SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

UNDERSTANDING SWEDES

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.

11 Swedish life hacks that will make you feel like a local
Being outdoorsy is central to Swedish life. As is baring a subtle amount of ankle. Photo: Alexander Hall/imagebank.sweden.se

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/imagebank.sweden.se

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/imagebank.sweden.se

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.  

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

OPINION & ANALYSIS

What’s in a name? Getting to grips with the Swedish postal system

OPINION: I'd never thought before moving abroad that something as simple as the procedure for delivering a parcel could differ so much between different countries. Oh, how wrong I was...

a woman collecting a parcel from an ICA supermarket
Good luck persuading postal workers to deliver your parcels if they're addressed to your nickname. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

In the UK, where I grew up, parcel delivery regulations are relatively loose. Friends have sent letters to me addressed to all manner of nicknames based on my name, Becky, with “Beckminsterfullerene” a particular highlight. These letters always reached me without issue, as the UK’s postal service, Royal Mail, is relatively unbothered about whether the name on the post matches the name of the recipient.

I suspect that this is partly due to the fact that the UK has no up-to-date records of all residents, with their full legal name tied to their current address.

The closest we have to this system is a census is carried out once a decade, supplemented by the electoral register, listing registered voters’ address and name. This means that the British postal service, Royal Mail, does not have a country-wide population register against which they can check addresses against the names of the people who actually live there.

Sweden, however, could not be more different. The name on your parcel must match the name on your ID, or they will refuse to hand over your parcel. This isn’t just postal service workers being difficult – their IT system will not approve parcel delivery if this ID doesn’t match.

Here, parcel delivery and the postal service is closely linked to the folkbokföringsregistret – the population register, where everyone living in Sweden with a personnummer (a Swedish identity number) is listed with their name and current address. Not being listed on this register is the reason why some people living in Sweden without a personnummer sometimes may have trouble receiving post.

This can be extremely irritating, but actually makes sense in my opinion – if the postal service can’t confirm that the recipient lives at the address, then how do they know that important post isn’t being delivered to the wrong person? With vital documents such as bank cards and pin numbers still being delivered by post, this is actually a smart protective measure against identity theft and fraud.

As you may expect, my friends and family at home find this hard to believe, as they are used to a system where the name on the parcel is completely unimportant. This has led to some infuriating discussions at my local supermarket where I pick up my parcels, with postal service workers refusing to hand over my post for a number of seemingly trivial reasons. Scroll down to read some of my best (or worst?) stories.

1. The Christmas present saga

Last year, my dad sent me a pair of trainers as a Christmas present. To make postage easier, he decided to order them directly from the website to my address in Sweden, rather than ordering them to my parents’ home in the UK first.

In theory, this was a good idea, saving postal costs for him and saving the environmental impact of two journeys instead of one.

In practice, I didn’t get the parcel until February, two months after he ordered it.

The reason for this was that he, without thinking, had addressed the parcel to Becky. Unfortunately, my legal name is Rebecca. The parcel arrived at my local post office in good time for Christmas, so I dutifully grabbed my Swedish driver’s licence and my ID card from the Tax Agency and headed out to pick it up.

When I got there, they refused to hand it over. I patiently explained that I was, in fact, Becky, and that Becky is a common nickname for Rebecca.

“I understand,” said the postal worker, “but I still can’t deliver the parcel to you, as it doesn’t match the name on your ID. You’ll have to call Postnord [the Swedish postal service] and ask them to change the name on the parcel in our system before I can hand it over.”

She helpfully gave me Postnord’s phone number and sent me on my way.

Later that day, I called their number, and was met with a 45 minute phone queue – understandable, considering this was just before Christmas, and just before the UK was due to leave the EU, so they were undoubtedly bogged-down with calls asking about customs information.

Eventually, I got through and explained the issue. “We can’t change the name,” they informed me. “You’re not the sender of the parcel, so you’ll have to ask the sender to change the name instead”. I sighed, thanked them for their time and called my dad. He doesn’t speak Swedish, so I drafted an email for him to send to Postnord.

My shoes were on a shelf like this five minutes away from my apartment for two months. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

A few days later, he got a reply. “According to the system, this parcel was sent from a shoe company, not from you. You need to contact the shoe company and get them to change the name instead.”

At this point, we were getting quite annoyed. There were only a few days left to Christmas, and the parcel was only going to be stored in the post office for 60 days before being sent back. The UK was due to leave the EU in January 2021, meaning that we would have to pay import tax if it got returned before we could sort this out.

We contacted the shoe company, based in the UK, and the British customer service representative was perplexed. She was happy to help change the name, but the Postnord website had no information in English, so I had to painstakingly translate the relevant pages. She informed me she would see what she could do, but with Christmas and New Years coming up, they were unlikely to be able to get it done before January.

We waited. January came and went, and the problem still hadn’t been resolved. With just a few days left until the parcel was to be sent back to the UK, I tried one last time to pick it up.

I had a thought – maybe if I took my UK passport with me, they would be able to hand over the parcel? Swedish driving licences have a barcode on the back which postal workers scan, automatically uploading ID into the postal system, meaning errors can’t manually be fixed by postal workers. My foreign passport doesn’t have this barcode – maybe they can change the data manually?

I stood in the queue, heart racing, feeling like I was about to do something illegal. I smiled and handed over my passport like everything was normal. The postal worker typed in my details and went to collect my parcel.

“Is this really happening?” I thought. “Have I gone through all of this when I could have just gone in with my passport instead?”

I still don’t know whether my name was updated in the system or whether she manually input my name as Becky instead of Rebecca.

One thing is certain though: my dad has never sent a parcel to me addressed as Becky since.

2. The baby gift addressed to my newborn daughter

You may have thought that was my only story – if only!

Another issue I had goes back to when my 18-month-old daughter was a newborn. One of my English friends had very kindly ordered a book addressed to me, my husband and our daughter.

Unfortunately, she had only written our first names on the parcel. This was an issue for a number of reasons: firstly, my newborn daughter did not yet have a passport, so there was no way of proving her identity.

Secondly, my husband’s last name was not on the parcel, so we couldn’t prove his identity.

Thirdly, it was addressed to Becky rather than Rebecca, meaning that my name didn’t match the name on the parcel.

Still waiting for your newborn’s passport? You’ll have to wait before you can collect their first post. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

Finally, me and my daughter were still waiting for our personnummer applications to be approved, meaning our names were not listed in the Swedish population register and therefore we didn’t exist on the postal service’s system.

I went down to the post office with my husband’s passport, my passport, our wedding certificate, my daughter’s birth certificate, wearing my daughter in our baby carrier. This wasn’t enough. They believed we were who I said we were, but their system wouldn’t let them hand over the parcel without valid approved ID.

We had the same issue as above – she had ordered the parcel directly from Amazon to save postage rather than sending it directly from the UK, so they were responsible for changing the names on the order.

Unfortunately, they were so slow to act that the parcel was returned.

We did get the book in the end though – we ordered it ourselves from a Swedish company instead and my friend sent over the money.

3. The wedding present addressed to the wrong last name

The final story for this article happened after my husband and I got married. I had chosen to keep my last name, something I had mentioned to family and friends in the run-up to the wedding. A woman keeping her name upon marriage is unusual in the UK, so most of my British friends and family had assumed I would take my husband’s name instead.

Despite this, my mum very excitedly sent a parcel to us after the wedding with some gifts from family. She followed British naming customs, meaning that parcels are addressed to Mr & Mrs, followed by the husband’s first initial and last name. Understandably, this confused the Swedish postal service.

Titles such as Mr and Mrs are uncommon in Sweden, and letters addressed to married women are not addressed to their husband’s name (quite rightly if you ask me), so they were confused as to why I was trying to explain to them that the parcel was addressed to me, despite the initial and last name not matching my own name.

Shes going to have to update her name in the population register before picking up any wedding presents. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/Scanpix

If this wasn’t bad enough, my mum had also misspelled my husband’s surname. By some miracle, the postal worker agreed to hand over the parcel once I produced my husband’s passport and explained that my British mum wasn’t particularly used to writing Swedish surnames, not without reluctantly commenting “I shouldn’t really be doing this…”.

Somewhat exasperated, I rang my mum and patiently explained that no, I hadn’t changed my surname and no, people don’t really use Mr and Mrs here, and yes, it is important that parcels match the recipient’s legal name.

All credit to her, she hasn’t done it again – although I do still call her before she sends a parcel just to make sure.

SHOW COMMENTS