I love Swedish people. I really do. I lived for five years in Stockholm and ended up marrying one of the locals. I speak the language. I listen to the music. I even watch Allsång på Skansen and don't immediately change the channel when interior designer Ernst Kirchsteiger comes on.
But all this said, I still think the Swedes are an unusual bunch of people. Here are ten of their habits I still find to be very special.
1. Swedes love coffee… and giving it to you
Swedes adore coffee. No doubt thanks to their fika culture, they regularly rank in the top ten nations on earth for consuming coffee. And if you're in Sweden, you'll probably have cups of it foisted upon you. If you buy a coffee in a Swedish cafe or restaurant, it's a safe bet they'll give you a second cup for free (en påtår). Pop into a supermarket, a car dealership, even a bank, and you're quite likely to get offered free coffee there too. It sure helps with those dark winter months, no point resisting!
When a Swede offers you coffee, resistance is futile. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT
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2. They're obsessed with singing
Sweden produces a heck of a lot of great singers, but you probably knew that already. What's more interesting is that everyone else seems to enjoy a good sing along too. It's perhaps most prevalent at the summer Allsång concerts where big crowds and home viewers sing along with some of the country's most famous crooners.
And let's forget the wildly popular Melodifestivalen TV shows that prepare the nation for the mighty Eurovision Song Contest. Television aside, the Swedes seem to have a drinking song for every occasion too, whether it's Christmas day, devouring crayfish, or jumping around a Maypole while impersonating a frog. What's most impressive to me is how everyone always seems to know the lyrics too.
Allsång concerts are some of Swedes' favourite summer pastimes. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT
3. They're strangely efficient at paying for things
In a Stockholm church this week I noticed they recommended donations via electronic bank transfer (or Swish, which is essentially texting money). I can't imagine many churches in the whole world that offer this service, it seems wildly futuristic.
Meanwhile, it's not unusual for homeless people to take electronic payments either. The Swedes are super efficient at financial transactions, and my favourite example is on card readers. Yes, at a Swedish supermarket, shop, or bar you can insert your card and even your pin code before the cashier has finished scanning your items. In other words, while people in other countries hear their total, try to find their card, then begin their transaction, the Swedes have probably got halfway home already.
You'll soon become familiar with the ubiquitous Swish payment app in Sweden. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT
4. They hug a lot
In France they kiss your cheeks, in Australia they shake your hand… and in Sweden they give you a little cuddle. It took me many, many years to get used to this one, especially the unusually set of unspoken rules that earn you rights for a Hugging Friend Forever (HFF)… but that's for another story. Incidentally, I wrote that story here.
5. They need cosiness at all times
Swedes love mysighet, or cosiness, and they strive to achieve it in all walks of life. But in a brilliant move, those dastardly Danes marketed the concept so much better than the Swedes, and now the whole world thinks the Dnes invented it. So bookstores around the world trumpet about the benefits of the Danish hygge – even though it's the same thing as Swedish mys. The king of cosiness, interior designer Ernst Kirchsteiger, has the country by his little finger, teaching them how to live a cosier life in every season.
Swedish interior designer Ernst Kirchsteiger and a Christmas tree. Isn't that mysigt? Photo: Christine Olsson/TT
6. They panic when foreigners speak Swedish
If you want to blow a Swedish person's mind, speak good Swedish at them. It's one of the most unexpected things they'll ever come across… and they'll fumble around trying to make sense of it all. Should they switch to English? Speak slower? Run away? OK, I'm exaggerating a bit, but my own fluent (but slightly accented) Swedish often confuses the Swedes I meet and I can only figure it's because it's quite a rare phenomenon for them.
English? Swedish? Swedish? English? Photo: Christine Olsson/TT
7. They're fanatics for numbers
Swedes sometimes seem to prefer numbers over words. An apartment is described as a 40 or a two-er (as in, a 40 square metre flat or a two-roomer). Holidays are planned by the number of week they fall in (Sven will be in Thailand in Week 38). And of course, the Holy Grail is the personal number (personnummer) which, unlike other social security numbers around the world, is memorised by the Swedes and used very regularly for identification. And it's not unusual to answer queries about the weather with the exact temperature rather than, say, “It's quite cold indeed”.
Who keeps track of the week numbers anyway? Swedes, that's who. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT
8. They're slaves to loose candy
Oh boy I've never seen anything like this. All over Sweden there are enormous aisles overflowing with pick n mix candy, in supermarkets, petrol stations, cinemas… So fond are the Swedes of this treat that they've devoted a whole day to devouring the sweets. Yes, “Saturday Candy” (lördagsgodis) is a big thing, but if you think they stop at Saturdays then you're mistaken. This little habit has spread across the rest of the week and is the perfect ending to all shopping trips for children and adults alike. PS: The habit has a very murky past too!
Pick 'n' mix, or as it is known in Sweden, lösgodis. Photo: Martina Holmberg/TT
9. They're in love with America and Americana
There are more NY Yankees caps in Stockholm than at a Yankees game. I swear it. But it's not just that, you'll see a surprising amount of US flags across Sweden. And the further you go from Stockholm, the more likely you are to stumble upon raggare, a subculture of Swedes with a deep fascination of 1950s America. They drive retro cars, play music from jukeboxes at US-styled diners, and can be seen toting the clothes that might look more at home on a cowboy. It's quite astonishing.
A very non-Swedish and yet extremely Swedish phenomenon. Photo: Conny Sillén/TT
10. They can't help but slip in English words
If you ever eavesdrop on a group of Swedes speaking Swedish, you're almost guaranteed to hear inexplicable English words popping up. And I don't mean famous quotes or sayings, I mean strange little filler phrases like “Service minded”, “On the road again”, “Take it easy”, “Mission completed”, “Wow factor” and “Go crazy” (I wrote all those down after eavesdropping on Swedes for a week). Wow factor? Where does that even come from? So why are Swedes peppering their Swedish with such English phrases? My best explanation is that they're just so good at English that it's become second nature. A weird habit, like all the other nine in this story. But pretty impressive too. You might even say wow factor. They probably would.
Oliver Gee is the award-winning podcaster behind The Earful Tower and has contributed to The Local Sweden for almost a decade. Listen to a version of the article in podcast form, below, or follow him on Instagram for more of his Swedish insights.