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Five things Swedes do

I’ve loved studying a 2-year master’s programme because I’ve had a lot of time to observe Swedish daily life. If there’s one thing I understand, it’s that there are many norms and unspoken rules in Swedish culture. Nonconformity can be a signal that you aren’t a local — which is totally fine, you don’t need to change to live here :). But, if you want to blend in, these five things have made an impression on me as particularly Swedish things…

1. Coffee on the go? No, no. Fika

By now, hopefully you’ve heard of the Swedish coffee/treat break, fika. Swedish coffee culture is meant to help you take a brief pause, so don’t go rushing on to the next meeting with your coffee in hand! Take a few minutes to catch up with friends and soak up some sun before you get back to work.

Two coffees and a kanelbulle on a table in the sun for Swedish fika.

2. Keep the peace on public transport

If you hop on the bus or metro during normal hours, you might be surprised by how calm it is. Some unspoken norms include avoiding personal phone calls and refraining from striking up conversation with strangers. You’ll find most Swedes on their phones, reading, or chatting quietly with their travel companions.

3. Respect the queue

Whether you’re at the grocery store checkout, a cafe, the club, or simply waiting to board public transport, it is very common for people to wait in a queue. If you cut the line, be prepared for some disapproving looks.

People queueing outside a bus in Stockholm.

4. Pack a lunch & eat at 12:00 

In Sweden the standard lunch break is around 12:00 – 13:00, and at KTH, most people’s class schedules are coordinated around it. Although there are restaurants and cafes where you can buy lunch, it’s really common for students to pack a meal in glass to-go food containers. Nearly every building has kitchen areas with refrigerators and microwaves to handle the lunchtime food-heating rush.

Two homemmade lunches packed in glass tupperwares.

5. Leave your pant

When you buy a can or plastic bottle, the price includes a deposit, or pant, which is part of incentivising people to recycle. At the end of a study day on campus, most of the separated trash bins will have several pant bottles placed on top; they get collected, so don’t throw it in the other bins!

Recyclable pant bottles stacked on bins in the library.

Good luck blending in (or standing out, if that’s your style!) among the Swedes.

// Claire