Understanding Swedes For Members

11 Swedish life hacks that will make you feel like a local

Chiara Milford
Chiara Milford - [email protected]
11 Swedish life hacks that will make you feel like a local

Sweden can be a cold and unforgiving place, with strange rules and customs. For newbies there can be some surprising culture shocks, so here are some tips to make your life in Sweden a little easier.


1. Just say hej to everyone 

Swedes did away with formalities a long time ago, so you can greet anyone from your partner’s mother to your doctor with a friendly “hej! 

2. Avoid smalltalk like the plague

There’s no need to go beyond a simple “hej!” with a stranger though. Swedes are economical with words and only really talk to people they want to talk to. Chances are they won't understand the value of any extraneous words beyond the sufficiently polite “hello”, “thank you” and “goodbye” to strangers.


3. Measure the year in weeks 

Swedes will know instinctively what week it is without checking, especially if they work in education, at university or have school-age children. It’s how they often refer to a date or time of the year, for example “I’ll be on holiday from week 26 to 30”.

This can be confusing for people who are used to measuring the year in dates, like August 9th. If you want to cheat to keep up with your Swedish friends, there's a website to keep you in the know.

4. Only wear black, white, grey or beige 

Walking around a Swedish city can seem like there’s a strictly regulated uniform that doesn’t deviate from black, white, grey or beige. 

It’s the unspoken fashion law of Sweden. Colours are banned, except maybe for Midsummer, and even then, white is preferred. Whether it’s a love of simplicity, a natural elegance or just the desire to not stand out, style-conscious Swedes almost always avoid bold colours and patterns.

A simple aesthetic is key to Swedish style. Photo: FilippaK/

5. Take the entire month of July off from work 

Barely anyone is at work in July. Shops are shut and city streets are empty as everyone goes to their summer house to spend a few weeks away. Most employers offer staff a minimum of 25 days annual leave and Swedes take a big lump of that off during the summer, particularly while school is out in July. 

Don’t be the only one manning the emails at the office.


6. Get yourself a sommarstuga 

You’ll need something to do with all that time off, so why not renovate a country cabin? 

Around a fifth of the population are lucky enough to own a summer house, and even more have access to one through family and friends. 

You don’t have to buy one outright though. In many places you can rent one on a yearly rolling basis, and they’re often much cheaper than a regular city price. Some might not have running water or heating, however, but that’s just part of their rustic charm. 

7. Become one with nature 

It’s no surprise that Swedes love spending time outdoors in the vast tracts of forest that blanket the country. Picking wild berries is something every Swede does come summertime. Even in winter, some braver souls might camp out on snowy peaks. Wild swimming (with or without a swimsuit) is a cultural staple no matter the weather.  

You'd be hard pressed to find a Swede who doesn't have some kind of rugged outdoor hobby, whether it be Nordic surfing or LARPing. 

Some sommarstugas are basically glorified tents with wooden walls and a roof but not much else. Photo: Martin Edström/

8. Don’t bother with rounds 

In Sweden the concept of buying rounds of drinks doesn’t really exist. Everyone buys their own. This isn't about rudeness or selfishness – just necessity. Alcohol is so expensive in Sweden that you can barely afford to buy one beer, let alone seven of them for the whole table.

So while you’ll be extremely popular if you offer to buy everyone a beer, it’s not the Swedish thing to do. 

9. Turn your trouser legs up about 10 centimetres

Even in winter you’ll see Swedes with their anklebones exposed. This is called the Swedish ankle (by me). Swedes like to keep their trouser hems high. Whether this is a new trend, a hark back to 19th century prudishness or a way of showing a subtle and inoffensive flash of skin on summer nights that could be warmer, I couldn't tell you, but you're more likely to see an ankle than an elbow in Sweden. 


10. Follow the rules 

Freedom is enshrined in the Swedish constitution, but it's a freedom that comes with caveats. Alcohol is restricted, drugs are harshly criminalised, and people tend not to overstep the line. You might see a few jaywalkers but that’s probably the extent of typical Swedish law-breaking. 

11. Know your Eurovision 

Even the most reserved of Swedes will come bursting out of their shell come Eurovision time. They’ll know all the songs, list the winners and outstanding acts from previous years, and scream wildly for their favourites. Add to that the cultural phenomenon that is Melodifestivalen, where millions tune in to decide the nation’s Eurovision entry for the year and you've got yourself an event that's almost as big as the European Cup final.  


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also