Seven Swedish habits you get without trying

The Local Sweden
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Seven Swedish habits you get without trying
Are you in the habit of embracing Sweden's weather? Photo: Tina Stafren/Image Bank Sweden

There are plenty of Nordic traits that might first seem unusual, but can quickly become part of everyday life if you move to Sweden. Here, The Local's former editor Maddy Savage lists some of the ways she's changed after relocating to the frozen north.


1. Hugging (virtual) strangers
Forget multiple kisses, awkward hand shakes or high fives, if you've met someone in Sweden more than once in a social context, you're simply supposed to give them a hug. The Local's written plenty about this Scandinavian greeting style over the years and not all of our team has embraced the concept. Personally it's one of my favourite Swedish habits. It makes me feel at ease with new friends and provides comfort after a tough day at work or during a moment of homesickness. Plus it seems far less fickle than the air kisses you get in London, my home city.

Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson gets a hug from Employment Minister Ylva Johansson in parliament. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT 
2. Turning up on time
Being punctual is essential in Sweden, whether you're arriving for a work meeting, grabbing coffee with a friend or going on a date. As someone who's habitually in a rush (blame ten years of working in breaking news) but frequently running ten minutes behind schedule, this can be a challenge. While I've managed to surround myself with expat and Swedish friends not unknown for being fashionably late themselves, I'm definitely much more aware of my own timekeeping and that of others. If someone kept me waiting in London I'd just assume that their underground train had got stuck. In Sweden, I've been known to panic and call people to check they're okay. At least it's easier to contact them thanks to much better mobile phone reception on the Swedish subway.

Your train will leave without you if you're late in Sweden. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT
3. Taking your shoes off
Back in the UK there's often an awkward moment when you arrive at someone's house. Should you take your shoes off? And if you ask and your host says "no it's fine", do they actually mean "yes please we've got a new carpet"? (welcome to the British habit of being over polite). In Sweden, it's a no-brainer. Everyone takes their shoes off. This is a tradition that's mostly explained by the fact that Swedes spend a lot of time outdoors, so they don't want to bring dirt or snow inside. In Swedish cities, where space is at a premium and plenty of people live in studios, you also run the risk of messing up someone's sleeping quarters. I'm a fan of this habit because it saves me housework after I have visitors. The downside is that I can't wear heels to a Swedish party.

A shared house in Sweden. Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/Image Bank Sweden
4. Doing everything online or on your mobile
Swedes are among the most digitally-connected people on the planet and more residents own smartphones here than anywhere else in the EU. Plenty of expats will moan that this has resulted in too many people being glued to their mobiles on the train or singles more likely to ask each other out via apps than in real life. But I'm a big fan of the ways Swedes use technology to make their lives easier. I can't imagine living without BankID (the system that lets you log into your bank or shop online using an app on your smartphone) or Swish (the app that essentially allows you to text money to friends and family). 

A man making a payment using his phone. Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/Image Bank Sweden
5. Going cashless
Since you can pay for practically anything with your cash card in Sweden (or get a friend to shout you before Swishing them afterwards), there's little need to carry cash around, so you quickly get out of the habit. Four out of five purchases are made electronically in Sweden, with some even claiming that the country could become cash-free by 2030. It's convenient not to have to queue up at the cash point to get some notes out "just in case" as you do in many other countries. Although the annoyance of suddenly finding that you need coins at say a small music festival or second-hand stall is magnified when your wallet is typically empty. Certainly a first world problem, this one.

Definitely not enough cash to buy a drink at a Swedish music festival. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT
6. Putting the weather first
When you live in a country where it gets dark at 2pm in November and temperatures rarely reach above 25C in the summer, it's important to make sure you don't take any good weather for granted. I love this about Sweden. I probably spent more time outdoors this winter than during any other year of my life, because I'd heard so much from Swedes about the importance of topping up on vitamin D whenever there was a glimmer of sunshine. Similarly it felt like a crime to sit on my sofa in June, when the sun didn't set until past 10pm. So, it didn't take long to start inviting friends for evening walks or picnics rather than meals in, or movie nights.

Swedes taking a winter walk. Photo: Tina Sahlen/Image Bank Sweden
7. Talking about work-life balance
Time off to spend with friends, family, partners or just the great outdoors is a concept deeply ingrained in Swedish culture. So if I've been working overtime I'm much more likely to have Swedish friends telling me to "slow down", whereas friends back home in London will simply respond "me too" if I say I'm tired from juggling multiple projects. While the nine-to-five lifestyle isn't for everyone, I enjoy living in a country where well-being is largely prioritized and being burnt out isn't seen as a sign of weakness. I've become more aware of the hours I am putting in. So, I'll stop there. It's time for a coffee break.

Swedes relaxing at a summer party. Photo: Susanne Walstrom/Image Bank Sweden
Article first published in 2015.


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