Typically Swedish


Umea University has tried to describe the typically Swede. You will probably discover that some of the things are closer to reality than others. How do you pronounce Umea, by the way?

Are all Swedes blond and tall with blue eyes? You have probably already noticed that this is not the case at all. On this page we attempt to cover some basic preconceptions and areas where our culture might be different from your own.

Swedes are usually very punctual. If you want to be like a Swede, it is better to arrive five minutes early than five minutes late. In informal situations, being late is normally not a big problem, but if you have a professional meeting of some sort, being late will be considered quite rude and in need of an explanation. If you do not have a good reason you will appear to be very nonchalant.

The exception from the rule is the akademisk kvart (academic quarter) that only exists in the university sphere. Lectures that are said to start on the hour (10 am) actually start fifteen minutes later (10:15 am), unless it is an exam or if the time is stated as 10 am sharp.

Social Life in Sweden
The saying is that Swedes are reserved and difficult to get to know. This is true to some extent, but foreigners do make comments about the Umea population being both friendly and eager to help if you take the first step and approach them. Student activities, the Buddy Programme and the people in your corridor will hopefully provide you with plenty of opportunities to break the ice and to make new friends. If you find it difficult to get to know Swedes, one trick can be to propose things to do. Swedish people normally get to know each other by engaging in social activities. This can involve anything from preparing dinner together to going on a ski trip.

Changing with Seasons
In the northern parts of Sweden where the winters are dark and the summer brings long days, the mood and behavior of the people can often change. During the winter season, you may see wrapped-up people hurrying from point A to point B, with no intention to stop and talk. It might seem that Swedes are not very social, but they do in fact socialise – indoors. Because of the cold Swedes spend time together at someone’s home so the trick is to get invited or start inviting people to your own home. You can also go to a hockey game, a ski slope or a pub in order to see the Swedes come out of their winter shell and become more accessible.

In contrast, as the light returns and the days become warmer you will see many more people out and about, having barbeques in their backyard, enjoying picnics in the parks or eating and drinking at a beer garden or restaurant in town. When the warmth of the sun does return, the Swedes seem to thaw out and become more open and social. They stroll about, stop and talk to acquaintances and, like sunflowers, often turn their faces to the sun to try and soak up as many of its rays as they possibly can.

Even though Sweden is officially a Lutheran (Protestant/Christian) country, the Swedish people are generally not very religious. It is not very common for Swedes to regularly attend church services or take an active part in a congregation. However, Swedes have not left the church altogether. Weddings and funerals are still commonly held in church and many people still baptize their children.

According to an article Eurobarometer Poll Religion Survey in Sweden, just three out of ten Swedes states that they have confidence in Church.

Dining out and Picking up the Tab
Dining out has become an increasingly common practice in Umea. The number of restaurants, pubs and cafés has increased rapidly over the past ten years or so. Restaurants used to have to struggle to fill their tables, but today you will most probably have to book in advance or wait for your turn even on a weekday. “After Work” with special offers on food and drink on Friday evenings has really taken hold in Umea, and on Fridays at 5 pm every restaurant in town is bursting at the seams. The concept of picking up the tab is an unknown phenomenon in Sweden. The bill is divided ‘precisely’ after what and how much you ate or drank. Tips are included, but it is always welcome if you leave some.

Answering the Telephone
If you usually just answer the telephone with “Hello,” you risk being considered impolite in Sweden. The common way to answer the telephone in Sweden is by stating your name.

Swedes are known to be law abiding and fairly fond of standing in lines. Whenever waiting is involved, at cinemas, paying in a shop, in the library and so on, you will be expected to wait in line. If you push your way into the line, no excuse is good enough.

The modern version or solution to the line system is tickets: you have to take a piece of paper with a number on it from the ‘number-dispenser.’ The number on this ticket indicates when it is your turn. The advantage of this system is that you can move around freely while you are waiting. Therefore, do not forget to take a ticket, to locate the whereabouts of the number display and to check it regularly so that you do not miss your turn.

“Excuse me”
Swedes sometimes express themselves or behave in a way that might be perceived as rude by foreigners. One example is the phrase “Excuse me.” If someone bumps into you, it is more likely that you will hear oj/oops than ursäkta mig (excuse me). When you are talking to a Swedish person and they do not hear what you have said, you will most likely hear a Va?/What?, not excuse me. This does not mean that Swedes are an extremely rude people, it just means that the phrase ursäkta mig/excuse me is not so widely used in Sweden.

Have They no Shame?
Swedes are rather direct people. They get straight to the point and tend to tell you exactly what they are up to. If you are having a coffee with a group of people and one of them is a Swede, do not be surprised if the Swede suddenly stands up and announces that he is going to the toilet so that the whole group can hear. It is not that he thinks you will all want to know, but that he thinks that it would be rude to just get up and leave. Furthermore, if you are going to say something, tell the truth.

Taking a Compliment
Swedes are notoriously bad at accepting a compliment. For example, the response to the words, “That was great! You are so good at this,” will seldom be “Thanks, I was rather pleased with it myself,” but rather “It was nothing, I messed up in the middle,” or perhaps just an embarrassed blush. However, do not let it bother you, they are actually happy to hear you say it.

Only One Chance
If a Swede asks you if you want to join him on a skiing trip, or if you want another cookie, make sure you know what you want before you answer. Unlike many other cultures, Swedish people will not coax or insist. They will ask you once and then accept your first answer. Therefore, if you want another cookie, you had better take the chance and accept the offer the first time around.

What di you find typically Swedish?

Source: Umea University