I lived in Sweden for a year while studying abroad and it is one of my favorite places in the world. This is written with love and in jest 🙂
If you have ever pissed off a Swede, then you must be an absolutely insufferable human being. You can annoy, disturb, and bother a fair share of Swedes, but to actually bring one of those model-esque creatures to frothing, red-faced, pissed off anger would take a real rabble-rouser. This is a country known for its neutrality in war conflicts. Swedes are not people who are quick to show negative feelings, or any feelings at all. Yet, nobody is perfect and they are sure to slip every once in awhile, especially if you do any of the following.
Mistake them for Switzerland
When I came back to America, after my year of studying abroad in Sweden, the amount of people that asked me how I liked the Swiss Alps was appalling. Yes, both countries start with the letter “S” and are located in Europe, but that is where the similarities end. Don’t ask Swedes for some Swiss cheese or if they love living in a country with such famous chocolate. Sweden has its own cheese and while, Swiss chocolate may have notoriety, Sweden’s Marabou chocolate is in a class of its own. Make a joke about a cuckoo clock in an effort to bond with them and you’ll be met with a glare as cold as an Arctic wind.
Smile at strangers in the street
A Swedish friend once said to me, “If you are smiling at people out in the street, we think you are either drunk or crazy.” Coming from California, I’m used to smiling at everyone, whether it’s a real smile or not. It’s just good manners, but in Sweden there is no need to flash your pearly whites at every passing person. Swedes find it strange and suspicious. They don’t know you and they definitely don’t want to now that you are grinning manically at them. Besides, they’ve got better things to do than smile at everyone.
Don’t know how to dress for winter
Det finns inget dåligt väder, bara dåliga kläder.
Translated to English, this Swedish proverb says, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.”
Sweden can be said to be plagued with “bad weather”, with its northern tip in the Arctic Circle and snow and ice freezing the land every winter. When the temperature drops to 30 degrees Fahrenheit, most people would want to stay at home under covers, cursing the frigid winds, but Swedes put on their uniform of stylish and practical, muted H&M winter clothing and live life as usual, biking to work or strolling outside. As you walk by them, grumbling about the crappy weather and blowing your nose, in your bright blue Columbia jacket and Ugg boats, they’ll look at you like the idiot you are.
Get them drunk
A good way to forget the cold is to drink and no one needs to tell Swedes twice. These Swedes may seem reserved and distant, but as soon as they start to party and their livers become saturated in that good old Absolut vodka or powerful snaps (a clear, fiery, hard alcohol that made me forget many cold winter nights in Sweden), you’ve got a whole other creature on your hand. Someone you’ve known for months, who never let loose a single personal detail, will suddenly be yelling at you about his or her family issues and then scream at you to give them a cigarette. Luckily, if you get in a drunken fight with a Swede, they probably won’t remember it tomorrow.
Don’t nod your head or sing before taking a shot at a dinner party
Swedes like to dress formal and as a student, I went to many gasques, or formal student dinners, where we would dress fine, celebrate Swedish history, listen to choirs, and then, get smashed off our faces. Shots of snaps are drank throughout dinner, but you must not drink this shot before turning and nodding to the people left, right, and in front of you. Not doing this is rude and you will stick out like a sore thumb. You must also stand on your chair, before drinking, and loudly sing a song in Swedish called “Helan går”, which I always assumed meant “hell and gore” and was a warning about drinking too much snaps, but really, the song tells you to take the whole, rotten, thing down.
Be overly conservative or religious
Sweden may have some breath-taking cathedrals, but Sweden is said to be one of the most atheist countries in the world, with the younger generation hardly going to church, or only going out of tradition. Swedes are fairly tolerant of religion, but if you push your beliefs on them or try to convert them, they will snap on you and debate the issue until you no longer have the energy left to argue. Being atheist also leads most Swedes to have liberal views on politics and social issues. They strongly believe in gender equality and Socialism, which provides them with free healthcare and university. Swedes see America, with its fear of the evils of Socialism, Obamacare, and lack of fair wages and ample maternity leave for women, as medieval.
Don’t Fika with them
The word “fika” is not translatable into English, but it basically means “drinking coffee and having something small to eat.” The act of fika is a Swedish institution and most Swedes will fika everyday, usually on a break from work in the early afternoon. It’s a time to unwind, relax, and enjoy a cup of coffee and perhaps a kannelbullar, or cinnamon roll, with friends. Fika is not meant to be rushed and if a Swede asks you to fika, you must accept. There is ALWAYS time for fika and if you refuse, then it seems like you don’t care to spend time with them. You won’t want to refuse though, because fika is one of the best parts of being in Sweden. The fikas I had with friends, where we gossiped about last night’s drama, while eating sandwiches, cheese on knäckebröd (crisp bread), and keeping warm with many cups of coffee, were the times I remember most fondly.
If you dress well, eat your fika like a good boy or girl, and keep your politics to yourself, then you have a good chance at getting along with the ever-lovely Swedes. Just remember: Switzerland is the other way.