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EXPLAINED: Sweden’s bizarre home tour ritual and how to survive it

EXPLAINED: Sweden's bizarre home tour ritual and how to survive it
Now might be a good time to comment on the designer bedside table. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT
When visiting a new friend in Sweden, be prepared to be given a bewilderingly thorough tour of every room in the house – sometimes even down to the walk-in wardrobe. This is the 'husesyn' ritual.

To Gå Husesyn, literally ‘go for a house inspection’, is obligatory when you visit someone’s house in Sweden for the first time, and to foreigners it is at the very least a bit awkward, and to some, downright weird. 

Ska vi gå husesyn?” your host will announce, as soon as the initial round of welcome chit-chat is over. If they’re speaking English, they’ll say something like “and now it’s time for the tour!”. 


You may even get a tour of the walk-in wardrobe. Photo: Burgess Milner/Unsplash

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They will then whisk you off you around the house or apartment, room-by-room, gazing at you expectantly after each, as if awaiting some sort of commentary or reaction.

According to Mattias Axelsson, author of Beyond fika: the A-Z of Swedish habits demystified, for a host, the Swedish house tour ritual is not optional, and it must include every room in the house. 

“It’s for the first time someone comes to your home. You show the bedrooms, the toilets, you can even show the wardrobes,” he tells The Local. “You want to show that you have relatively good standards, that you live well. You want to show that you have a nice dwelling.” 

For the host, it is important to clean and tidy up before giving a husesyn. Indeed, one of the reasons Swedes can be reluctant to invite new people over is that doing so involves a considerable amount of housework. 

It is not socially acceptable to carry all the mess into one of the bedrooms and lock the door, as people in most other countries might do.

“I think the guests would be a bit suspicious if you did that,” Axelsson explains. “They would think, ‘there’s something not right here, one of the doors is closed. There’s something shady going on’.” 


Keeping any doors in the house closed throughout a husesyn is frowned upon in Sweden. Photo: La Miko/Pexels

To many foreigners it might feel strange to make banal comments such as “mmm, good choice of shower curtain” or “oh, you went for Ikea’s top of the range induction hob”.

But that is precisely what you must do. 

“It is expected that you as a guest give some compliments: ‘what a nice bed you have’, or ‘what nice flowers you have in the window,” Axelsson explains. “So you give small compliments, without over-exaggerating. You should keep the praise at quite a ‘lagom’ level.”

The only time that it is socially acceptable not to give a tour to a new friend or acquaintance is if they have made a surprise visit (which, in turn, is one of the reasons Swedes tend to dislike people dropping by without prior warning). 

If this is what has happened, the guest must not then under any circumstances leave the main room they are taken to (apart from perhaps to go to the toilet). 

“It’s important that you don’t go on a husesyn on your own initiative, you shouldn’t sneak around other people’s houses,” Axelsson says.  

The house tour is also a way of clearly marking out which rooms are meant for guests and which are private. Once you you have been shown the bedrooms, and know there is nothing untoward going on in there, your host will probably shut the doors to them, after which you are not supposed to enter them for the rest of your visit. 

In the same way that food served at a dinner party is not the host’s normal, everyday food, it is also understood that the level of tidiness you witness at a husesyn is the result of a special effort made by the host. 

“It’s a common agreement, that when I show my house, it’s a prettified version of my house. It isn’t how it looks every day,” Axelsson says.

Indeed, it is only when you become closer friends with a Swede that they are likely to allow you to come around when there’s still a bit of washing up left to do. 


Also, don’t forget to take your shoes off. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

The word husesyn in fact goes back to the Middle Ages when landowners in Sweden were entitled to inspect the houses and land they had leased out to make sure that tenants were maintaining their property properly, with the Swedish crown allowed to carry out inspections once every three years. 

Axelsson argues, however, that the current ritual is more a hangover from the period of rapid housing construction Sweden saw between the 1930s and the 1960s, when many Swedes moved in one generation from near slum conditions to modern apartments.
 
“If you go back 100 years, we had terrible living conditions, and then between the 1930s and the 1960s, the quality of housing changed in a single decade. The people who went into Miljonprogrammet housing in 1960s probably all grew up in a house with outdoor toilets and no showers. 
 
“The shift from low standards to high standards went so fast in Sweden that we had a need to show that ‘now we live well’. Behaviour takes time to change, so that lives on in how we show off our good living arrangements.”

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