1. “It’s getting chilly, it could be 5C tomorrow”
Temperatures often drop to -10C even in Stockholm in winter (and that’s in the southern half of Sweden), so unless you’re from the Arctic or somewhere else that does snow really well, it can feel a little baffling when people living elsewhere in the world comment on the need to wrap up warm when it’s just 5C.
2. “Don’t worry, it’s my round”
High alcohol prices and an individualistic culture mean that a night out on the town can end up very pricey if you decide to offer all your friends a drink in Sweden. You’ll likely pay up to 75 kronor for a beer, and definitely shouldn’t expect one back. Almost everywhere else on earth it’s waaaay cheaper to go to the pub.
If you’re back in your country for a home visit, or a Swede working in another nation, embrace the experience of sharing rounds, even if it feels bizarre after so many nights queuing up besides six friends to order a single drink each. Cheers!
3. “We don’t have a big enough garden”
Foreigners and Swedes alike living in the country’s biggest cities spend a good splice of their spare time bemoaning the acute housing crisis. In Stockholm, if you manage to score a second-hand studio apartment for more than one year for less than 8000 kronor a month, you’re basically hailed a hero. Balconies are common (but hike up your costs), however having a garden in the city centre is the holy grail.
So, you might be forced to bite your tongue when people living elsewhere start making noises about needing a “spare bedroom” or “a bigger garden, in case we have kids”. But that said, there are few places with such beautiful nature as Sweden, so who needs outside space when you can spend your weekends roaming around in the outdoors?
READ ALSO: How to navigate Sweden’s crazy rental market
4. “I might have to give up work to look after the kids”
The idea that someone — usually a woman — might be forced to quit her career to look after her children can be a bemusing one if you’ve been living in Sweden. Swedish residents — including immigrants — get 480 days of shared parental leave followed by heavily subsidised day care, all nestled into a culture of flexible working. Although the Scandinavian country isn’t completely equal, it is streets ahead of the rest of the world. You’ll hear far more conversations about expensive childcare, rigid working hours and gender salary gaps in other European nations than in Sweden.
5. “You’re working out again?”
Most Swedes make exercise a regular part of their weekly routine and while obesity levels are rising, they remain among the lowest in Europe. Keeping fit is viewed as good for the body and the soul and is something, well, completely normal. This is not always the case in other countries, where anyone spotted simply carrying a sports bag around can be quickly labelled a ‘fitness freak’ or a ‘gym addict’.
Leaving the pub early to go to a spinning class might be greeted with a smile and a ‘lycka till’ (good luck) in Sweden, but prepare to be greeted with shock or bemusement elsewhere. Especially if it’s your round.
READ ALSO: Five Swedish habits you pick up without trying
6. “I’m running late, the bus didn’t turn up”
In efficient Sweden, buses somehow manage to run more or less on time, even in -20C temperatures (at least outside the busy capital region and after the initial shock settles after the first snowfall). This isn’t the case in most places on the planet. If someone outside Sweden tells you they’re late because of a public transport malfunction, they are either actually telling the truth or using a very plausible lie that you’ll be unable to check up on.
But if you’re used to Swedish services running to the second and friends being just as punctual whether they’ve walked, biked or cycled to meet you (we did tell you Swedes love to keep fit), be prepared to get frustrated by this kind of tardiness.
7. “I just spoke to a fascinating woman on the bus”
Imagine you’re on a bus that does break down (outside of Sweden, obviously). How would it feel to chat to the other passengers about the delay, swap stories about where you’re going or boast about your last (even worse) transport drama? If you’re used to living in the Nordics, where people are notoriously quiet on buses and trains, this could make you a bit uncomfortable. Alternatively, if you’ve spent months or years either suffering in silence or feeling like a weirdo whenever you make small talk in Sweden, you’ll likely be relishing this experience (as long as the bus gets fixed quickly, because you’re not used to being late!).
READ ALSO: How to fake being a local on Stockholm’s subway
8. “I’ll just put a quick wash on!”
You know when you’re rushing around doing your chores and you chuck a load in the washing machine while simultaneously cooking dinner, running a bath and preparing for a work meeting? No, that doesn’t happen if you live in a Swedish city.
In most apartment blocks you have to book your laundry slot a week before and turn up on time to make sure nobody else steals it. Realised your favourite outfit is dirty 24 hours before an important date? You’re screwed. Even if you’ve got a balcony, it probably won’t dry in time and might actually freeze. If you’re staying with friends or family in other countries and they mention they’re putting a wash on, you could find yourself getting rather excited and handing over your dirty laundry.
9. “Sure, I’ll meet you tonight!”
So you’ve managed to avoid arguments about whether it’s actually cold (it isn’t) or your friend turning up 30 minutes late and you’d quite like to fit in another trip to the pub. But that’s never going to happen is it, because you have to plan social engagements at least a week in advance? Well, that may be what you’re used to in Sweden, but not everyone is quite so organised. That means if you’re spending time away from the Nordics, you can marvel at the chance to be a bit more spontaneous.
Don’t get too carried away though. If you want to see your Swedish friends when you get back, you’d better find time to text them too, to check their availability for the next month.
This list was written by Maddy Savage in January 2016 and was updated in May 2023.