the tax a man pays to the public for being eminent” Jonathan Swift.

  9. Hi Farzad,

    Your comment was never removed. Comments are not published automatically to avoid spam, so a moderator has to manually approve each comment in order for it to be seen publicly. This means there is often a delay in comments being published.

    When it comes to Jackson’s blog post, these are his own individual impressions of Sweden as a foreigner. He has not written or implied anything about people from other countries, and his post is intended to be a light-hearted description of Swedish customs and culture. We appreciate all feedback, but in this instance, no offense should be taken.

    Jorja
    International Office, Uppsala University

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