• Sweden's news in English
 
app_header_v3
Opinion
Why I can't embrace Sweden's obsession with hugging
Swedish entertainers Danny Saucedo and Måns Zelmerlöw are HFF now. File: TT

Why I can't embrace Sweden's obsession with hugging

Oliver Gee · 21 Jan 2016, 11:13

Published: 25 Mar 2014 15:39 GMT+01:00
Updated: 21 Jan 2016 11:13 GMT+01:00

In France, they kiss you on the cheek. In Maori tribes of New Zealand, they nuzzle noses. And in Sweden, they hug. A lot. 
 
And it's all a bit confusing for me, especially as Swedes usually enjoy their privacy. In fact, besides the liberal attitude to nudity (yeah, that's a real thing here), the hug is probably the biggest eyebrow-raiser among weird Swedish habits.
 
But first, in case you're unaware, here is how The Hug works in Sweden.

1. Meet a person in Sweden in an informal social context. Housewarming parties are a good and commonly recurring example. 

2. Say your name once and allow them to say theirs. Repeat process with every single person in the group, even though everyone heard your name the first time. Optional hand shake, single pump. Men and women shake hands too, by the way. 

3. Enjoy social occasion (also optional).

4. When you leave, hug any person you talked to for more than five minutes. They are now a Hugging Friend Forever (HFF). Wait while everyone else hugs everyone else too. This may take a while if several people are leaving the party at once.

5. Hug your Hugging Friend every single time you see them again in any vaguely social context. In fact, pretty much in any context.

6. And then hug them goodbye each time too. 

Note: Never go for the cheek kiss. It's not even an option. People will panic.
 
This list might sound like an exaggeration but this is exactly how it works. 
 
I recently went to a colleague's house for dinner and we hugged when I entered his house. We hugged! It was only a few hours earlier that we'd been chatting about Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the office and now we were cuddling in his corridor.
 
Swedes even send virtual hugs via text message, signing off their SMSs with a 'kram' (the Swedish word for hug).
 
But me, I just can't get used to the hugging, especially with other men. I still go for the handshake every time and people recoil. It's become so bad that I have a reputation among my friends as a non-hugger.
 
"Will it be a hug this time Oliver?" they say as menacingly as a Swedish accent allows.  
 
In Australia, where I'm from, we prefer the handshake. Strong grip, eye contact, two to three pumps. But it's always a hug in Sweden - men on men, women on women, men on women and so on. 
 
And I'm not the only foreigner in Sweden who has noticed. A French woman I know also finds it hard to get used to.
 
"But it's not that they hug that I find strange... it's the way they do it," she told me recently. "It looks like they hate it, as proper Swedes they don't like human contact. There is always this awkward panic moment in their eyes: 'Warning! I'm about to enter in collision with another human being'," she said. 
 
Let's not forget, in France they kiss as a greeting. So who knows whether we can trust the French woman to judge strange greetings. 
Story continues below…
 
"You start with a different cheek depending on the region you come from, and the number of kiss varies from two to four," she explained. "It's a real art."
 
A real art indeed. Like embracing the hug, perhaps?
 
 
 

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Sweden paying 'millions' for empty asylum beds
A child plays outside a hotel converted into asylum accommodation in Överkalix. File photo: Fredrik Sandberg / TT

The Swedish migration authority (Migrationsverket) has spent a reported 197 million kronor ($23 million) on unused beds for asylum seekers in 2016.

Sweden to join Nato strategic centre: director
Photo: Fredrik Broman/Imagebank Sweden

Non-aligned Sweden will join Nato's Strategic Communications Centre based in nearby Latvia amid heightened tensions with Russia.

Swedes bake during 'record' warm September
Swedes relax on Malmö's Sundspromenaden at sunset on 14th September 2016. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

New record temperatures are expected to be confirmed in a number of places across the country.

Where to see the Northern Lights in Sweden
The Northern Lights pictured in Sweden on Wednesday night. Photo: Norrsken Sverige

An unusually high level of solar activity means the spectacle could be visible from rare spots in the country.

Swedish police 'in crisis' says union head
A file photo of Swedish police officers. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

The creation of a new merged national police authority in Sweden has not gone well, according to the Swedish Police Union.

Nobel Prizes 2016
Nobel Literature Prize announcement delayed
Haruki Murakami (pictured) is one of the bookmakers' favourites. Photo: Bernat Armangue/AP/TT

The delay is due to 'arithmetic', an academician said.

Horny elk hold up Swedish hunt
One of the randy animals in question. Photo: Mikael Fritzon/TT

The giant things just can't contain themselves.

Sweden to ban masks but not burqas at football matches
A masked supporter at a Stockholm derby football match last year. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

The ban is designed to curb violence at sporting events in Sweden, but it must also follow conventions on religious freedom.

Video
Heckler humbles Swedish golf champion with perfect putt
Henrik Stenson met his match in the final practice for the Ryder Cup. Photo: Charlie Riedel/AP/TT

Well that wasn't supposed to happen...

Presented by Invest Stockholm
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges

It’s no secret that Stockholm is serious about sustainability. We took a look at how the city's emerging startups are tackling global challenges, making the world a better place.

Sponsored Article
‘I view the world in a different way now’
National
OPINION: Sweden bad, Norway good, Trump better? I'm confused
Sponsored Article
Top 7 tips to help you learn Swedish
National
Here's how much Sweden's highest-earning authors make
National
Where to see the Northern Lights in Sweden
Blog updates

27 September

Cutting your nose …. (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"Last week, Jeremy Browne, the Special Representative for the City of London, visited Sweden. Jeremy was…" READ »

 

7 September

Svensk or svenska? (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hejsan! My inbox is full of questions :-). Here’s one about when to use “svensk” and…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
Expat finances in Sweden: the Common Reporting Standard
Gallery
People-watching: September 28th
Sponsored Article
Let's Talk: a personal Swedish language tutor in your pocket
National
Aliens' sex lives? Why Swedes want Nasa to send a condom into space
Analysis & Opinion
'If Sweden really wants startups, drop the red tape on migration'
Gallery
Property of the week: Gotland
Sponsored Article
Retiring abroad: ensuring your health is covered
National
Trump an 'embarrassment' Springsteen tells Sweden
Sponsored Article
'Creating a sense of home': Collective living in Stockholm
Gallery
People-watching: September 23rd-25th
Politics
Russian Sweden Democrat aide resigns over suspect deal
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
National
Muslim teacher leaves job after not shaking male colleague's hand
Sponsored Article
Gran Canaria: 'So much more than beaches'
Travel
Why we adore autumn in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: September 21st
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
National
Stockholmers hunt killer badger after attack on neighbourhood hipster cat
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
The Local Voices
Why this Russian developer is committed to helping refugees - with tech
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
National
Six key points in Sweden's budget plan
Sponsored Article
Retiring abroad: ensuring your health is covered
The Local Voices
How a Swedish name finally made recruiters notice this Iranian's CV
Sponsored Article
'There was no future for me in Turkey'
Gallery
Property of the week: Luleå
Sponsored Article
7 reasons you should join Sweden’s ’a-kassa’
Gallery
People-watching: September 16th-18th
Sponsored Article
‘Extremism can't be defeated on the battlefield alone’
Culture
Why Swedish TV has given these kids' trucks a sex swap
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
National
TIMELINE: Everything you need to know about the Julian Assange case
Gallery
People-watching: September 14th
Politics
Why Sweden is putting troops on holiday dream island Gotland
The Local Voices
'What I mean when I say: I came here to blow myself up'
Society
VIDEO: Are Swedes that unfriendly?
The Local Voices
'Whenever I apply for jobs I’m treated like an unwanted stranger'
2,997
jobs available