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Seven tips for making firm friends in Sweden

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Seven tips for making firm friends in Sweden
A group of friends in Uppsala, Sweden. Photo: Cecilia Larsson Lantz/Imagebank.sweden.se
15:13 CEST+02:00
Sweden was last year named the worst place in the world for expats looking to make friends. But it is possible to find lasting friendships in the frozen north.
Overall, Sweden is the third best country for expats, according to a quality of life survey published by HSBC.
 
But the while the Nordic nation scored highly in areas such as its famous work-life balance, job security, health, generous childcare and quality of family life, it came last in the 'making friends' category. 
 
So, here are a few words of wisdom from fellow readers as well as The Local's international team.
 
1. Join Facebook and Meetup groups
 
In the digital age there is no excuse for not knowing what's going on in your new community. An easy starting point is Meetup, the world's largest network of local groups. Here you can find out which clubs already exist in your neighbourhood, from football teams to hiking clubs, salsa parties to pottery workshops. If nothing piques your interest you can use the site to organize your own events too. 
 
While Meetup tends to be used more frequently by expats than locals, Sweden's famous work-life balance means that locals do have plenty of time for hobbies, so you could still find yourself hanging out with a Swede who shares one of your interests. This is a great starting point for conversation in a nation where small talk is often kept to a minimum. 
 
There are plenty of expat communities on Facebook too, Les Francais de Stockholm (French people in Stockholm) for example has more than 2,200 members. Even the English speakers group in Luleå - set up by an Australian living in the far north of Sweden - has 115 followers.
 

Facebook could be a place to find real friends. Photo: Vilhelm Stokstad/TT
 
2. Get to know your work colleagues
 
If you work at a Swedish company, chances are you'll be familiar with the concept of 'fika' breaks, when colleagues are encouraged to grab a coffee and a cake together and discuss anything else but work. Many larger companies such as Spotify and H&M also organize music or sporting events for their staff. But taking things to the next level and arranging to meet up with your workmates in the evening or at weekends can be a struggle for many expats.
 
An American reader recently contacted The Local to say that after living in Gothenburg for two years: "None of the Swedes at work has ever reached out or even accepted an invitation to hang out." Plenty of you shared similar stories on Facebook.
 
Of course, personalities and personal circumstances can play a huge role here: some people have families, long commutes home or - to put it bluntly - already have enough close friends of their own.
 
One option is to team up with another international staff member or a Swede you feel especially comfortable with and organize an after work activity together. That way if no one shows up you'll still have a good time. Swedes can be quite conformist though, so you may find that once a few people decide to tag along, the rest of the office will follow.
 
In the meantime, be patient (see later).
 

Swedes often open up over a beer. Photo: Pontus Lindahl/TT
 
3. Go to networking events
 
Internations offers networking events aimed at international young professionals working in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö and Uppsala. They usually take place in hotels or business conference centres and tend to have more of a corporate vibe than Meetup events, but if you're in Sweden to do business, this is where you'll find likeminded expats who might just share what you love and loathe most about living in Scandinavia.
 
Work in the startup sector? There are plenty of mingles designed to bring Swedish and global talent together. Startupgrind organises regular events in Stockholm and Gothenburg while Sting hosts gatherings aimed at Swedish startups both on home soil and around the world.
 
"If you run your own business you miss the social activities you get in some workplaces, so joining local group for similar businesses or startups can be another way of integrating," recommends Leo Filson, 51, an expat with Irish and Australian heritage who works as a plumber and also co-owns several startups in construction technologies in northern Sweden.
 
"Also just starting a business is a way of integrating, since many of your customers will be Swedes," he adds.
 
 

Networking in Sweden. 
Photo: Susanne Walström/Image Bank Sweden
 
4. Attend Swedish classes
 
If you speak English it's so easy to avoid learning the local language in Sweden, because so many Swedes are good at - and actively enjoy - speaking it too. But taking Swedish lessons has a number of benefits. As well as helping you to communicate with Swedes in their native tongue, you'll also get to meet with other expats and immigrants too. Plus if you decide to stick around in the Nordic nation, you'll have a much wider selection of jobs to choose from.
 
Swedish for Immigrants (SFI) courses are free to most people living in Sweden, while plenty of adult education centres such as Folkuniversitet also offer reasonably priced classes.
 

An SFI class. Photo: Lars Pehrson/SvD/SCANPIX 
 
5. Take up a popular Swedish sport
 
If your heart is set on making friends with Swedes, its worth focusing on some of the activities they love the most - many of which involve exercise. 
 
"Most of the friends I have made outside work have been through solo sports," says British expat Annie Poole, 30, who runs a yoga blog and trains with several Stockholm-based running clubs.
 
She has also tried out curling, and although she didn't make any close friends, she laughs that it was "the most fun I have had in cold Swedish temperatures".
 
Other Nordic sports to have on your radar include bandy, cross-country skiing, ice hockey and ice skating. Yoga and climbing are also on trend.
 
 

Curling is a popular Swedish sport: AP Photo/Kyodo News, Ryosuke Uematsu
 
6. Start dating Swedes
 
While dating in Sweden comes with its own set of issues (both positive and negative), finding a Swedish partner is perhaps the ultimate way to integrate into Swedish society. You'll get to meet your new boyfriend or girlfriend's friends and family, learn about Swedish traditions and perhaps even practise speaking the language at the same time.
 
"I broke up with my Swedish boyfriend a while ago, but I still go and help his aunt out in her garden," one American expat in Stockholm told The Local.
 
However other readers have warned against getting too comfortable in the arms of a live-in partner, or 'sambo' as the Swedes say.
 
"I struggled with the cold during my first winter and ended up spending a lot of time indoors with my boyfriend," said one woman from Sydney.
 
"His friends were very welcoming, but I realised after a few months that I needed to reach out and make my own connections too," she added.
 
 

A couple visiting a Swedish art gallery. Photo: Miriam Pries/Image Bank Sweden
 
7. Be patient
 
If you've already invested time in meeting new people in Sweden and found that you're still lacking the kind of close connections you can call for a last minute drink or a moan about your boss, you're not alone. 
 
Swedes tend to be cautious when making new friends and like to take the time to get to know someone.
 
Maria Andersson, 31, a Swede who has recently returned from living in the UK, explains that many Swedish people are "quite comfortable with the friends they already have. And this accelerates the older you get". She suggests that if you do become more than an acquaintance to a Swede, "it's because they've known you long enough to actually see that you also have a quality that adds to their circle of friends".
 
But many expats will agree that the wait is usually worth it.
 
As French trade advisor and The Local reader Thomas Lamouroux, 28, puts it: "Swedes can be quite shy and have a lack of spontaneity sometimes. It's a matter of time and investment. It is maybe more difficult to make friends, but once you have a Swedish buddy it’s a genuine friendship." 
 

Making friends in Sweden can take time. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT
 
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