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'Be cool! Remember that Swedes admire humility'

The Local · 25 Feb 2013, 14:12

Published: 25 Feb 2013 14:12 GMT+01:00

Topolovsky is a management consultant at Stinson Partners, which specializes in corporate renewals. As an American living in Sweden, she gave us her view on the differences in networking between the two countries.

Do Swedes have a solid culture of networking?

I get the sense that networking is somewhat new in Sweden. Possibly, people used to rely on being introduced by a mutual friend or colleague, instead of extending a hand at an event to meet someone.

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In my experience, however, once you're talking, Swedes can easily chat about their work, and they do it in a very neutral and forthcoming way.

Americans, meanwhile, tend to tell you everything they've ever accomplished at their job – in the first five sentences – which is a bit embarrassing to us Americans who've lived abroad for a while.

So if you're fresh off the plane, what do you have to keep in mind?

My recommendations for an American who's just moved to Sweden are to keep it a bit low key compared to the US. Swedes need a bit more time to get to know you before opening up, whereas Americans tend to be very friendly in the first meeting. This puts Swedes off just a bit, so take it a bit slower.

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Also, be mindful of talking about money or status jobs when meeting someone here. It’s not politically correct to ask questions that might lead you to learn a person's earnings or how high up in an organization they are. Those types of inquiries are very rude.

You are supposed to view people as equals and find everyone as valuable to speak with, not just the top bosses.

Most importantly for Americans to remember is to not oversell yourself. Just have a normal conversation without finding openings to showcase all your achievements. Swedes will automatically think you have low self-esteem if you carry on like that, as if you have something to hide, so you need to boast about something.

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In the US, we're raised to sell ourselves, to define who we are by our accomplishments. It's just the opposite here. Be cool, and remember, humility is highly admired in Sweden.

A side tip for women: Don’t overdress, especially with the bling jewellery. That’s tacky here and again, actually sends the opposite message that you don't have a lot of self confidence.

What are things to keep in mind? Are there any absolute no-nos?

It is most important to understand your company's policies on proprietary information, and you must respect them above all. If in doubt when a potentially sensitive topic comes up, be vague or don’t say anything at all.

ALSO READ: Camilla Öngörur, co-founder of Swedish networking organization Give It Forward, shares her insight into how to network, formally and informally.

Secondly, I think it’s important not to speak negatively about anyone. It’s not good practice in general and only leaves a negative charge in the air.

What you must do? Exchange cards. Always, always, always have your cards with you, in your wallet, in your computer bag... everywhere.

And once you've met and exchanged business cards (visitkort)?

Only send emails afterwards if you've really made a connection and you see there might be some future business. Otherwise, those emails become insignificant and just become administrative work for both parties.

Story continues below…

Any final, general tips you'd like to share with us?

Network as much as you feel comfortable with, but push yourself a bit beyond your comfort zone. Ninety percent of jobs come from people you know or whom you've met, not from sitting in front of your computer.

Practice. Practice walking up to someone and extending your hand for a handshake. Practice a good introduction line – without being corny like "Do you come here often?".

Learn how to cut off conversations in a graceful way. It's so much nicer to pardon yourself to make a scheduled call, rather than be clumsy and just walk off.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

Ann Törnkvist

Follow Ann on Twitter here

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

14:42 February 25, 2013 by Ramie
very helpful artcle
16:53 February 25, 2013 by krattan
I agree. I think one of the most striking difference is how Americans rather bluntly try to find out how much you earn or what kind of position you have in society during the first conversation.
17:27 February 25, 2013 by skogsbo
interesting that she thinks you need to practice shaking hands and greeting someone, was it that strange a concept? I would just say learn to shake hands like a man, nobody likes to shake a hand that feels like a limp lettuce leaf.
19:36 February 25, 2013 by theobserver
Ann Törnkvist:

You are out of your mind! If you think that one needs

Practice. Practice. Practice.

in order to get people to talk to you, in order to shake hands with them, in order to approach them, then one does not live in a place where HUMAN BEINGS live. Rather, one lives in a place inhabited by machines.

Sweden is a country full of warm people who are willing to help and talk and engage in conversation and provide assistance and be friendly and smile and be jolly and discuss and be open. Such people you cannot find in any other place in Europe!

If you think that one needs

Practice. Practice. Practice.

in order to be with Swedes, then, most likely, that's because you're not a real Swede!
21:20 February 25, 2013 by salalah
Remember this: It is OK for the Swedish people to be rude, just don't be rude back
22:15 February 25, 2013 by theobserver

This is not true. Swedish people are never rude. Just a bit shy, mostly those who have not come in contact with other nationalities.
22:52 February 25, 2013 by AfroSwede
@Salalah, exactly especially Swedish ladies when you are rude back they report you police as a rapist.
08:18 February 26, 2013 by procrustes
Nonsense--all of it! Be yourself because you cannot be other than yourself. If you follow this woman's advice you'll find yourself with the impossible social task of trying to walk on social eggshells without breaking them, as it were.

The low self esteem issue is Swedish, not American. Rather than change yourself, understand that Swedes are encultured with preternatural low self esteem and deal with them on that basis. Think of how you would deal with an overly-sensitive child.

Swedes are ever alert to any sign that fits their paradigm of what an American is and will immediately judge you at the first hint, with a bit of glee. They fancy themselves as morally superior and like a water on the hull of a boat ever, unceasingly searching for a leak, they will watch you for signs of what they so desperately need to see.

You cannot win at this. Just be yourself and those Swedes who can rise above this peculiar social quirk will eventually accept you. Sweden is not America. A Dutch man warned me upon hearing of my imminent departure for Swedish shores to be careful, "Swedes are an eccentric people, they believe themselves morally superior." David Frost characterized Sweden as "the mother-in.law to the world."
09:28 February 26, 2013 by EP

You're joking right? Swedes never rude? Just go out any Friday or Saturday and see how they behave. Pushing in pubs and bars, never saying excuse me. Invading your personal space when they want to order a pint. There is a huge lack of etiquette in Sweden, rather than the popular notion that Swedes are shy.
09:59 February 26, 2013 by soultraveler3
"Also, be mindful of talking about money or status jobs when meeting someone here. It's not politically correct to ask questions that might lead you to learn a person's earnings or how high up in an organization they are. Those types of inquiries are very rude. "

This just isn't true. I've lived here in Sweden for almost 5 years now and Swedes talk WAY more about this stuff than I ever heard back in the states.

It's not uncommon at all, when you're with a group of Swedish friends, for salaries to be stated outright for comparison. Work benefits, days off, amount of retirement savings, what someone paid for their house, car, etc. are also very common things discussed and compared. It's shocking to hear and witness the first few times, but it happens at almost every get together.

Most of that personal information is also available to the public online here and people can and do, look it up, all the time. In fact, I always figured that was the main reason Swedes don't seem to be bothered by discussing and comparing personal stuff like that. I no clue how the author could possibly think that it's considered rude by Swedes.

Also, things like that are almost never discussed in the US, even among close friends and relatives. It's considered horribly crass.

If that is normal to the author, she must've been raised with no class.
10:46 February 26, 2013 by oddsock
" think one of the most striking difference is how Americans rather bluntly try to find out how much you earn or what kind of position you have in society during the first conversation."

Hehe, whereas Swedes pretend not to be interested and then go home and check on ratsit.se.
11:50 February 26, 2013 by Max Reaver

LOL ratsit.se! So true!
20:29 February 26, 2013 by skogsbo
EP, if you think getting a drink here is tough, go to the UK, bars usually 3 people deep and resembling a rugby scrum
18:33 February 27, 2013 by cogito
At long last I now know what management consultants do:

Charge companies huge sums of money in exchange for spouting ciiche-ridden national caricatures.

@oddsock (#11). #1
19:40 February 27, 2013 by krattan
I recognize the different perceptions of Swedish behaviour displayed in the comments as experiences with different regional or social adherence within Sweden.
09:40 February 28, 2013 by flyintiger
But the swedes admire stupidity more, it's writen on their foreheads.
10:24 February 28, 2013 by Twiceshy
"Ninety percent of jobs come from people you know or whom you've met, not from sitting in front of your computer."

90% ? That seems quite exaggerated, is there any actual data proving this?
16:57 February 28, 2013 by cogito
"In the US, we're raised to sell ourselves, to define who we are by our accomplishments," she says.

Sounds like quite a good way to define oneself.

Accomplishments could be anything from having earned a Ph.D. to having started a successful business, to being a great cook.

Certainly it is preferable to define yourself by what you have accomplished than to define yourself by your social class, your title or who your father/grandfather was, as Swedes commonly do.
23:37 March 1, 2013 by theobserver

Noooo... I am NOT joking. Swedes are the most polite people on this planet.
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