social life For Members

Nine ways your socialising habits change after a move to Sweden

Catherine Edwards
Catherine Edwards - [email protected]
Nine ways your socialising habits change after a move to Sweden
When in Sweden, do as the Swedes do. Photo: Tina Stafrén/

A move abroad often brings about changes in your own habits, with many people finding themselves slowly becoming more Swedish in a whole host of ways after making the move here.


Socialising and making friends is not easy as an adult, especially in a new country, and Sweden is especially notorious among international residents for the difficulty of breaking the ice.

The locals have a reputation for being reserved and cautious about letting new people into their circle, but it is possible – just look out for the following ways you can expect your social life to change.


Forget the small talk

Or at least prepare for a confused response if you try it. Most people in Sweden are quite comfortable with silence and don't see the need to break it just to exchange pleasantries about the weather or traffic that morning; it's considered superfluous. So don't expect others to strike up conversation while you're waiting for the bus, queuing at a bank, or taking a solo fika at your local cafe. 

Clubs, associations and classes

One of the biggest differences in how people socialise in Sweden compared to many other countries is the major role played by organisations and clubs. Vast numbers of Swedes are members of choirs, sports teams, and running or hiking groups, and however niche your hobby is, there's a good chance you'll find a club devoted to it. Work-life balance has traditionally been fiercely protected in Sweden, allowing people to carve out time for these hobbies more easily.

For many international residents, the obvious place to start might be a Swedish class or a networking group dedicated to foreigners, but joining a more general club might be the best way to meet Swedes. The shared interest means you have something of substance to chat about, in contrast to dreaded small talk.


Home is a sanctuary

In many big cities around the world, and especially for younger professionals, it's typical to live with flat- or housemates. If you're lucky, these people will become part of your social circle, with evenings in together. That's not the case for Swedes, who are far more likely to live on their own. Perhaps because of this, getting an invitation to someone's house is a big step in Sweden and can take a long time. 

Planning is an art

Once you've started to make acquaintances in Sweden, the next hurdle is finding time to actually see them. The difficulty of maintaining friendships and balancing them alongside a career and family isn't unique to Sweden, but there are certainly added challenges here.

Because of the love of joining organisations, many adults (and any children they're responsible for) have busy schedules, and finding a date that works for everyone involved can mean planning weeks or even months in advance.


Punctuality is key

One of the easiest ways to sabotage a Swedish friendship is to arrive late to planned meetups. If a dinner party is scheduled for 7pm and you turn up 20-30 minutes late, don't be surprised if you arrive to find both your food and your host's mood have gone cold.

The difference is most obvious for people coming from Mediterranean, Latin American countries or other cultures which have a more relaxed approach to time. But it can be a problem even for people from cultures which consider themselves punctual. Someone from the UK, for example, might find it hard to get their head around the fact that even a ten-minute delay is something you should alert people to. 

Forget about rounds

This is something many newbies learn the hard way. The custom of taking it in turns to buy a drink for everyone at a pub or bar hasn't caught on in Sweden – perhaps because of a culture that places a high value on independence, or perhaps simply because of the high alcohol prices.

Instead, expect everyone to order and pay for their own drinks (with possible exceptions such as birthdays or celebrations). More time spent queuing, yes, but it does at least mean you're in control of how much you drink and how much money you spend.

You don't mix friend groups

Many foreigners will say that Swedish friends are hard to find but loyal and committed once you get there. It's not uncommon for people in Sweden to remain in close touch with friends from their childhood, and catch-ups might be long one-on-one dinners or drinks. 

If you're used to inviting all your friends to the pub or to your house, whether or not they know each other, Swedish culture might have a few surprises. It's common here to keep friendship groups separate, in order to focus on people as individuals and to avoid any awkward silences or situations.

However, this is certainly not a hard and fast rule, and it's one you should feel free to break. Many people – Swedes and non-Swedes alike – will appreciate being invited to a dinner party or event where they can meet new people. But it could be a good idea to make sure everyone's aware there will be people they don't know there.

Work and play don't always mix

This varies from workplace to workplace, of course, but it's not always common to socialise with colleagues. This comes from a respect for privacy and focus on work-life balance, and employers who don't want workers to feel obligated to show their face at company activities.

There's also an element of avoiding potential awkwardness; most workers in Sweden avoid topics with potential for conflict such as religion or politics at work, so socialising with people you need to maintain a professional relationship with can be risky in the event you don't get on. 

But for anyone who's moved from overseas with no link to Sweden beyond their new job, it can be frustrating if you're not at the kind of office where people go for drinks together. 

You turn to apps and websites

Sweden is at the forefront of tech in many ways. As in many western countries, there's increasingly little stigma attached to internet dating in Sweden, but people here are also happy to turn to tech when it comes to finding friendships. 

Whether that's an app dedicated to meeting individuals such as Panion or GoFrendly, an online-to-offline option such as Meetup, or a Facebook group for people in your city or with a common interest, this is an easy way for foreign residents to meet other people who are interested in expanding their circle.


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