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18 mistakes foreigners make when first moving to Sweden

The Local Sweden
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18 mistakes foreigners make when first moving to Sweden
Good luck trying to pay with cash in Sweden. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

So you think you can handle Sweden? Here are 18 of some of the most common mistakes that newcomers make when they first arrive in the Nordic country.


1. Trying to pay in cash. Even before the pandemic, Swedes used their debit cards three times as frequently as the average European, even to pay for smaller amounts. Many shops and bars stopped accepting cash when Covid-19 broke out and never looked back – so don't bother waving those kronor around, just use contactless. Or Swish.

2. Only staying in Stockholm. We do love the Swedish capital. But there is so much more to Sweden, from the stunning north with its cool-but-not-in-your-face-cool towns to the southern beaches and trendy food scene. Don't just stay in Stockholm. Get out there and visit Sweden.

3. Pressing the button when getting off the metro. If you do visit Stockholm, remember that unlike in many other cities, and despite there being a button next to the doors on the metro, they open automatically at every stop whether you press it or not. But you're not alone, a member of The Local's editorial team once admitted it took him months before he stopped getting weird looks from Swedish passengers.

READ ALSO: How to fake being a local on Stockholm's subway

They open by themselves. Like magic. Photo: Cecilia Larsson Lantz/

4. Showing up late to a dinner party. What's the point of a starting time if nobody respects it?

5. Showing up early to a dinner party. See above.

READ ALSO: Ten rules to know before you party with Swedes

Show up on time for the crayfish party. Photo: Carolina Romare/

6. Making small talk with strangers. Many a foreigner has been left wondering why the seemingly innocuous remark "hi, lovely weather isn't it?" made their Swedish neighbour/shopkeeper/passerby stare at them in horror. Congratulations, you've just learned that Swedes don't do small talk. Keep trying, if you insist, but... be gentle.


7. Making only expat friends. If you just moved here for work or studies and don't have a native partner, this is a trap that is easy to fall into in any country. Perhaps even more so if you don't have the stamina to tackle the reserved Swedes (see Lex Swedes Don't Do Small Talk). But don't give up, the Swedes actually make lovely, kind-hearted friends, and your experience here will be all the richer for it.

READ ALSO: Seven tips for making friends in Sweden 

Life goal: befriend a Swede. Photo: Anna Öhlund/

8. Addressing your university teacher by their title. Equal Swedes aren't particularly big on titles, so even if your teachers are "Doctor Andersson" and "Professor Svensson" boasting a string of noteworthy scholarly accolades, they will insist that you call them "Ingrid" or "Bosse".


9. Sit out the office fika. Skipping the institutionalised office morning coffee and cake to instead keep working through that pile of documents on your desk after the holidays is tantamount to kidnapping your boss' dog, painting it pink and hoisting it up the flag pole. It's just not done.

READ ALSO: Ten phrases you only hear in a Swedish workplace 

What an office fika (that you really shouldn't miss) might look like. Photo: Lena Granefelt/

10. Going to the bank after work. Only a decade or so ago, Swedish banks used to have a tradition that they always closed at 3pm. This rule has been loosened somewhat in the past few years, but many banks – particularly in small towns – still close remarkably early even on weekdays.

11. Buying booze at the last minute. Thinking of nipping to the store to pick up a bottle of wine for your host on your way to the party? Forget it. State-owned monopoly Systembolaget closes at 3pm on Saturday and 7pm or earlier on weekdays. Get there early to avoid the queues.


12. Not bringing your leg to Systemet. Speaking of Systembolaget, don't forget to bring your leg. No, that's not a body part. It's short for 'legitimation', your photo identification document. Even if you are well past the age where anyone would reasonably mistake you for someone under 20, they will ask for your ID.

13. Doing your laundry after 10pm. Many Swedes don't own a laundry machine, but instead wash their clothes in communal laundry rooms in their apartment blocks. Before you do this, it is very important you read the rules and stick to them. You don't want to be on the receiving end of a tvättstugelapp.

READ ALSO: Ten taboos you must never break in Sweden 

Doing some rogue nighttime laundry, perhaps? Photo: Magnus Liam Karlsson/

14. Getting offended when someone says "Oj!" While the word in English-speaking countries is a slightly ill-mannered way to attract somebody's attention, sometimes followed by an angry outburst, in Swedish it means "oops". So when you stepped on that Swede's foot on the bus and he exclaimed "oj!" that's all he meant. Not to confuse with "aj!", meaning "ouch".

15. Raising your voice. Don't raise your voice in an argument, even if it is just to show you are excited about making your point. Your soft-spoken Swedish friends will think you hate them.

16. Not mastering the Swedish hug. First time you meet someone, shake their hand. Every other time thereafter, hug them. Don't even try giving them a peck on the cheek, it will frighten them. 

17. Not learning the language. English speakers tend to get an easy ride in Sweden, because so many Swedes speak English (and in fact will insist on speaking it to you even when you do make an effort). But a lot of a country's heart and soul is in its language, and if you don't learn Swedish you will lose out on words such as knullrufs, orka or vabba.

18. Trying to join the gym without a personnummer. You've got a better chance of winning the lottery.

What's the most embarrassing mistake you've made in Sweden? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter, or drop us an email.


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