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The ten weirdest taboos you must never break in Sweden

The Local Sweden
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The ten weirdest taboos you must never break in Sweden
An employer filling shelves at Systembolaget. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

Blending in with the locals in a new country is never easy, so at least make sure you avoid these social faux-pas with The Local's handy guide to Swedish taboos.


1. Don't question the alcohol monopoly

Sweden's state-owned alcohol retail monopoly Systembolaget is untouchable.

Don't challenge it, or your Swedish partner and friends will launch into a tirade about how the selection of wines is really good, how knowledgeable the staff are, how it's really not all that expensive (ha!) and how it keeps overall alcohol consumption down (which anyone who's ever been to a Swedish party would sincerely question, see number six below).

Get in line, get on time and pick up that box of beer. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

2. Don't leave fluff in the laundry room

Forget having your own car, summer house or private island. Owning your own washing machine is a sign you have really made it in Sweden. Until then you'll have to wash your underwear in the communal tvättstuga (laundry room) and contend with all manners of passive aggressive notes from your neighbours, whom you otherwise never speak to. Spotted some fluff in the drum? About time you wrote your own laundry room note (tvättstugelapp)!

"I can't believe Lasse left fluff in the dryer again!" Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

3. Don't hog the butter knife

The Swedish butter knife, usually made of wood or colourful plastic, was invented for a reason. The butter knife is better. The whole table gets one to share between themselves and you simply have to wait for your neighbour to butter his or her toast before it's your turn.


When you're done, remember to put the knife back in the butter. Do not under any circumstances leave it on your own plate. Also, don't try to avoid the problem by using your own dinner knife instead. This is not done.

Also, don't use the butter knife for anything other than butter. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

4. Don't drink until you've made eye contact with everyone

Cocktails? Wine? Champagne? Doesn't matter. Any time there's a toast you must make eye contact with every single person at the table before you take a sip. It's not enough to look at their eyes; you must have impeccable timing or simply be very persistent until you have had that awkwardly intimate moment with everyone. You may then proceed to hide in your drink.

See how awkward he looks? Photo: Miriam Preis/

5. Don't jump the queue

Swedes have been standing in line since the dawn of time. They love nothing more than grabbing a ticket and forming an orderly queue to buy pretty much anything. Attempting to jump to the front of the queue will be met with a sterner look than when meeting the taxman to tell them your tax return is late.


However, nobody will actually tell you off, because that would mean the Swedes would have to communicate verbally with a stranger (which coincidentally is another faux-pas not included in this list).

"Oh, a queue! I must join it." Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

6. Don't propose an alcohol-free Midsummer

We've totally got your back if you want to stay sober, but just be aware that you may get a few weird looks if you suggest skipping the booze for Midsummer. It's a time to drop your kids off with the in-laws and meet up with your friends to do the frog dance, lip-synch badly to old Swedish tunes and embrace the national spirit.


By spirit we mean aquavit, for actually, Midsummer seems to be about getting completely sloshed by getting your hands on any booze still available before Systembolaget bolts up (don't forget to observe number one and five in this list). There's a reason it's always celebrated on a Friday - so you can spend the rest of the weekend recovering in time for work on Monday.

The Swedish Midsummer frog dance. Photo: Henrik Holmberg/TT

7. Don't have coffee at your desk during fika

The obligatory coffee breaks at many Swedish companies may start to wear you down, so you may want to sip on your caffeine fix at your desk. Don't. This leads to collegial alienation and eternal social exclusion. The same goes for your hour-long lunch break which must be enjoyed in the office kitchen while discussing Volvos, sommarstugor ('summer houses', a Swedish favourite) and Ikea furniture. Oh, and remember that a Swede never says no to coffee

"... and then yesterday I came home to find fluff in the dryer!" Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

8. Don't go on holiday in September

Didn't you realise that the entire country grinds to a standstill for July and most of August too? Even many restaurants in some of Stockholm's tourist hotspots close for the holiday season, while some newspapers take a break and turn off the printers for half the summer (as no news occurs during this time of year of course). Your boss is the only one who may appreciate your offer to stick around at the office for the summer, while he or she is off enjoying their sommarstuga.

Swedes enjoying the sun in Malmö. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

9. Don't decline to take out parental leave

Staying at home with your newborn child for at least six months, usually more, is well ingrained into Swedish society. That goes for mothers and fathers alike, who are both entitled to at the very, very least three individual months which cannot be given to the other parent and are lost if they are not used.

So switch on your automatic 'out of office' email, bid goodbye to your colleagues and prepare for months of being allowed to have your coffee wherever you like (although not necessarily being able to drink it while it's still hot).

Not taking parental leave is a big no-no in Sweden. Photo: Magnus Liam Karlsson/

10. Don't eat the last biscuit at a dinner party

There's a Swedish rule stating that a final morsel of cake must be left on the table at the end of every meal, with none of your humble Swedish friends wanting to be the one to think so highly of themselves to presume that they are entitled to it. If, after at least 15 minutes, nobody has made any claims to it, you can extend your arm very carefully, stop mid-air, pull your hand back slightly and say in a concerned voice "oh, sorry, does anyone want the last biscuit?" Nobody will say yes, and the biscuit is yours. Just be aware that you will forever be known as "that pushy foreigner" among your Swedish friends.

A good way of making sure nobody gets the last slice. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT


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