Written in collaboration with Downtown Camper by Scandic
Stockholm is famous for its stunning architecture, the cobblestone streets of Gamla Stan, its Baltic Sea archipelago, freezing temperatures, as well as a whole host of modern and historical attractions. What’s less known are the quirky cultural nuances, which make Sweden so wonderfully unique. Here are 8 cultural insights into Sweden for its newest residents and visitors.
Funny words and phrases
There are many mesmerising sights to absorb when walking the streets of Stockholm, not least the handsome men and women – everyone is beautiful! But it won’t be long before the hilarious named road signs and funny phrases catch your attention. For all, us non-swedes the sight of Infart (a parking lot entrance), Utfart (Exit), Fartkontroll (speed control), and Slutstation (end station), Willy’s (supermarket) is enough to send us into a fit of giggles. And the funny words don’t stop there! There are many words, which confused, could lead to some very embarrassing situations. If a Swede asks you “sex hos mig” (sex/six at my place), you might want to check their intentions. However, the chances are they just want you to come over at 6 o’clock, as sex means two things, the number 6 and yes, sex. They probably seem preoccupied with ladies underwear, continually referring to things as ‘bra’, but this simply means ‘good’. Saying they need to ‘kiss’ (pee) when they actually just need a wee. It’s all very confusing but definitely adds a comical element to learning Swedish.
Need to know – House Rules
If you’ve walked the streets of Stockholm during the winter months, you’ll know how dirty it gets once the rain and snow starts, especially when the gritters come out. So it’s not surprising then, that as a general rule, all Swedish homes expect you to remove your shoes. If like me, a British expat, you’re used to traipsing your way around houses in your outdoor shoes, then this is a rule to get acquainted with fast. This rule also extends to gyms, where they expect you to walk to the gym wearing your outdoor shoes and then change into your pair of indoor training shoes upon arriving. Yes, you’re going to need that extra muscle to carry your gym bag! You may have also noticed, the single duvet covers. The Swedish aren’t killers of romance, I promise. In the freezing minus temperatures that Sweden gets to, in Stockholm an average low of -4 degrees in the winter, do you want your partner stealing the bed cover? I didn’t think so. Single duvets are all about survival!
Swedes are way more comfortable with nudity than just about anywhere else in the world, well them and the other sauna loving nations. In any other countries, if you stripped off naked and entered the sauna, you’d be met with shrieks of surprise and blushing red faces. It’s not uncommon in Sweden, however, to strip off and go skinny dipping in the open water with your friends and family. Although be forewarned, there are designated spots; you can’t just strip off anywhere. It’s also not uncommon to see men and women, completely naked, having a good old chit chat in the changing rooms at gyms, and swimming houses, seemingly unfazed by their nakedness. In the UK we’re very prudish about nudity (don’t fear though, if you’re heading to The Nest at Downtown Camper they have a strictly ‘bathing suit only’ policy so that you won’t be bathing in your birthday suit on your visit).
Get social, join a club
Sweden can be a hard place to settle as a newcomer, particularly in the long, dark and cold winter months. As spring’s now approaching, it’s a perfect time to join a club and get meeting other expats and sociable Swedes. Get a taster of run club life with Ssideline City Run Club, who run every Tuesday evening from Downtown Camper. Alternatively, you could try yoga with YesYoga, followed by cocktails at Downtown Camper Campfire, every Sunday from the hotel at 3 pm. Or why not join one of the many activities on Meetup? A community made out of sharing experiences and making new friends. With over 260 meetups located in Stockholm, there are a large variety of get-togethers to choose from. You could even start your own.
Sweet tooth? In most countries pick n’ mix is intended mainly for children. Not in Sweden. No, the Swedes are mad for their candy with usually two or more aisles in the supermarket entirely dedicated to every type of candy you could possibly dream of. However, this is usually limited to Saturday’s, ‘Lördagsgodis’ (=‘Saturday candy’), where the majority of candy is purchased. Swedes consume approximately 16 kilograms of candy per person per year. That’s a whole lot of candy! Unlike other nations, at Easter, the Swedes do not celebrate with branded chocolate eggs but beautifully decorated paper shell eggs, crammed full of sweets. It’s surprising then that Swedes are some of the healthiest people on the planet.
If you’ve ever been invited to an inexperienced expat’s housewarming party, you’re probably familiar with that last minute panicked message. This is when the host realises they haven’t gone to the only store in Sweden you can purchase alcohol from, Systembolaget, and lo and behold now need you to bring your own drinks. Happens every time! One friend of mine invited her friends for a Prosecco and pancakes evening, which was a great idea until she forgot to purchase the Prosecco in time. Sweden is highly regulated when it comes to the sale of alcoholic drinks stronger than 3.5%. Systembolaget is government owned and has the monopoly of all sales in Sweden. The minimum purchase age at Systembolaget is 20, but 18 in licensed restaurants and bars. So take your ID and be sure to check the opening and closing times!
Queue like a Swede
Like the British, Swedes are no strangers to queuing. However, Sweden has turned this into an Olympic sport. The Swedish are sticklers for rationality and order, and the queuing system is no exception. There are seemingly queues for everything! While most Swedes won’t confront you, you will feel the sting of their angry stares should you make the ultimate mistake of pushing in line. Or just simply forgetting to take one of the many numbered tickets you find in any number of shops. Our advice – always check upon entering a supermarket, electrical shop, doctor’s surgery, vets, Migrationsverket (migration office), post office, you get my point if there is a ticket machine.
Chasing the light
For any expats either dating or married to a Swede, you will be all too familiar with this built-in radar for sunlight they all have. You may have thought that with the long, dark days you had earned your lie in come the weekend. Oh no. If you’re with a Swede, then forget a lie in, shower, or a relaxed breakfast reading the newspaper. Once that light radar goes off, a Swede needs to get outside asap. You literally won’t know what hit you, especially when that icy cold, minus temperature blasts you straight in the face. My husband is a person possessed the minute he wakes up and detects light. And to be honest I can’t blame him as the days are so short during the winter, you need to get out and enjoy the peak hours before the light goes again. Because of this, I have learned to cross-country ski, ice skate on frozen lakes. Not just that but, also complete a 90km race called Vikingarännet starting from Sigtuna, down to Upplands Väsby and looping back round to the start, twice. Still, from time to time, I’d love to snuggle in bed, get up in a relaxed and leisurely manner and enjoy an extended breakfast. I can but dream!
If this article resonated with you and had you laughing, then you love the new podcast, ‘Swede As.’ It’s a light-hearted take on all the unusual quirks that come with moving to Stockholm, the fun differences between the two countries and what life is like living closer to the North Pole. Follow Australian hosts, Sheona Urquhart and Tania Doko, and Swede, Brian Modin, on their hilarious commentary, coming to you fortnightly 🙂
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