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How to make friends in Sweden – seven things I wish someone had told me

Gemma Casey-Swift
Gemma Casey-Swift - [email protected]
How to make friends in Sweden – seven things I wish someone had told me
The age-old debate we just can't seem to shake: how hard is it to make friends in Sweden? Photo: Tina Axelsson/

Sweden is regularly ranked one of the hardest places to find new friends. But does it really have to be such a struggle? The Local's reader Gemma Casey-Swift shares her best advice for people looking to expand their Swedish friendship circle.


On my first night out in Stockholm, I sat in a British pub, drinking British beer, and listened to British people talk about how hard it was to make friends in Sweden.

I was terrified. The conversation made me want to run a mile (or more accurately, 1,380 miles back to Yorkshire). But I'd committed to building a life here with my Swedish partner, who'd just enrolled in university.

Four years on, here's what I wish someone had said to me instead. 

Stay open-minded (or don't let other foreigners scare you) 

Sweden has a long-standing reputation as one of the worst places in the world to make friends. A society that values individual independence with a deep cultural respect for privacy is often cited as the reason, and any foreigner living in Sweden can relate to this on some level.

I've definitely had my moments of feeling dejected and kept at arm's length. But is this stereotype unanimously true? And is it a helpful belief to adopt if you're looking to make new friends?

I decided to actively evade these conversations – Swede-bashing served no constructive purpose for me. Everyone's experience is different, and a healthy dose of optimism never hurt anyone. 

Get a dog

If you've ever needed an excuse to buy a pooch, moving to Sweden is it.

My closest friend here swears buying a dog was the best thing she ever did, forming casual bonds at the dog park and with other dog owners at work that over time, developed into rich friendships.

Offering to dog sit is also a surefire way to expand your network. I do this often, and it's surprising how many times people choose to express their thanks by cooking you dinner. Dog-related small talk is also great for practising Swedish. 


Join a club (or even better, a sauna)

I know, I know, 'join a club'. You want to slap me. But seriously, just do it. I know a guy from South America who joined a running club, and judging by his Instagram, it's about 20 percent running and 80 percent eating, dancing, and celebrating any Swedish holiday they can find an excuse for.

I was also lucky enough to snag a membership at a sauna recently, and honestly? The Swedes won't shut up. As well as sharing maintenance chores, people swap life stories, restaurant tips, and numbers to sync their sauna schedules. The queues can be long, but if you're into that sort of thing and want to make some local friends, it's well worth the wait. 


Explore Facebook groups 

Facebook's popularity isn't what it used to be, but there are still some thriving, friendly Facebook communities, like Girl Gone International and International Meetup Sweden.

I met one of my closest friends in a hiking group. Some of us went away to a cabin, which was completely out of my comfort zone, but as well as an award-winning hangover and an appreciation for public transport in Gävleborg, I came back with a new friendship.

There's also a popular app specifically designed to help people make new friends in Sweden (I haven't tried it myself, but I've heard mixed reviews). 


Consider re-adjusting your expectations 

I know a Swede who I consider to be a very close friend, but I've never met her fiancé or been to her house.

Back home, this would raise some eyebrows, but in Sweden, it somehow feels OK. This isn't what my usual friendships look like, but I respect her introvertism and the fact that her boyfriend isn't too comfortable speaking English (and my Swedish is pitiful).

Sometimes it helps to accept that your Swedish relationships might take different shapes, but if a monthly one-to-one dinner isn't enough for you, never compromise on your needs and expectations. 

Make the first move 

This is a bit depressing, but almost all of my friendships in Sweden came out of my own initiative.

I went to a party once and met a sassy American who lit up the room and asked for her contact details. She barely remembered me, but nevertheless, our friendship blossomed.

Of course, this approach doesn't always fly. At the end of my first working week in Stockholm, I asked my team if anyone wanted to go for a drink. No one said a word – they just looked at me blankly. It was confusing and awkward, but eventually, I found my office clique.

In short, I made a lot of first moves. Some paid off, some didn't, but this approach still paid huge dividends. 

Getting out what you put in 

Just like anywhere, Sweden is full of different people with a vast array of personalities, attitudes and mindsets, and there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to making friends. One thing I do know is that although it can take more groundwork, if you're willing to get creative and a little vulnerable, it will pay off in the end.

Gemma Casey-Swift is a British writer and product marketing manager who moved to Sweden in 2019. Follow her on LinkedIn.


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