Swedish Etiquette

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The Swedish people are mostly very friendly and open, even though it’s commonly known that Swedes are not a very warm people, but that might just be a misunderstanding due to the cold climate in Sweden and it having some sort of affect on the people. This is however not true. English speaking tourist’s visiting Sweden will notice how helpful most Swede’s are, even if you are not familiar with the Swedish language, that is not a problem because most Swede’s also speak English. Swede’s are however not very contact seeking, if Swede’s can avoid interaction with people they will strive for it. This is a widely known phenomena you would get to see for example on a bus. If there are two empty seats next to each other a Swede would pick a seat where the person would not have to sit next to anybody unless necessary. But most often if an elderly person comes on the bus or a mother with small children, it is common sense for most Swede’s to give up their seat. If you have a polite and friendly manner you will get the same in return.

Swedes are moralists by nature, but it’s a relaxed environment and gatherings such as dinners are often a formal affair. But it’s more common that guests are invited to a Swede’s home for coffee and cake. When it comes to gatherings whom you have been invited to, there are a few very important things to know about. It’s always important to make a good first impression, so make sure you are on time. It is considered extremely impolite not to be on time, on the other hand don’t arrive early either. Many Swede’s who arrive early to a dinner party etc. would rather sit in the car until the last minute then be too early.

Depending on what kind of gathering it is and how formal it is, don’t be surprised if you are asked to take your shoes off at the door. The more formal the party is the less risk is there of having to take your shoes off. Once inside it is not considered polite to ask the hostess if you could see the rest of the house, the Swede’s are in general very private when it comes to their home and if you are not offered a tour around the house, don’t expect to see all of it.

If you have been invited to a Swede’s home it’s important to bring the hostess a gift, for example a bouquet of flowers. If you chose to give flowers you have to make sure that the bouquet does not contain white lilies or chrysanthemums in it, because they are both the type of flowers you would give at funerals. If the family you are invited to has small children it would be an excellent idea that you give a little something to the children as well.

During a dinner you don’t start eating until the hostess has started eating, and it’s considered rude if you leave food on your plate, therefor don’t take more food then you know you can eat. But also not to forget that it is not a very good idea to take the last piece of anything still remaining without making sure that everybody has had some and that nobody else want’s the last piece.

The Swede’s are people who work hard and in their spare time enjoy being away from it, therefor a topic not to bring up at a dinner would be discussing business, Swedes always try to distinguish between work and home. You do not bring your work home with you or take your home to work.

Although Sweden might come off as a country with a very firm etiquette on what to do and not to do, usually when children are involved it is always less formal, and most etiquette rules does not apply.

A typical gathering at a Swede’s home where children have also been invited, it is very common that the children are let to roam around and do as they please. But if children are at a formal event the common saying is ‘barn ska synas, men inte höras’ (“children are to be seen, but not heard”).

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