• Sweden's news in English
 
app_header_v3

The five strangest habits of the Swedes

The Local · 14 Jan 2015, 05:31

Published: 14 Jan 2015 05:31 GMT+01:00

Swedes are an interesting bunch. They're efficient but they love a good coffee-break, they're humble but they hang flags on their front porches, and they can appear cold at a glance but are as warm as an Arctic sauna when you really, really get to know them.
 
And to me, they're also quite odd. 
 
After my four years in the country, I've collected what I found to be their most unusual habits. I've touched on some of them before - click the links to read more.
 
 

It is customary to stand at least one arm's length from another Swede at a bus stop. Photo: TT
 
This is one of the first things I noticed about the Swedes. Over the years, I've learned that there are definitely exceptions... but they're shockingly rare. So rare, in fact, that when an elderly man recently wished me a Merry Christmas, I clutched my wallet closer in case he was about to rob me. Swedes don't like small talk and they just don't do it. I once asked an etiquette expert for her thoughts, and she told me that pleasantries just aren't a Swedish specialty. 
 
 

Photo: Shutterstock
 
I like this obscure little obsession. Ask a Swede to describe their house and they could say it's a two or a 39 (meaning a two room or 39 square-metre flat). They refer to the weeks in numbers. The 10-digit personal number is quite literally their identity. If you ask a younger person their age they might say 95 (because that's the year they're born). I've put it all down to efficiency, perhaps much like the lack of small talk. 
 
3. Pride in the words fika and lagom
 

It is customary in Sweden to take at least four "fika" breaks each day. Photo: TT
 
I'm a self-proclaimed word nerd but I always found this weird. Fika ("a coffee and cake break") and lagom ("just the right amount") are the least interesting "untranslateable" words in the Swedish language but for some reason, they're the most loved. Swedes don't generally brag, but they get a tingly warmth in their eyes when they explain these words to foreigners.
 
But come on Swedes, you've got better unique words than that. Like "knullrufs" (when your hair gets messy after sex) or "traska" (when you pay for everyone's beers at the bar and leave without mentioning it). Yes, there are many better untranslateable Swedish words. Here are ten others I found. And nine more. Now let's stop going on about fika and lagom, once and for all. But on the topic of weird language habits...
 
 

"En kaffe, tack," says the customer. "Here you go, have a lovely day," replies the waitress. Photo: Shutterstock
 
Swedes love to answer in English when they're speaking to a foreigner. Even if your grammar and word choice are perfect in Swedish, a hint of an accent often means you're going to get an answer in English. It's tough, because practice is the only way to learn. One Swedish expert says it's the height of rudeness to answer a Swedish attempt with English, but I'm not sure. It could be another efficiency thing, to get the conversation moving more swiftly. But one thing's for sure, it's a strange habit. 
 
 

Oliver Gee meets with Sweden's etiquette queen Magdalena Ribbing on Nyhetsmorgon
 
Story continues below…
Just when you thought the Swedes were cold and ruthlessly efficient, the Swedish Hug comes along. This is how it works: If you talk to any Swede for more than five minutes, they automatically become your Hugging Friend Forever (HFF). You have to hug them every time you see them from that moment on (and again when you say goodbye). I'm serious.
 
My initial thoughts about this cuddly phenomenon landed me a place on breakfast TV talking about it with my hero - Magdalena Ribbing - who's now apparently my HFF too (see pic above). I still find the hugging to be a bit odd - strange enough to be the last of the five weirdest Swedish habits. But after four years in Sweden, I have learned to embrace both the habit and the Swedes. At last.
 
These were my final observations about this freezing and fantastic country. The Swedes sure have their share of idiosyncracies, and I love them for it. 
 
As for me, I'm now a part of The Local France's team in Paris. Find me on Twitter here
 
Tack och hej då.
 
Oliver Gee

For more news from Sweden, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Sweden advised to bring conscription back in 2018
Bringing back the draft could help a stretched military, a government inquiry says. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Young men and women could be made to fill in questionnaires for recruitment to the Armed Forces as early as next year, according to a new proposal.

Nationalists suspend aide after Russia propaganda claim
The suspended aide is a political secretary to SD member of parliament Kent Ekeroth. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

His suspension comes only days after another of the party's political secretaries resigned amid controversy over a property deal in Russia.

Presented by Lernia
Top 7 tips to help you learn Swedish
Photo: Lernia

Struggling to learn Swedish? There are a few ways to make it easier. Here are seven tips from the experts.

Here's how much Sweden's highest-earning authors make
It was a good year for the likes of Jonas Jonasson (left) and Camilla Läckberg (right). Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT & Henrik Montgomery/TT

From Nordic Noir to a hundred-year-old man (and one called Ove), Sweden's authors had a good year in 2015.

Sweden named world's sixth most competitive country
The good news also came with some caveats. Photo: Izabelle Nordfjell/TT

The country moved up three places in the top ten of the latest edition of the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Index.

The Swedish celebs you really should not google
'Oh no, don't tell me I just clicked on THAT link.' Photo: Björn Larsson Rosvall/TT

These are the world's most dangerous viral Swedish celebrities, according to a new report.

Furious elk mum attacks Swede, breaks his arm
You talkin' to me? Photo: Mikael Fritzon/TT

It came back and attacked him not once, but twice.

Report: Stockholm is at risk of a housing bubble
Apartments in Stockholm. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

Stockholmers are the third most likely to experience a housing bubble in their city, according to an international ranking.

The Local List
Reverse culture shock: the troubles of leaving Sweden
Does it get more Swedish than this? Photo: Emelie Asplund/imagebank.sweden.se

Why is that stranger talking to me in the elevator?!

Police close Facebook thread after call for help derails
A file photo of police cars on Gotland not related to the article. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

The Gotland Police Facebook post asking the public for information about an unprovoked attack on two boys had to be closed because the comments section spiraled out of control.

Sponsored Article
Expat finances in Sweden: the Common Reporting Standard
National
Aliens' sex lives? Why Swedes want Nasa to send a condom into space
Sponsored Article
Let's Talk: a personal Swedish language tutor in your pocket
Analysis & Opinion
'If Sweden really wants startups, drop the red tape on migration'
Gallery
Property of the week: Gotland
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
‘I view the world in a different way now’
National
Trump an 'embarrassment' Springsteen tells Sweden
Sponsored Article
Retiring abroad: ensuring your health is covered
Gallery
People-watching: September 23rd-25th
Politics
Russian Sweden Democrat aide resigns over suspect deal
National
Muslim teacher leaves job after not shaking male colleague's hand
Sponsored Article
'Creating a sense of home': Collective living in Stockholm
Travel
Why we adore autumn in Sweden
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Gallery
People-watching: September 21st
National
Stockholmers hunt killer badger after attack on neighbourhood hipster cat
Sponsored Article
Gran Canaria: 'So much more than beaches'
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
The Local Voices
How a Swedish name finally made recruiters notice this Iranian's CV
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Gallery
Property of the week: Luleå
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Gallery
People-watching: September 16th-18th
Sponsored Article
Retiring abroad: ensuring your health is covered
Culture
Why Swedish TV has given these kids' trucks a sex swap
Sponsored Article
'There was no future for me in Turkey'
National
TIMELINE: Everything you need to know about the Julian Assange case
Sponsored Article
7 reasons you should join Sweden’s ’a-kassa’
Gallery
People-watching: September 14th
Sponsored Article
‘Extremism can't be defeated on the battlefield alone’
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?
Features
INTERVIEW: How Arthur the jungle dog opened hearts and minds
Gallery
Property of the week: Smögen, Västra Götaland
Society
Sweden's ancient forest tongue Elfdalian fights for survival
National
Where Sweden's foreigners are from
The Local Voices
'Whenever I apply for jobs I’m treated like an unwanted stranger'
The Local Voices
Is Swedish bosses' ignorance keeping refugees out of jobs?
2,961
jobs available