A Look at Swedish language, culture and customs

In my Social Dimension class, one of our topics is intercultural communications. And as part of it, culture of a certain place or country affects their people intercultural communication with others. As our final activity, each of us should select a european country and gather information about their culture. I chose Sweden. Why? Because I have friend who’s married with a Swedish and I was their made of honor in their wedding here in the Philippines. So, here is my written report. Infos gathered around the internet. 🙂

A Look at Swedish Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette

Facts and Statistics
Location: Between Finland and Norway in Northern Europe, bordering the Baltic Sea, Gulf of Bothnia, Kattegat, and Skagerrak.
Capital: Stockholm.
Climate: temperate in south with cold, cloudy winters and cool, partly cloudy summers; subarctic in north.
Population: 9,723,809 (2014 est.)
Ethnic Make-up: indigenous population: Swedes with Finnish and Sami minorities; foreign-born or first-generation immigrants: Finns, Yugoslavs, Danes, Norwegians, Greeks, Turks.
Religions: Lutheran 87%, other (includes Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist) 13%.

Language in Sweden
The official language of Sweden is Swedish and it is spoken by the majority of individuals living in Sweden. One of two key minority languages is Saami, which is spoken in the Northern regions of Sweden and finally Finnish. There are also a number of Romanies in Sweden who speak in Romani.

Swedish is not only the official language of Sweden. It is also one of the official languages of Finland. Influences on the Swedish language have come primarily from Latin, German and Danish.

Swedish Culture and Society

Lutheran. The Church of Sweden professes the Lutheran branch of Christianity and it has a membership of almost 7 million people; making it the largest Lutheran Church globally. Although over 75% of Swedish citizens are members of the church, only 2% regularly attend church services.
The Ethnic Make-up of Sweden. The indigenous population of Sweden is comprised of Swedes with Finnish and Sami minorities. Foreign-born or first-generation immigrants are typically of Finnish, Danish, Norwegian, Greek and Turkish ethnicity.

The Culture of Sweden
One of the key characteristics of Swedish culture is that Swedes are egalitarian in nature, humble and find boasting absolutely unacceptable. In many ways, Swedes prefer to listen to others as opposed to ensuring that their own voice is heard.
When speaking, Swedes speak softly and calmly. It is rare that you were witness a Swede demonstrating anger or strong emotion in public.

In terms, Swedes rarely take hospitality or kindness for granted and as such, they will give often give thanks. Failing to say thank you for something is perceived negatively in Sweden.

Behaviours in Sweden are strongly balanced towards ‘lagom’ or, ‘everything in moderation’. Excess, flashiness and boasting are abhorred in Sweden and individuals strive towards the middle way. As an example, work hard and play hard are not common concepts in Sweden. People work hard but not too hard, they go out and enjoy themselves, but without participating in anything extreme.

Due to the strong leaning towards egalitarianism in Sweden, competition is not encouraged and children are not raised to believe that they are any more special than any other child.

Social Welfare and Change Programs
In Sweden’s advanced general welfare state, communal institutions ensure the well-being and economic security of all citizens. No other country has as low a rate of poverty and social exclusion.

Health, education, and social-welfare programs are comprehensive and universal. Coverage for all citizens prevents the development of an underclass.

Infant Care. Expectant mothers are entitled to paid leave from work during the last months of pregnancy. Both parents normally attend free childbirth-education classes; most mothers and some fathers continue with parenting classes. Fathers are usually present at birth. Nearly all mothers breast-feed their babies, a practice made feasible by the fifteen months of paid parental leave per child. Breast-feeding can be done in public places without embarrassment. Parent-child cosleeping is relatively prevalent. Infants are allowed to develop at their own pace; to attempt to “discipline” them in matters that they cannot understand is considered a mark of parental ignorance.

Child Rearing and Education. Most young children spend some of their time in professional child-care settings. These institutions are publicly funded and are available to all children. Parents may choose between day-care centers, part-time children’s groups, drop-in preschool activity centers, and child minders in private homes. Most of these services are municipally organized, but some take the form of nonprofit foundations, private companies, and parent cooperatives. User fees cover about 14 percent of the total costs, with tax revenues covering the rest.

Education. Education is free from preschool through the university level, and most medical care is free or available for negligible fees. The costs of these services are covered by a system of progressive taxation.

Schools are well funded and of high quality. Until the late 1990s there were few private schools. The public school system emphasizes inclusive values such as aiding children with special difficulties rather than targeting resources toward the most talented pupils. Much school activity cultivates independence and self-sufficiency. At the same time, cooperative social skills are of central importance and are nurtured in after-school activities, leisure-time centers, clubs, and sports leagues.

In 1979, the parliament passed a law forbidding corporal punishment, making Sweden the first nation in which parents were forbidden to strike their children. The law is widely known and accepted.

Literature written for children is frank, open, and non-patronizing. This sensibility was visible in the critical social realism of many 1960s and early-1970s works, and is equally present in the more fantasy-oriented children’s books of the decades before and after that period. Strong, self-reliant female characters have been a specialty; the most celebrated is Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking.

The frankness that characterizes children’s literature is typical of conversations between adults and children, and parents engage in serious discussions with their children on morally charged topics ranging from fair play to drugs to sexuality (sex education begins at the age of seven). Taking children seriously is seen as a matter of basic respect for persons who exist in their own right.

Higher Education. About one in three students begins some form of higher education within five years after completing upper secondary school. Half of these students are women. Most universities and colleges are state-financed but locally administered. Free tuition and grants and loans for living expenses make higher learning available without regard to social class.
In regard to adult education, individuals have a right to continue their education in municipally organized programs, which have expanded significantly since 1997. In addition, 150 folk colleges ( folkhögskolor ) offer a wide range of state-subsidized courses for adults. Local governments, unions, churches, and voluntary associations run the folk colleges, which are usually residential and are situated in bucolic settings.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

The selection of romantic, sexual, and conjugal partners is a matter of individual choice. A prospective mate’s personal character and appearance are important criteria, while family approval is not. Marrying for money and security is rare; the general welfare society frees individuals to base marriage on affection, not economic need.

Public schools inaugurated modern sex education in 1955. Today free or subsidized contraception allows women to postpone or limit childbearing. Abortion is permitted through the eighteenth week of pregnancy, but 93 percent of abortions are performed before the twelfth week. Roughly one of four couples consists of unmarried partners. Such non-marital cohabitation (called sambo, or “living with”) is socially accepted and has since 1988 entailed nearly the same legal rights and responsibilities as marriage.

Many sambo partners eventually marry, particularly if a child is expected or has arrived, but illegitimacy is not stigmatized. If a couple does not specify a newborn’s surname, the child automatically receives the mother’s surname. The divorce rate has doubled in the last thirty years. Lesbian and gay couples can have a sambo relationship or can establish a registered partnership with the same legal consequences as matrimony.

Domestic Unit. Families are predominantly nuclear rather than extended. While the two-parent household with children remains normative, the rate of single-parent households is high. No industrialized nation has a higher frequency of one-person households, which are particularly common among young adults in urban areas and among the elderly.

Women are the chief providers of social support for the young and the aged. This burden has been mitigated as women’s unpaid work has been partially displaced by state-supported professional child-care and elder-care services. Patriarchal family structures have declined as traditional patterns of male authority and female economic dependency have been supplanted by a reliance on communal institutions.

Inheritance. Since 1845, sons and daughters have had equal rights to inherit. Today the law seeks an equitable balance between potential claimants. A single or widowed person’s estate is divided evenly between his or her children or between other relatives. One cannot disinherit one’s children: the law overrides wills and sets aside half of an estate for the descendants. Upon a married person’s death, the estate belongs to the surviving spouse; when that spouse dies, the couple’s children can inherit. If the deceased had children by a former marriage or relationship, they may claim a partial inheritance. Sambo relationships do not entail the same rights of survivorship.

Kin Groups. Kin solidarity is weak beyond the level of the nuclear family. Only 3 to 4 percent of elderly persons live with family members other than their spouses. Working adults typically spend time with their parents at Christmas, on birthdays and anniversaries, and during vacations; those who live in the same city as their parents may have some meals together. Detailed population records kept by the Church of Sweden make it possible for people to trace their kin over many generations.

The Family
The family in Sweden is extremely important and as such, the rights of children are well protected. The rights afforded to Swedish families to ensure that they are able to adquately care for their children are some of the best rights in the world. An overview of these rights is as follows:

  • Either the mother or father is entitled to be absent from work until their child reaches 18 months old.
  • Either parent has the right to reduce their workload by 25% until their child reaches 8 years old (and is formally ready for school).
  • A parental allowance is paid for 480 days, which is intended for both parents. Sixty of these days must be used by the ‘minority’ parents. For this reason, this element of the allowance is often known as ‘Daddy’s months’.
  • You have the right to up to 60 days off per year to care for a sick child.
    A number of people in Sweden however, challenge the degree to which these rights are truly positive as statistics suggest that women often fall way behind their male colleague in respect to position in pay.
  • Anyone travelling to Sweden will notice the family friendly environment of most resturants and other such establishments. Even trains have a toy and play area!


Religious Beliefs. The Church of Sweden emerged as a national church during the Protestant Reformation. For centuries, this evangelical Lutheran institution had state support and cultural hegemony, although it faced competition from non-conformist churches born of nineteenth-century revival movements. In the year 2000, state and church divorced amicably, leaving the church with increased autonomy.

Eighty-five percent (85%) of the people are members of the Church of Sweden. There is considerable religious pluralism, as a result of immigration. There are an estimated 250,000 Muslims and 166,000 Roman Catholics as well as significant numbers of adherents of other religious movements. Freedom of religion is constitutionally guaranteed.

Members of the Church of Sweden often say that they are Christian “in their own way,” and are uninterested in dogma. The deepest spiritual emotions are often experienced while one is alone in nature. Lutheran ideals and Renaissance humanism have engendered a demanding social morality with an openness to scientific modernity. Boasting about one’s faith is considered distasteful.

Religious Practitioners. Recent reforms have made the Church of Sweden a more democratic religious organization. Members elect a General Synod that decides questions of doctrine as well as administrative matters. Women make up 30 percent of the priesthood, a proportion that is rising. Church workers often combine pastoral labors with civic engagement, particularly in support of refugees and international aid. Pastors’ presence as community leaders is most evident after collective tragedies such as fatal accidents and violent crimes.

Rituals and Holy Places. Church attendance is low except on special occasions; less than 5 percent (5%) of the members regularly attend Sunday services in the Church of Sweden. Holiday observances are more popular. Three of four infants are baptized, of whom half are later confirmed. Three of five marriages are performed by the Church of Sweden.
Death and the Afterlife. Ninety percent (90%) of funerals take place in the Church of Sweden. The practical arrangements usually are handled by a national organization that is part of the cooperative movement. Autopsies are common to determine the cause of death, embalming is rare, and cremation is prevalent. Graveyards are noted for their natural beauty. Many individuals believe that death involves losing one’s individual existence while becoming part of something greater.

The Food

Food in Daily Life. There is a wide array of culinary choices, including pizza, kebabs, falafel, hamburgers, and Chinese cuisine. Nonetheless, it is customary to identify certain items as particularly Swedish because of their association with the agricultural or early industrial past. The term husmanskost, or homely fare, refers to a basic diet of potatoes, meat or fish, and a hearty sauce. A less agrarian dinner alternative is the smörgÃ¥sbord. This buffet meal of cold and hot hors d’oeuvres often includes various forms of herring, meats, cheeses, and vegetables.

Breakfast typically includes bread with butter or cheese; muesli or cornflakes with filmjölk, a yogurtlike milk product; and coffee. Relatively light hot or cold lunches at midday customarily are followed by early-evening suppers. Common components of these two meals include bread, pasta, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, peas, herring, salmon, and meat. Immigration has enriched the range of restaurants, and restaurant patronage is rising.

Effective regulation has made Swedish food perhaps the safest in the world; standardized symbols identify foods that are low-fat, ecologically certified, or produced abroad under humane working conditions. Vegetarian, vegan, and animal-rights movements have prompted Sweden to become the first E.U. member to outlaw battery cages for hens.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. The smörgåsbord is well adapted to festive meals such as Christmas, Easter, Midsummer, and wedding banquets. Meat and fish dishes have greater prominence at these times, as do schnapps and other alcoholic beverages. Certain holidays have trademark dishes: The feast of Saint Lucia (13 December) calls for saffron buns, Midsummer revelers eat pickled herring and new potatoes, and late summer is a time for crayfish parties ( kräftskivor ) and, in the north, gatherings for the ingestion of fermented herring (surströmming).

Secular Celebrations

  • New Year’s Day (1 January) is welcomed at midnight by ships’ horns and civil-defense sirens.
  • Public bonfires illuminate Walpurgis Night (30 April), a celebration popular among university students.
  • On 1 May, trade unionists, Social Democrats, and their allies march through the cities to express solidarity and protest injustices.
  • Midsummer (near the summer solstice in June) is a long-awaited holiday of eating, drinking, and dancing, rivaled in importance only by Christmas.
  • August brings crayfish parties.
  • United Nations Day (24 October) is marked mainly in schools.
  • Halloween (31 October) is a recent import.
  • The world’s most prestigious scientific and literary prizes are presented by the king on Nobel Day (10 December).
  • Candle-lit pageants break the winter darkness on Lucia Day (13 December).
  • Other significant observances include birthdays (with a special jubilee at age fifty), name days, secondary-school graduation, royal fetes, and the long summer vacation.
  • Widely celebrated religious holidays include Easter, Pentecost, Advent, and Christmas.
  • Since 1916, 6 June has been celebrated as Swedish Flag Day. This finally also became Sweden’s National Day in 1983 and a public holiday from 2005. The date was chosen for two reasons: the election of Gustav Vasa as Sweden’s king on 6 June 1523 laid the foundation of Sweden as an independent state; and on the same date in 1809, Sweden adopted a new ­constitution that included the establishment of civil rights and ­liberties.

Etiquette in Sweden

Much etiquette involves the ritual enactment of equality. Thanking occurs frequently, and it is common for the person being thanked to offer thanks in return. People seek to repay debts of gratitude and thus restore symmetrical relations. Conversation partners rarely interrupt one another. Politeness requires attentive listening, which is often made evident by affirmative murmurs. When people disagree, they avoid open expression of conflict.
Rigorous codes of modesty prevent interpersonal competition from sabotaging collective life. All forms of boastfulness are proscribed. Academic and corporate titles are seldom used, and conspicuous consumption is condemned. These norms are beginning to erode, however, particularly among businesspeople who participate in a transnational corporate world in which self-promotion is seen as a virtue.

The Role of Hospitality
Although Sweden is a largely egalitarian and relaxed environment, hospitality and eating arrangements are often a formal affair.

It is more common for guests to be invited to a Swede’s home for coffee and cake as opposed to a meal, but, if you are invited for a meal then ensure that you:

  • Are punctual as it is considered extremely impolite if you are rude. In the same essence, do not arrive too early. It is not an uncommon event in Sweden for guests to sit in the car until the last minute or walk around the block until the expected time of arrival has arrived!
  • Dress smartly as to otherwise would be considered disrespectful to the hosts.
  • Do not ask to see the rest of the house as Swedes are general very private and it is likely that the only room (other than the dining / sitting room) that they would expect you to go to would be the bathroom.
  • When eating, keep your hands in full view, with your wrists on top of the table.
  • The European eating etiquette should be adhered to in respect to knife in the right hand and fork in the left.
  • Do not start eating until the hostess has started.
  • Do not take the last helping from a plate.
  • Finish everything on your plate as it is considered rude to leave any food uneaten.
  • Do not offer a toast to anyone more senior to you in age. When offering a toast then lift your glass and nod at everyone present looking from those seated on your right to those seated on your left before taking a sip. You should then nod again before replacing your glass on the table.
  • It is important that you do not discuss business at the table as Swedes try to distinguish between home and work.
    During formal events, the guest seated on the left of the hostess typically stands to make a speech during the sweet, to thank her on behalf of the whole group.
    Always write or call to thank the host / hostess within a few days of attending the dinner.

Meeting and Greeting
Business Personnel in Sweden are typically fairly reserved and as such it is important that all dealings are formal and serious until it is deemed acceptable by the respective Swedish personnel to allow events to become more relaxed.

Key suggestions are as follows:

  • Ensure that, maintaining eye contact coupled with a firm handshake, you shake hands with all attendees on both arrival and departure.
  • Ensure that you address your hosts with either their professional title or their honorific title and their surname – Mr. – Herr or Mrs. – Fru.
  • Younger people are likely to move more quickly to a first name basis than older people.
  • Personal space is important in Sweden and as such it is recommended that you maintain an awareness of someone’s personal space and that you do not invade it.
  • Avoid any unnecessary touching.

Gift Giving Etiquette

  • If you are invited to a Swede’s home then it is suggested that you take the same type of gift as you would give in the UK e.g. a bouquet of flowers or, a box of chocolates.
  • If you choose to give flowers, then ensure that the bouquet does not include white lilies or chrysanthemums. The reason for this being that both types of flowers are typically given at funerals.
  • Since Sweden is such a child centred country, it is always recommended that you take gives for any children who may be part of the family who you are visiting.
    If you are personally given a gift, then it is custom to open it upon receipt.

Business Cards
There are no particular protocols for the exchanging of business cards in Sweden.

What to Wear?
Business wear in Sweden is conservative. As such, we advise the following:

  • Men should wear good quality suits with silk ties and shirts.
  • Women should wear conservative business dresses or a suit.
  • Due to the egalitarian values of Sweden, it is strongly recommended that you do not wear anything flashy. Even senior directors or executives do not dress any more elaborately than average employees. As such, avoid ostentatious or, obvious jewellery.

Business Meetings

  • Ensure that you give at least two weeks notice if you are arranging a meeting in Sweden.
  • Months to avoid if possible, include June, July, August and then late February through to early March as most Swedes will be on holiday during these periods. As with the UK, most Swedes are also absent during the Christmas period.
  • Punctuality is absolutely essential. If you are late, then this will reflect very badly on you and will be viewed as discourteous.
  • Swedes rarely engage in small talk at the start of a meeting. Instead, people will move directly to the topics at hand.
  • Meetings are typically governed by an agenda which is distributed to individuals prior to the meeting. There is very little talk outside of the agenda topics.
  • Although most meetings are managed by a particular person, all individuals are expected to contribute.
  • Swedish business personnel are extremely detail focused and as such any presentations should be well prepared with supporting, accurate and relevant data.
  • Be assured that your hosts will pay a great deal of attention to the detail.
  • Swedes rarely make decisions during initial meetings and as such, the first meeting that you have with your hosts is likely to be fairly general and low key.
  • Swedes are direct communicators and as such, “Saying what you mean and meaning what you say” is both practiced and expected.
  • Awkward silences’ are rarely seen as awkward in Sweden and as such, Swedes do not rush to fill conversation silences.
  • If you are trying to sell something then try to tone down the use of emphasis or superlatives as it is very rare that a Swede will over elaborate during a conversation – even if they are trying to sell something. Failure to adhere to this could result in your delivery being viewed as insincere.


  • It is essential that you are cool and controlled during negotiations and that you do not demonstrate any emotion as this will be perceived negatively.
  • Additionally, always bear in mind that the egalitarian nature of Sweden means that decisions and consensus are made across teams. As such endearing yourself to the most senior executives and directors will be of no avail.

Other facts:

  • Sweden banned spanking and other corporal punishments of children in 1979.
    89% of people in Sweden speak English.
  • Advertising to children under the age of 12 is illegal in Norway and Sweden.
  • Aborting a child because of its gender is legal in Sweden.
  • In Sweden, parents are entitled to 480 days of paid parental leave when a child is born or adopted.
  • There are tuition-free Universities in Finland, Austria, Norway, Germany, and Sweden with careers in English for international students.
    You can’t name your child “Ikea” (a famous Swedish furniture store) or “Elvis” in Sweden. Also, Volvo, Superman, etc.
  • Enacted in 1982, the Naming law in Sweden was originally created to prevent non-noble families from giving their children noble names, but a few changes to the law have been made since then.
  • The part of the law referencing first names reads: “First names shall not be approved if they can cause offense or can be supposed to cause discomfort for the one using it, or names which for some obvious reason are not suitable as a first name.”

If you later change your name, you must keep at least one of the names that you were originally given, and you can only change your name once.


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