Etiquette in Sweden

Helping expats to fit in

Expats are often very aware of different customs and etiquette in their new homes. What might be normal in Sweden, could be completely different in your country of origin. For instance, it is important that you know how to act at work, at a business meal, or when you receive a gift.

Etiquette in Sweden

Swedish work etiquette

Punctuality is something which is important in the corporate culture in Sweden. This does not necessarily apply across all Swedish culture, but it is important in business.

Titles are not that important in Sweden but keep in mind that you will have to use appropriate titles and last names until being notified that you can address someone by his or her first name.

You greet each other in Sweden by shaking hands, besides doing this while greeting someone, you will also shake hands when leaving a social meeting. Swedish people tend to be reserved in their body language, and gestures are not that common.

Swedish people do not touch or embrace someone often in public (though the younger generation do so). This also means that private space is appreciated and that you may stand further away from one another than you might be used to. A little more than an arms length is considered to be completely normal and maintaining eye contact while talking to someone is common. These habits might feel a bit awkward in the beginning, especially if you’re from southern European countries, but you will get used to it.

During meetings you will realise that there is little room for small talk. Swedes prefer to get to business directly and it is normal that you get right down to business after very brief cordialities. Most Swedish people tend to keep work and their private lives separated. Make sure that you do not interrupt anyone who is speaking as consensus is very important.

Schedules are clearly set for meetings and this means that there aren’t too many meetings before 9.00am, or after 4.00pm. This is due to the characteristics of the Swedish people. Most of the time, you can expect people who are, practical, precise and somewhat reserved.

Talking about being reserved, don’t mind silences during meetings; Swedish people are perfectly fine with silence during a meeting and you are not expected to fill this silence with idle chatter. Just remember that you have to be clear and concise when it comes to communicating with Swedes.

Meals in Sweden

First of all, Swedish people do not tend to have business breakfasts, though sometimes they can take place if you have a very busy schedule.

Before any meal starts there is something which the Swedish are well-known for; toasts. It is not just a simple etiquette but it is a formal ritual which you should know!

  • First of all, do not drink until your host has given a toast (unless there is no toast) and your host (or at least a senior) should drink first.
  • While making a toast, keep eye contact with the one who toasts, as it shows that you are paying attention.
  • Look into the eyes of the one you are toasting with and say “Skål” (which you pronounce as Skohl).
  • After the toast, men have to wait for woman to put down their glasses first. For woman, make sure that you do not wait too long; it can be annoying if a man has to wait to put his glass down!

If you wish to beckon a waiter, just wave your hand and try to get eye contact. Do not call to them or shout, as this is considered to be very rude.

Remember to keep your hands above the table, do not rest them in your lap and keep your elbows off the table.

Use the right cutlery for the right dishes and always work from the outside in; the cutlery farthest away from your plate is for the first course. Make sure that you try a bit of everything that is being served. Besides being polite, you shouldn’t miss anything of the Swedish cuisine!

Keep in mind that during a meal, and in general, you do not:

  • praise another place over the one you are presently visiting. Swedes are known to be very proud of their own town and / or region.
  • criticizing the Swedish lifestyle, prices, etc. is not appreciated! Though having some knowledge about Sweden's economy and culture is appreciated.
  • compliment lightly. Insincere comments are considered to be rude and will make you look bad.

Gift etiquette

While at work, gifts are normally not exchanged unless for Christmas. Small gifts are accepted during Christmas, and as an expat, gifts representative of one's home area are often appreciated and rather unique.

If you’re invited to someone’s house there are certain customs which you should know. It’s a good idea to take a small gift such as flowers, wine or chocolates with you. If your colleague has a child, a gift for the children will be very appreciated. Most of the times these gifts are given to the hostess.

If you decide to go for flowers, do not give white lilies or chrysanthemums as these used to be given at funerals!

With these tips expats should be prepared for some of the quirks of Swedish culture!

Swedish work etiquette

Punctuality is something which is important in the corporate culture in Sweden. This does not necessarily apply across all Swedish culture, but it is important in business.

Titles are not that important in Sweden but keep in mind that you will have to use appropriate titles and last names until being notified that you can address someone by his or her first name.

You greet each other in Sweden by shaking hands, besides doing this while greeting someone, you will also shake hands when leaving a social meeting. Swedish people tend to be reserved in their body language, and gestures are not that common.

Swedish people do not touch or embrace someone often in public (though the younger generation do so). This also means that private space is appreciated and that you may stand further away from one another than you might be used to. A little more than an arms length is considered to be completely normal and maintaining eye contact while talking to someone is common. These habits might feel a bit awkward in the beginning, especially if you’re from southern European countries, but you will get used to it.

During meetings you will realise that there is little room for small talk. Swedes prefer to get to business directly and it is normal that you get right down to business after very brief cordialities. Most Swedish people tend to keep work and their private lives separated. Make sure that you do not interrupt anyone who is speaking as consensus is very important.

Schedules are clearly set for meetings and this means that there aren’t too many meetings before 9.00am, or after 4.00pm. This is due to the characteristics of the Swedish people. Most of the time, you can expect people who are, practical, precise and somewhat reserved.

Talking about being reserved, don’t mind silences during meetings; Swedish people are perfectly fine with silence during a meeting and you are not expected to fill this silence with idle chatter. Just remember that you have to be clear and concise when it comes to communicating with Swedes.

Meals in Sweden

First of all, Swedish people do not tend to have business breakfasts, though sometimes they can take place if you have a very busy schedule.

Before any meal starts there is something which the Swedish are well-known for; toasts. It is not just a simple etiquette but it is a formal ritual which you should know!

  • First of all, do not drink until your host has given a toast (unless there is no toast) and your host (or at least a senior) should drink first.
  • While making a toast, keep eye contact with the one who toasts, as it shows that you are paying attention.
  • Look into the eyes of the one you are toasting with and say “Skål” (which you pronounce as Skohl).
  • After the toast, men have to wait for woman to put down their glasses first. For woman, make sure that you do not wait too long; it can be annoying if a man has to wait to put his glass down!

If you wish to beckon a waiter, just wave your hand and try to get eye contact. Do not call to them or shout, as this is considered to be very rude.

Remember to keep your hands above the table, do not rest them in your lap and keep your elbows off the table.

Use the right cutlery for the right dishes and always work from the outside in; the cutlery farthest away from your plate is for the first course. Make sure that you try a bit of everything that is being served. Besides being polite, you shouldn’t miss anything of the Swedish cuisine!

Keep in mind that during a meal, and in general, you do not:

  • praise another place over the one you are presently visiting. Swedes are known to be very proud of their own town and / or region.
  • criticizing the Swedish lifestyle, prices, etc. is not appreciated! Though having some knowledge about Sweden's economy and culture is appreciated.
  • compliment lightly. Insincere comments are considered to be rude and will make you look bad.

Gift etiquette

While at work, gifts are normally not exchanged unless for Christmas. Small gifts are accepted during Christmas, and as an expat, gifts representative of one's home area are often appreciated and rather unique.

If you’re invited to someone’s house there are certain customs which you should know. It’s a good idea to take a small gift such as flowers, wine or chocolates with you. If your colleague has a child, a gift for the children will be very appreciated. Most of the times these gifts are given to the hostess.

If you decide to go for flowers, do not give white lilies or chrysanthemums as these used to be given at funerals!

With these tips expats should be prepared for some of the quirks of Swedish culture!

Further reading

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