Your Essential Guide for Not Being Offensive in Sweden

Photo via Christopher Neugebauer, Flickr


Your Essential Guide for Not Being Offensive in Sweden

With every new destination you visit in Sweden, you’ll need to adapt to traditions, customs and, most important, etiquette. From body language and dining to greeting people and dress code, respecting a nation’s etiquette can be the difference between a fantastic stay in a country and a downright disappointing one.

Etiquette is a code of behavior that describes expectations for social interaction according to conventional norms within a society, social class or group. It is how we expect to be treated in a new destination and how we treat others. This code of behavior changes from country to country – even city to city – and Sweden is no different.

Don’t offend a local by greeting them the wrong way or get into an uncomfortable situation at restaurant when you address your waiter incorrectly. Before you get it wrong, here are the do’s and don’ts of Swedish etiquette.

Patriotic People

From flying their Swedish flags high to supporting their country in every way possible, Swedes are very proud of their nation. Help them love their country more, and they will love you for it!

Do: A great way of complimenting Swedes is by observing awesome things you see about their country. Like any other patriotic country, saying something nice about the traditions, culture or state of the nation, makes its people feel good. Of course, when the Swedes feel good, you’ll automatically get better, friendlier and more efficient services.

Don’t: Swedes are very proud of their towns and regions. Negative comparisons of the regions might be taken personally. Remember when complimenting the country or its people to not do so lightly. Insincere compliments are considered rude and can make you very unpopular amongst Swedes.

Greeting People

Photo via B., Flickr

Do: Give a strong impression with a strong handshake. A good handshake goes a long way in Sweden. When you go to a new place, you should always shake hands with everyone present including men, women and children. It does not matter whether it is a business engagement or social meet up, shaking someone’s hand is very important. And when you leave, you’ll need to shake everyone’s hand again. Younger Swedes won’t usually shake hands with friends, but with older people it is expected no matter who you’re with. If there is no one to introduce you to company, take it upon yourself to do so. In these instances, extend a handshake and say your name as an introduction. It does not matter whether it is a business meeting or social meetup, introducing yourself is important here.

Body Language

Your nonverbal communication is just as important as your verbal communication, and in Sweden it is an essential part of public etiquette. From the way you address someone to touching others in public, Swedes have a conservative approach to body language.

Do: Like in any other western culture, maintaining eye contact while talking to someone is very important. In Sweden this shows a sign of respect. If you can’t maintain eye contact, it makes you seem shifty, disrespectful and untrustworthy.

Don’t: Many Swedes are very reserved when it comes to body language. When in public, do not embrace or touch other people. Even if you are in relationship, public displays of affection can seem invasive to other people, so avoid any overly sexualized displays of affection in public.

Dining & Entertaining

As a visitor to Sweden, you’ll probably spend most of your meal times eating at restaurants or invited to enjoy a meal at someone’s home. Every country has its quirks, and the Swedish dining experience is no different. So before you sit down for a meal, make sure to know the etiquette that is expected.


Do: Tip…if you want to. You don’t need to leave a tip, but if you enjoyed the meal and service you can leave a 10 percent tip. Tipping is not mandatory, but shows appreciation to the person who served you. At bars you usually will pay the bartender directly, and you can leave small coins on the bar as a tip – again this is not expected. In self-service cafes there is no need to leave a tip, even though some cashiers will have tip boxes at the register.


toastDo: When it’s toasting time, always look into the eyes of the person receiving the toast and don’t forget to say Skål (pronounced Skohl)! Once the toast has been said, allow the hosts and older people invited to clink their glasses first before you do. Maintain eye contact while clicking your glass with someone else, and nod as you do so. After all has been said and done, men have to wait for the women to put their glasses down first. At the end of a meal, the men honor the host by tapping on their glasses with a knife or a spoon. Make sure to join in this tradition as it shows thanks to the host on behalf of all guests.

Don’t: When it comes to seating at dinners, it is important to remember not to just sit anywhere. It is important to ask the host where your seat is. There are also specific seating arrangements for the guests of honor, as the female guest of honor is seated to the right of the host, while the male guest of honor is seated to the left of the hostess. Other important etiquette tips to remember are to always ask permission before smoking, make sure to not take a drink until your host has given a toast and never ask for a tour of your host’s home.

Dress Code

Swedes can seem conservative in the way they dress. Understanding this and respecting it is the best way to make sure you don’t get strange looks when walking down the street.

Do: Dress fashionable, but casual when in Sweden, and remember to not wear anything too revealing. During the winter months, make sure to dress warmly. You won’t be frowned upon for packing on the layers of clothing. As long as you are well dressed in public at all times, you should not have a problem.

Helpful Tips

  • Do some research on Sweden history, economy, sport, architecture and arts. Having knowledge about these topics is highly appreciated by the Swedes as it shows interest in their culture.
  • Say thank you. Whether someone took you out for a meal, took you on a tour or just helped you with your luggage, a thank you goes along way and is appreciated.
  • Take a gift to a dinner party like flowers, wine or chocolate to say thank you for the invite. Remember that gifts are opened immediately, so wait to see your host’s reaction.
  • Avoid topics that criticize Swedish lifestyle such as the nation’s sexual habits, the suicide rate or their high cost of living.

Now that you know more about Swedish etiquette, you can visit this beautiful country without having to worry about offending anyone, or disrespecting the culture. If you do decide to offend anyone, it will be on purpose, and we at Umgås can’t say we didn’t warn you. Enjoy!

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