5 Things to Know About Swedish Culture

Hej Hej! I’m studying abroad in Växjö and I’m going to let you know some things about Swedish culture that I’ve learned in my time here.

If you’re short on time, or just before you jump into learning more about Swedish culture, take a look at what a typical day in the life studying abroad in Sweden looks like.

1. Swedish people LOVE coffee.

The average Swedish adult drinks eight cups of coffee a day. Coffee is an essential part of the day if you live in Sweden. They have a word to describe drinking coffee and taking a break from work, “fika”. Fika usually entails a warm drink (there’s always tea if you’re not a fan of coffee), a sweet pastry, and some good conversation. This is one of my favorite things about Swedish culture. If you have a job in Sweden they often have a fika break in the afternoon and a lot of classes will actually give you a 15 minute break to go get some coffee.

Swedish coffee and pastries
A typical array of desserts in Sweden

2. Swedes are pretty reserved

The Swedish people are a fairly quiet group. They don’t often talk loudly or act very expressive in public. Don’t mistake this for them being unkind, they are just generally taught to be reserved. Cashiers for example aren’t very into small talk but they will help if you have a question. Almost everyone speaks English so if you have a question don’t feel nervous to approach someone. Although they are reserved, they are in general very kind.

Students receive directions from a local
Students receive directions from a local

3. Lines are a big deal in Sweden

When you go to some stores or a help desk you might see people pushing a button on a kiosk and receiving a little piece of paper. This is their number in line and it’s very important. This isn’t a common thing in grocery stores but if you are going up to a desk to get your mail or you’re at a bank it is there. The Swedes love order which means they love an organized line. After you get your number just wait until it pops up on the screen and then approach the desk.

Waiting in line at a market in Vaxjo
Waiting in line at a market in Vaxjo

4. Recycling and being Eco-Friendly is a really big deal

The Swedish people take global climate change very seriously. Nearly everything can be recycled and they expect you to participate. All signs have both pictures and words so that you know where to put what. The universities and all public places have trash units in which you separate everything. They make the process fairly easy. They also encourage you to recycle by paying you! If you save up your cans and bottles then you can take them to the grocery store. There is a machine there that you put all of them in. You get about 1 Swedish Krona per can (so save up 10 and then that’s about a dollar). After feeding them into the machine you can choose to either get a bar code to get that amount discounted off your groceries or you can donate the money to a charity. I really encourage you to take advantage of all the ways you can be eco-friendly in Sweden.

5. Almost everyone speaks english

I was worried about this before coming here. But thankfully pretty much everyone speaks both English and Swedish. You do often have to let people like cashiers or restaurant workers that you don’t understand swedish, but they usually can speak very fluently. This is very helpful because signs at the grocery store and medication is entirely in Swedish. Don’t be afraid to ask if you are not sure about something. It also helps to have Google Translate on your phone so that you can just take a quick picture of what you’re trying to read and have it translated without asking someone.

Students on campus
Students on campus

I hope you guys enjoyed my insight on Swedish culture! The Swedes are great and I definitely recommend studying abroad here. 

Emily Hutchison is an Eastern Kentucky University student. She studied abroad in Växjö, Sweden and served as a digital communications intern during her time abroad.