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Three Swedish comedies you can watch to understand Swedish humour

Swedish humour can be difficult to grasp for newcomers to the country, with Swedes often enjoying dark 'gallows' humour and jokes which make the viewer cringe. Here's a roundup of three comedies you can watch to understand Swedish humour.

Three Swedish comedies you can watch to understand Swedish humour
Johan Glans, Vanna Rosenberg and Rachel Molin record "Kvarteret Skatan" in 2006. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/Scanpix/TT

Kvarteret Skatan

First off is Kvarteret Skatan (The Magpie Quarter), a comedy series from the early 2000s. The show features five Swedish comedians – Vanna Rosenberg, Rachel Molin, Anna Blomberg, David Batra and Johan Glans – who play different characters living in Kvarteret Skatan, an area of an unnamed Swedish town, in a number of different sketches.

Kvarteret Skatan is a cult classic, and it’s easy to see why. One example is the two intensely competitive businessmen in this clip, played by Batra and Glans, who have what at first appears to be a polite and civil discussion about their performance, which quickly becomes an exaggerated display of Swedish conflict-avoidance and passive-aggressiveness.

“I think we can start off with the positive – I thought everything flowed very well on Tuesday.”

“Ah yes, Tuesday, that’s the day I was off sick.”

“Exactly, that’s actually the day I felt like I got the most done.”

“It’s funny you say that, because I actually feel the same way, I was home with a fever and norovirus but I still feel like I got more done that day.”

“Oh, great, then we’ll put that up on the ‘plus’-side then.”

Another sketch from Kvarteret Skatan which shows off Swedes’ love for gallows humour is this classic dinner party sketch, where Glans’ character Martin opens by saying “I think we’ve all done something a bit illegal”.

“Yeah, I’m sure we have,” Batra’s character Ulf says. “I killed a guy once.”

“It was a few years ago so it can’t be prosecuted now. You know what it’s like,” he says, as the group stare at him, becoming more and more shocked.

“A group of guys go to Copenhagen and, yeah, drink a bit too much.”

The punchline of the joke exemplifies another aspect of Swedish humour – making fun of Danes. It ends with Batra saying “but, you, know, he was Danish, so that’s makes it a bit less serious.”

(Another example of Swedes making fun of Danes is in this sketch from cult comedy series Hipp Hipp, where a Swedish professor struggles to understand a Danish colleague.)

You can watch Kvarteret Skatan, in Swedish, here.

Trevlig Helg

Trevlig Helg (Have a nice weekend!) is almost a modern version of Kvarteret Skatan, following a similar format, with comedians Johanna Nordström and Hampus Nessvold playing different characters in the fictional town of Västerköping.

It’s hard to imagine this series working anywhere else than Sweden. First off, there’s Anton, trapped in a series of dates with a man he doesn’t want to go out with, who keeps paying the bill behind his back, leaving Anton unable to break up with him until he’s returned the favour.

Hampus Nessvold in character as Therese from Trevlig Helg on stage at Allsång på Skansen. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

Then, there’s feminist stereotype Sofie, who is unhappy that her friends’ override her suggestion of a ‘girl power’ hen-do in favour of a “slut theme”, and forces her son to wear a breast-shaped wooly hat in order to “de-dramatise the female body”.

Finally, local priest Björn, who promises to “hold back on the ‘God talk” at a wedding, saying that “I mean, that’s not why people come here, to listen to a load of talk about God!”. When the bride and groom mention God in their vows, Björn interrupts and says “you know, you don’t have to mention God. It’s part of my job to include that crap, but you don’t have to.”

You can watch Trevlig Helg here.

Welcome to Sweden

Welcome to Sweden follows American intellectual property lawyer Bruce (Greg Poehler) who moves to Sweden with his Swedish girlfriend Emma (Josephine Bornebusch). In scenes many immigrants in Sweden will recognise from their own lives, Bruce experiences culture shock after moving to Sweden, such as not realising that he’s not supposed to greet his new neighbours, not really knowing what to do at a kräftskiva, and having a deep meaningful chat with his father-in-law while they sit together, naked, in a sauna.

Lena Olin, Greg Poehler and Josephine Bornebusch from TV4’s “Welcome to Sweden”. Photo: Nora Lorek/TT

Despite being an American-Swedish comedy (which was shown on TV4 and NBC), there are still some insights into Swedish culture which will be recognisable for many foreigners in Sweden, such as the couples’ arguments over why Bruce can’t paint the walls in their apartment any colour other than white, and Emma’s first reaction to her American boyfriend collapsing from the heat in the family’s sauna being “why is he wearing shorts?”

If anything, Welcome to Sweden is a great crash-course in what not to do upon arriving in Sweden.

Welcome to Sweden was originally shown on TV4, and is now available on SF here.

Member comments

  1. Haven’t seen these, I’ll give them a watch. Solsidan’s another one that shows Swedish humour really well (and I found hilarious).

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33 sure-fire ways to truly offend a Swede

If you want to offend a Swede, don’t bother burning their flag. Here are 33 more effective strategies to get under their skin.

33 sure-fire ways to truly offend a Swede

Comment on the poor selection of wines at Systembolaget

Whether they approve of the state-owned alcohol monopoly or not, most Swedes praise Systembolaget for its wide range of choices and the expertise of its staff when recommending drinks. Complain about the choices at Systembolaget at your peril.

Don’t put a divider on the conveyor belt at the supermarket

Like with many other items on this list, a Swede probably wouldn’t tell you directly that they found this annoying, choosing instead to demonstratively place the divider between their items and yours instead. Perhaps accompanied by a tut.

Gleefully help yourself to the last piece of cake

You may think that nobody wants it, and therefore no one will be offended if you take it. This is wrong. The correct thing to do in this situation is cut the last slice into smaller and smaller pieces, never taking the final crumb left on the plate.

Keep your shoes on indoors

This makes sense in a country with snow, rain and general damp weather for most of the year. If you wear your shoes indoors, you’re forcing your Swedish host to get out their vacuum cleaner and get rid of all the dirt you’ve traipsed around their house once you’re gone. Take them off at the door, and consider bringing a pair of slippers to wear indoors if you’re staying with a Swedish friend.

Eat sweets on a Wednesday

Unhealthy food like sweets and crisps is reserved strictly for weekends. Don’t point out the fact that Swedes consume the same amount of sugar in one day that the residents of most other countries would in an entire week either.

It’s called ‘lördagsgodis’ for a reason. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Eat fika at the wrong time

Fika – a coffee break with some kind of cake or pastry – is the one time it’s acceptable to eat unhealthy food outside of a weekend. There’s still a rule here, though. Fika for breakfast: definitely not. Fika too close to lunch isn’t okay either. And fika after dinner is also frowned upon. So basically, you have a small window between about 10.30am and 11.30am, and another between 2.00pm and 4.00pm for socially acceptable fika.

Say no to fika

This is akin to a declaration of war in Sweden. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. In any case, in a work setting, you’re essentially saying no to taking a break with your colleagues, which makes you seem antisocial and like you have a bad work-life balance.

Leave an office fika too early

An office fika is one of the rare occasions where you can make small talk with your colleagues, so leaving too early and cutting your break short could make you seem rude and aloof, and also make your colleagues feel pressured to cut their break short, too. Best to read the room and head back when everyone else does.

Suggest you just split the restaurant bill 50/50

Swedes aren’t stingy, but they do insist on everything being fair, which also extends to eating out. If you ordered a steak and expensive drinks, and they just ordered a salad, don’t expect them to split the bill evenly. Why do you think the Swish money transfer app has a built-in calculator?

Say: “Third place in the World Cup isn’t really that good, is it?”

Sweden’s best performance in the World Cup since 1958 was in 1994, when it came third. Needless to say, Swedes probably wouldn’t be too happy if you downplayed this. This comment is also best avoided if your country has a worse track record than Sweden.

Say: “I’ve never actually seen the Winter Olympics, does Sweden compete?”

Another source of pride for Swedes in the sporting world is the Winter Olympics, where Sweden regularly takes home more than a few gold medals. Even worse than hinting you’ve never seen it would be to ask “are you as good as Norway?”

Tell them you don’t care who wins Eurovision

Staying on the subject of “areas where Sweden excels internationally”, a Swede probably wouldn’t be very impressed if you told them you didn’t watch Eurovision, or even worse, you don’t care who wins.

Måns Zelmerlöw? Never heard of him. Photo: Tore Meek/TT/NTB

Don’t recycle properly

Swedes are sticklers for recycling, to the extent that Sweden has actually had to import rubbish from other countries to burn in its district heating generators. Putting the wrong items in the wrong bins (or not folding your cardboard boxes properly so they take less space) is bound to spark a passive-aggressive note from your neighbours.

Put grovsopor in your recycling building

Grovsopor is waste which needs to be disposed of at the tip, like dead Christmas trees, large furniture items, or packaging too big to fit in your apartment’s normal recycling bins. Dumping these items among your household waste forces your apartment building to pay an expensive fee to get them removed, and also creates a fire hazard – so, unsurprisingly, it would also enrage your Swedish neighbours.

Tell them that people abroad aren’t that interested in what happens in Sweden

There’s a running joke in Sweden that the first question a Swede will ask a foreigner upon meeting them is “what do people think of Sweden in your country?”. Swedes are obsessed with their image abroad (even coining the term sverigebilden to describe said image), so would be very offended if you suggested that most people abroad just… aren’t that interested.

Tell them that Lussekatter are just dry, tasteless buns that have been dyed yellow

The traditional yellow S-shaped buns eaten in December are often described by foreigners as tasting “dusty”, “like an attic smells” or even “like curry”, due to their saffron flavour, which Swedes unusually pair with sweet rather than savoury flavours. Maybe keep these opinions to yourself though and politely decline if you’re offered one.

Praise their cuckoo clocks, chocolate or Swiss Army knives

No, Sweden is not Switzerland. They’re both mountainous European countries beginning with ‘S’ with a cross on their flag, but the similarities end there. In fact, burning Switzerland’s flag by accident is probably more likely to offend a Swede than burning Sweden’s flag.

Tell them your meatballs are better

You may have a great recipe for meatballs (and it may actually be a better recipe), but that won’t stop your Swedish friend or partner from using their family recipe passed down through the generations. 

Tell them ketchup on pasta is not a valid dish

A common quick family meal in Sweden is spaghetti or macaroni with meatballs, but not the way you’re thinking. Forget the rich tomato sauce you’d be served in Italy, this meal consists of plain pasta, fried meatballs and dots of ketchup on top. And no, it’s not just for picky kids: adults eat it too.

Italians, look away now… Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Complain that their coffee is too weak

Swedes pride themselves on drinking strong coffee, and it’s not unusual for a Swede to drink a cup of coffee just before bed either. Somehow, they can sleep despite the caffeine. Saying their coffee is too weak is almost an attack on their Swedishness.

Say you don’t like coffee

Even worse than disliking strong Swedish coffee is not drinking coffee at all. Actually, no, there IS something worse…

Ask for decaffeinated coffee

Good luck finding this in any Swedish restaurant or supermarket. See above: Swedes are superhuman and immune to the effects of caffeine, so have no need for decaf.

Attempt to make small talk

Swedes are famously private, with neighbours offering no more than a quick hej hej in the hallway if they’re unluckily enough to pass by at the same time. Small talk, known as kallprat (cold talk) or even dödprat (dead talk) makes them very uncomfortable.

Honestly replying when someone asks ‘how are you’?

The only correct response to “how are you?” or hur går det? is bra tack, själv? (good thanks, you?). Replying with anything more than this will quickly have a Swede squirming at the sudden intimacy of the conversation. If you really want to ask how someone is, you can ask hur mår du?, which is a little bit closer to “how are you doing?” or “how are you feeling?”, where a more in-depth answer is more acceptable.

Don’t make small talk when your dog meets their dog

This is one of the rare occasions where you really should make small talk if you don’t want to appear rude. While your dog is sniffing their dog’s bum, you should ask something like hur gammal är din hund? (how old is your dog?) or vad är det för ras? (which breed is it?), and offer some compliment on how cute or well-behaved their dog is.

‘Oh your dog is so cute, what breed is she?’ ‘She’s an octopus, can’t you tell?’ Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

Arrive late with no explanation

Swedes take punctuality seriously, so they won’t appreciate you arriving late without letting them know in advance that you’re delayed. This applies even if you’re only going to be 5 minutes late: make sure to send them a quick text as soon as you know you’re running late so they’re prepared.

Arrive early with no explanation

They don’t just take punctuality seriously, they take predictability seriously too. Arriving early will make them feel like they need to rush to get there so you’re not left waiting for too long, and will make them feel like they were rude for being late even if they arrived right on time.

Walk in the bike lane

Bike lane etiquette is no laughing matter either. That applies to pedestrians, who should never walk in the bike lane, and also to cyclists, who should never bike on the pavement. Rules are rules, and don’t expect Swedes to turn a blind eye if they spot you breaking them.

Don’t let them get off public transport before you get on

Swedish public transport runs on a first out, then in principle, meaning you wait for the people on the bus, train or metro carriage to get off before you step on. Not doing this will result in disapproving tuts from the Swedes around you.

Cut in front of them in a queue

Again, Swedes value fairness highly. Queues in Sweden can be hard to recognise, as Swedes have been socially distancing since well before Covid, but what may look like a loose grouping of people around a bus stop is in fact a carefully organised queue, where each person has memorised precisely who was there before they arrived and who came later. Make sure you hold your position in this queue unless you want to face their wrath.

Ask them the location of their svampställe

A Swede’s svampställe or mushroom-foraging spot is a closely guarded secret, which is passed down within families, if you’re lucky. Asking a Swede the location of their svampställe is a deeply personal question, and many family members keep their foraging spot secret even from their own relatives.

We can only assume this photographer was forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement when shown this man’s ‘svampställe’. Photo: Gorm Kallestad/NTB scanpix/TT

Reveal the location of their svampställe 

If you by some miracle are ushered into the secret circle of “people who know where the svampställe is”, don’t reveal it under any circumstances. This is probably more likely to cause a divorce in Sweden than cheating on your partner. Swedes are more secretive and protective of their mushroom spots than magicians are of the secrets behind their tricks.

Take their tvättstugetid

Swedish apartment buildings usually have a shared laundry room or tvättstuga in the cellar which can be booked for residents. The slots in after-work hours book up fast, meaning many people working normal hours book their tvättstugetid days or even weeks in advance. Taking their slot would make you very unpopular. Erik Helmerson from Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter even suggested that the best way for a foreign power to provoke Sweden would be to send secret agents to tvättstugor across Sweden just to steal laundry spots.

Failing to empty the fluff from the dryer

There’s a lot of potential for causing offence in your apartment’s tvättstuga. You’re expected to clean up after yourself, which includes wiping out the detergent slot of the washing machine and removing your fluff from the dryer. Remember: your neighbours can see which apartment booked the laundry room, so they’ll know it was you.

Failing to return the key for the tvättstuga

This is perhaps the worst possible thing you can do to annoy your Swedish neighbours. They will find out where you live, they will knock on your door, and they will be angry.

Thank you to everyone who submitted their responses when The Local’s editor Emma Löfgren reached out on Twitter, and feel free to reply to her tweet or in the comments below if you have any more tips. We received so many that we couldn’t include them all, but may do a follow-up in the future.