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PART ONE: Are these the 50 most Swedish things in existence?

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
PART ONE: Are these the 50 most Swedish things in existence?
Queuing tickets at a primary health care centre in Stockholm. For many this queuing system is quintessentially Swedish. Photo: Gunnar Lundmark/SvD/TT

Quick-cook macaroni and ketchup, always knowing the week number, Queuing tickets, and soaking in every tiny ray of sun in spring: These are some of the objects, foods, and behaviours our readers (and other foreigners) consider the most Swedish in existence (part one in a series of two).


You don’t have to be living in Sweden long before you start puzzling at some of the things that pass for normal, so, half in jest, we asked The Local’s readers for what they think are the most “Swedish” things in existence.

We got so many responses that we've divided our article into two parts. This is the first, which covers the most Swedish objects in existence and the most Swedish clothes. 

You can read the second part here.


The nummerlapp, the bit of paper with a number on it you get queueing in Swedish shops, was quite rightly brought up several times. Few things better symbolise the Swedish love of queuing and also the wish to avoid unnecessary interaction with strangers. One foreigner described their bewilderment at being forced to present a nummerlapp even when they were the only person in the shop

I'd also argue that the change machines which allow shops assistants to give you your change without any human interaction are also a very Swedish part of the retail system (although presumably they will soon disappear along with cash). 


The osthyvel, the cheese slicer which takes pride of place at every Swedish breakfast table, got several mentions. (Although I'm afraid it's actually Norwegian. Sorry, Sweden.) 

Wooden butter knives are perhaps second only to the osthyvel, (although woe betides the foreigner who keeps it on their own plate). 

I'd also propose the provsticka, the testing spike Swedes use to get the perfect softness to their potatoes, which somehow sums up the Swedish love of doing even the simplest things properly. 

Wooden butter knives got several mentions. Leif R Jansson/Scanpix

The Kånken backpack from the outdoor clothing company Fjällräven. "National backpack, it is like they handed over one to everyone for free," says one reader. 

Kubb, a game a bit like skittles or boules but with players throwing rounded sticks rather than balls, was mentioned as peculiarly Swedish. It certainly doesn't exist to the same extent in many other countries, although apparently it only really took off in Sweden in the 1980s and 1990s when sets began to be sold commercially.  

The passive-aggressive laundry note was also named, summing up as it does the importance Swedes put on everyone following the rules of behaviour which make the communal sharing of facilities work so well in the country, and also their discomfort at confronting those that do not do so face-to-face. Perhaps the Swedish tvättstuga, or laundry room, should also be on the list. 

A house in Alvesta with falu rödfärg paint. Photo: Emma-Sofia Olsson/SvD/TT

Falu red paint, or falu rödfärg, rightly got a mention, as in much of the Swedish countryside there appears to be an unofficial ban on painting your house any other colour (which in itself says a lot about Swedish conformity). 

Ikea blue bags (which are actually called frakta, ("transport")) are essential to almost any operation done by Swedes, from doing the laundry, to having a picnic, to taking a trip to the summer house. Everything just gets stuffed into these brilliant and sturdy bags. 

One respondent suggested flags and real candles on the Christmas tree. If this wasn't enough of a fire hazard, the Swedish tradition is to dance around the Christmas tree in a circle, singing songs. Just make sure you don't knock it over.


Another proposed saunas, while worrying that they aren't actually Swedish. But the bastu certainly is, and a lot of people have them in their houses (although this phenomenon may have peaked in the 1990s, as many of the home saunas I know of are broken and used for storage).

There aren't that many activities that are more Swedish than leaping from a sauna into a lake or the sea, however. I'd add bryggor, the pontoons that you get at so many Swedish lakes and islands, which are what you leap from.

Classic 1950s American cars are clearly American, not Swedish. But they are enough of a feature of rural culture here to get a mention. 

Fika, the Swedish cake and coffee ritual, got put forward several times. Fika is normally built into the daily calendar with the same seriousness as a business meeting, and is crucial to getting to know colleagues and making time for catching up with friends. 

Coffee has shot up in pice by 30 percent in Sweden over the past 12 months.

Photo: Helena Wahlman/Imagebank Sweden


One person named super-easy bureaucracy, and it is certainly the case that dealing with the Swedish Tax Agency in Sweden feels almost pleasant for those who've waited on the phone for hours to get information from the British or US equivalents. 

Another mentioned 6-effing-weeks-of-vacation, which it has to be said is a definite draw to Swedish life, at least compared to the US, where many are lucky if they get two. 

Our readers also had a lot of observations about the most Swedish clothing items.

One person mentioned socks. As it's good manners in Sweden to leave your shoes at the door, Swedes put an unusual amount of effort into their socks, frequently wearing brightly coloured, and brightly patterned pairs. 

That's very often the only colour you'll see. By far the most common observation was that Swedes favour uncoloured clothes. Check out the catalogue for a very Swedish brand like Arket, Acne, Nudie, or Tiger, and you'll see a lot of clothes in cream, beige, white, black, or brown. Not a primary colour in sight. 

For women, one person claimed chunky white trainers worn with short dresses or cut off trousers as a very Swedish style, another suggested long, calf or ankle-length cardigans with rolled-up sleeves

One person brought up Capri trousers on men, and we would agree that Swedish men do seem to have a predilection for showing off their ankles, either with trousers that are a bit too short, or with knee-length shorts. 

Another suggested "skinny jeans and chinos that show way too much when men sit on the bus", although I feel that skinny jeans and chinos, which were obligatory in Sweden four or five years ago, seem to have become less common. 

Another reader mentioned North Face jackets, although, at least in Malmö, I'd argue the Fjällräven Greenland is the go-to uniform. 

Blundstone boots (actually Australian) also got a mention, and it's certainly the case that Chelsea-style elasticated boots are common. 

Others pointed to Stan Smith Adidas trainers, as the go-to footwear for Swedes. 

It's almost certain in a list like this that we've missed some things off our list. Is there anything else that should be here? Please tell us in the comments below. 

In part two, we have most Swedish food and most Swedish habits


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