So the time has come to summarise some key points about the Swedes and Sweden. Here is my list:
If you have never heard the word ‘fika’ before, it is important to know before coming to Sweden. It essentially means having a coffee and some cake or ‘bullar’ whilst meeting with friends. This can be done in a cafe or at somebody’s house, but it is pretty much the only traditional socialising that the Swedes do. Of course, the cities have taken on the tradition of pubs from other countries (many of them are ‘English pubs’ which makes a change from the popular ‘Irish pub’ overseas, although they are more or less the same thing) but if you go out into the countryside pubs do not exist and cafes are not the most popular either; the Swedes prefer to stay home with their families.
On the other hand, you will find many ‘pizzerias’, although they are more like fast-food places with kebab, falafel, hamburgers and more available in addition to the pizza. These are more common than anything else; for example, in Tranemo with 3000 inhabitants there is only one cafe, but 3 pizzerias. The interesting thing about the pizzas is that they like to mix things together: I have seen taco pizzas, kebab pizzas, pizza with fries on top, curry pizzas, pizzas with salad on them (lettuce and salad cream) and pretty much any combination you can imagine. This is of course not the traditional italian pizza!
This is the Swedish monopoly on alcohol. The ‘Systembolaget’ is the only place allowed to sell alcohol that has an alcohol percentage of more than 3.5% and it is controlled by the government. All alcohol has incredibly high taxes and they are very strict on the age policy for buying alcohol, which is 21 years of age. The unfortunate result of this is that many people buy alcohol from overseas (especially Denmark and Germany) and bring it back to Sweden because they save such a ridiculous amount of money. This also leads to some people buying abroad and then selling it to underage drinkers in Sweden for the same price as the Systembolaget, meaning that they make a lot of profit. If you want to learn more about the alcohol situation in Sweden see my video on Swedish Youth and Alcohol.
4. TAKE A NUMBER
They do queue in Sweden, particularly in the supermarket, but most places have this number system. You do not go up to the reception at the doctors or to the till at the pharmacy, you must take a number and wait for them to call you. If there is no one around it can feel a little strange, but you wait until they are ready for you and then they call you.
5. ‘IT’S GREAT, BUT…’
The Swedes do not like to be direct if they have a problem. It is some kind of over-politeness whereby they will tell you everything is ok but then suggest that maybe you could do something in a different way anyway. In some cases it can be frustrating because they will not give you a direct ‘No, this is not what we want’ but they try to get you to see that maybe their way is better and maybe you should change you mind, but whatever you decide is the right decision!
Aside from families, where of course they are living with other people, the Swedes like to live alone. 47% of households are people are living by themselves. This is of course finacially easier in a country where accomodation is one of your lowest monthly costs. In fact, where I live now sharing a flat with one other person I probably spend about the same amount of money on food as I do on rent! This is unthinkable in the UK, although apparently Britain is not too far behind on the living alone statistic at 34% of households.
This is another family tradition where every Friday in the family they eat something easy to make or especially nice to eat (pizza, tacos etc.) and they spend the evening together and play games or watch tv or whatever, but it is the night they spend together as a family. Apparently it’s origins come from the past where meat was very expensive and they would eat chicken once a week and then celebrate this special meal by having an enjoyable evening together.
8. TA DET LUGNT / LAGOM
‘Take it easy’ or ‘lagom’ are quite good ways to describe the typical Swedish outlook. It does depend where in the country you are, but the concept is accepted throughout the land. ‘Lagom’ can be described as ‘just right’ – not too much and not too little – and this is a way of thinking that they apply to everything in life. The positive result is that it helps people to not become too stressed out as they don’t put a lot of pressure on themselves to exceed expectations and that’s ok!
Swearing is not a big deal in Sweden. They have various curse words that are just an everyday part of their language and I think nobody feels bad about saying them. The two most common are probably ‘fan’ (often ‘fy fan’) and ‘djävla’ which both mean ‘devil’. On the other hand they have taken the English word ‘shit’ and they say it either like the English or in the Swedish way spelt ‘skit’ and they often combine it with other words like ‘skitbra’ (shit-good). However, this word is as acceptable as the other words and you will even hear children saying it.
The Swedish traditions are a little unusual because they are almost all now a mix of Christian and Pagan/Pre-Religious traditions. With the onset of Christianity in Sweden sometime around the Middle Ages the old traditions slowly became mixed up with the Christian traditions, which can make it a little confusing sometimes! It seems that it took up to 200 years for the Scandinavian peoples to finally accept the Christian way of thinking, which could also explain the mixing of traditions. For example, Santa Lucia in Sweden is both a celebration of the Italian Saint and also includes the story of staying up all night until the dawn to protect your children and livestock from evil spirits that come out on this night. The two ideas don’t really fit together and yet here they are!