Every country has its own distinctive characteristics. What you find most different about Sweden will obviously depend on your own cultural background. Sweden has long been an open and accepting society and international influences have shaped and enriched Swedish culture.
As in all cultures, however, many old customs and usages remain; foreigners may at times find these unusual, puzzling or even amusing.
Swedes are generally held to be punctual, law abiding and respectful of rules and regulations. Smoking, for instance, is not permitted in public places such as restaurants, banks, post offices or in shops. These restrictions are respected. When Swedes wait for something they form queues.
Queuing systems have been installed in many larger shops and most banks and post offices. Customers take numbered tickets from a dispensing machine and wait until their number comes up on a display. Bank clerks will simply ignore you if you don't have a queue ticket. If you're in a large store and there is no queue, look for tickets and a number display. This may seem strange at first but it usually ensures quicker service.
The habit of forming queues may in part stem from the importance attached to egalitarianism (equality) in Swedish political thought and practice which, in turn, has become a part of most aspects of Swedish society. This is reflected in the large number of women represented in parliament and government but is also apparent in everyday occupations.
For example, people are normally expected to pay for their share when eating out with colleagues or friends, and tend to calculate the exact amount they owe. As a foreign woman, you may be surprised to find that your Swedish date does not offer to pay for you. By the same token, Swedish women may insist on paying for themselves. However, many Swedish women still respond positively to a bit of old-fashioned courtship. On the other hand, it is not unusual for men and women to form friendships without being romantically involved.
At first, you may find Swedes a bit difficult to get to know. They may seem distant and reserved. But they can also make loyal friends once you get to know them. As a student living in a student dormitory with access to various student activities, you will have a lot of opportunities to make friends.
Swedes generally like hobbies and activities and pursuing them together with others is probably the easiest way to meet and get to know new people. If invited to someone's home it is customary to take off your shoes, especially in winter. This custom is upheld more strictly in smaller towns and rural areas. Nevertheless, to be on the safe side, it may be a good idea to ask. It is also customary to be on time when invited to a dinner party. Eight o’clock means eight o’clock.
Most people moving to a new country usually find many things confusing or strange at first. This will probably be true of your first time in Sweden. Remember, however, that if there is anything you are unsure of the best thing to do is to ask someone. Swedes are informal and willing to help. This is especially true of young people and students, many of whom have travelled widely themselves.
Photo: Henrik Trygg