How to fake being a local on Stockholm's subway

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How to fake being a local on Stockholm's subway
The Stockholm subway. Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/Image Bank Sweden

Stockholm has one of the most efficient subway systems in the world. But while getting from one place to another is easy, navigating the etiquette required en route is far trickier. Swedish writer and resident Stockholmer Rebecca Forsman shares nine top tips.


1.     Don’t wait for other passengers to let you on or off

Swedes, like the Brits, almost always love a good queue. But this is definitely not the case on Stockholm's subway. Here, time-starved commuters tend to gather in a disorderly gaggle and barge their way on to a train carriage, without letting its current inhabitants escape first. And in gender-equal Sweden if you're carrying a suitcase or a buggy, don't expect any extra help. So once you've located the right platform (beware the green line in particular which appears to sprout in zillions of directions), make a push for the doors the moment the train pulls into the station.

2.    Get your mobile out. But don't use it to make calls

There's good mobile reception on the underground in tech-savvy Sweden, but while you'll see carriages crammed with people streaming music or checking Facebook (or even dating apps), it's a taboo to actually talk on the phone, at least not loudly. Similarly, if you've caught the train with a real-life friend, keep your conversation levels down. No-one really wants to know what you're up to this weekend, how your new diet has changed your life or why you're fed up with your boss.

Photo: SamuelSchultzbergBagge/Flickr

3.     Don’t stand too close to fellow passengers

Stockholmers cannot stand their personal space being invaded. We're used to hanging out in green spaces and large open-plan offices. We reckon staying about 1.5 metres (5 feet) away from other commuters is about right. If you're moving to Stockholm for work, fear not, Stockholm's tubes rarely offer the same sardine-like experience you often get in London, Paris or New York. When there is space, make use of it.    

4.     Don’t talk to other travellers

Managed to find a nice spot opposite a friendly-looking stranger? Be sure to keep your mouth shut. Small talk with strangers is considered strange rather than polite to the inhabitants of Sweden's capital. The subway isn't a place for flirting either. Stockholmers wouldn't dare ask someone out in broad daylight. If you want to get up close and personal, try a bar after midnight and a few shots of Swedish snaps instead.

READ ALSO: My Swedish habits that foreigners just don't get

Photo: Ulf Huett/Image Bank Sweden

5.     Don’t put your feet up on the seat in front of you

This is an unwritten rule on all trains in Sweden. Children growing up in Stockholm are sometimes taught that they shouldn't put their feet up in case a lady in a white coat comes and sits down after them. Despite most of the population dressing head-to-toe in black for the majority of the year, the legend of this mystical woman is a strong one.  

6.     Sit down at the seat closest to the window

Don't sit in the seat closest to the aisle or put your bag down in the window seat once a train carriage starts to fill up. Edge into the window seat to make it easier for others to find a space around you. No-one will actually dare to question your behaviour if you stick around in an inconvenient spot (remember the fear of small talk and confrontation), but expect a silent stare or two if you break this unwritten rule.

Escalators at central station in Stockholm. Photo: TT

7.     Don’t eat anything

Despite vending machines being available on subway platforms around the capital, it's a huge taboo to eat on the underground. If you must, avoid anything hot or noisy. 

8.     Never put your make-up on in transit

Putting your mascara on from your subway seat is a cardinal sin in Stockholm. Swedes would never attract attention to themselves in this manner - besides it's also a strong signal that you didn't leave enough time to get ready, and therefore haven't transformed into a super efficient city dweller. You might just about get away with dabbing on a spot of blusher or retouching your lipstick on a night out, but brushing your hair or filing you nails is a definite no-no.

9.     Pick the correct escalator

Where you position yourself on an escalator says more about you than you might think. The left lane is the fast-track option, so only pick this side if you've got the stamina to spring up or down the steps alongside speedy, fit Stockholmers. Even if you choose the right hand side, you're best off to keep moving slowly towards the person in front of you, to make sure you're not keeping anyone else waiting. Once at the top, keep your headphones in, ignore everyone around you and march onwards to your destination to complete your transformation into a true Stockholmer.

Stockholm's subway on a foggy day. Photo: Helena Wahlman/Image Bank Sweden

READ ALSO: Ten things expat women notice in Sweden


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