10 things that are a little strange about life in Sweden

It’s only fair after having pointed out 10 things that I’ve found to be a little better about life in Sweden, to think about the reverse. Switching cultures and countries you spot things that stand out; sometimes because they’re better and sometimes because they’re not. Here’s my 10 in no particular order:

  1. This one is a particular bug-bear of mine, but the Swedes don’t appear to know the proper use of car indicators. It’s a bit like the use of the horn in places like Pakistan, where the horn can mean a range of things from ‘you’re in my way’, to ‘I wonder what this sounds like’, to ‘I’m in a vehicle.’ In Sweden the indicator is usually used to let you know that you have already turned left/right – not that you will but that you have. It’s utterly pointless and totally unhelpful, instead of being an indication of intent it is a final flourish to a manoeuvre that has left me utterly bewildered as to where the car in front or beside is actually going to go.
  2. Sticking with driving, it’s totally fine to use your mobile while driving in Sweden. Or eat an ice-cream, or as we’ve witnessed eat an ice cream and use your mobile while driving. In fact using two-hands to maintain control of your vehicle now seems slightly odd and it’s a definitely a little rebellious streak in an otherwise very sensible nation. *update: this law has now been changed.*
  3. Every nation has it’s strange foods from your fried Mars bar or haggis to in Sweden rotten fish. But those are the exceptional sort of oddities that everyone knows about but no-one usually eats. But Swedes have a love for tastes and foods that are just odd. Salt liquorice for a start and heavily salted at that. Filmjölk is basically sour milk or more accurately it is milk that tastes as if it’s gone bad. Oddly, the Swedes with their love of food that is past its best, are unusually bothered by best-before dates. Madness.
  4. Keeping with the food theme, Sweden seems to be plagued by a lack of good fruit and vegetables. It’s as if there is one delivery lorry of fruit making its way around Europe and Sweden is always the last stop, by which time the fruit has generally seen better days. We’ve lost count of the times in reputable supermarkets we’ve come across fruit that is rotting.
  5. One more for things you put in your mouth. Snus. For those of you who have never ventured this far north before, Snus is peculiar to Sweden and just plain peculiar. It is moist tobacco which you stick up on the inside of your gums either loose or in what looks like a small teabag. This teabag is sucked on for a while and that spat out and left lying about the place. It is a both strange and disgusting habit.
  6. Living in Sweden we are often asked about how we find the weather and it’s no surprise that the climate influences a few of the customs on this list. There are a number of Swedes, who it seems, appear to dress by the calendar which is at times, very odd. I dress by the weather. If the forecast says it is 20 degrees and sunny and my own observations of looking outside say it is warm and sunny then I will dress accordingly and wear shorts and a t-shirt. Dressing by the calendar is an altogether different method, you wake up and remind yourself what month it is, say September, and because September is an autumn month you will dress accordingly (big coats and maybe gloves) irrespective of what the actual weather is like. The same applies in Spring. The dress by calendar Swedes are most at home in summer or winter when the actual weather corresponds to the season but look fairly ridiculous when caught by spring or autumn.
  7. The weather also affects things like leaving the house, in winter you often have several layers to put on, your winter boots, coat, hat, scarves etc…and so actually leaving can take a few minutes, longer if there are several of you all trying to leave at the same time. The Swedes don’t then say goodbye at the door, but in the kitchen or living room and then the guest just walks out. To us Brits this not-saying-goodbye-at-the-door is both understandable and a bit odd. Of course when we stand by the door watching our guests getting ready to go outside they look at us like we’re odd. Nothing could be further from the truth.
  8. Swedes, by and large, are a conformist bunch who, by and large, do as they’re told by the authorities. So when someone stuck up a poster near an ATM and told Swedes to guard their pin so no-one else could see it, they collectively took this to heart and now employ any number of methods to shield the pin. There is the use of wallet or purse as a shield method, the hand over the top method, the lean the body to the side method and so-on. The down-side of this little act of personal privacy protection and the contortions that ensue is that the Swede themselves can rarely see what number they’re pushing and none of them are any good at Braille. So the simple act of pushing four numbered buttons in sequence often requires several attempts. I know this because I work at a check-out and observe this strange behaviour every shift, dozens of times a day.
  9. Sweden is a very informal society and as a result a child is on first name terms with their teacher and we are on first name terms with our dentist and doctor. Not friends of course, but they are not Dr Svensson but Johan or Sophia or whatever. In the medical profession this would appear to be very friendly at put you at ease, except everywhere looks like a 1950s mental institution and everyone is dressed in clinical gear like they’re about to operate or put you in a padded cell even when you’ve just come for a check-up. The dissonance between the friendly terms we’re on and the cold, austere surroundings is the opposite to our local GP surgery back home, with it’s carpets and pot plants and Dr Smith sitting behind his desk.
  10. In England men take the Henry Ford approach to wearing jeans; any colour is fine as long as it’s blue (or maybe at a push black). Not so the Swedish man, long since set free from his Viking ancestors, the modern Swede is all very metrosexual and is very comfortable in a range of coloured jeans – from mustard, plum, beige, green and even salmon pink. The last is apparently not a reliable indication of sexuality despite all appearances to the contrary. For those interested, I am still very much stuck in my British ways.

10 thoughts on “10 things that are a little strange about life in Sweden”

  1. Elias Marklund says:

    You must live far south, or at least further than Skellefteå. I’ve never encounter people covering their apparatus so they type everything wrong, that is some comic book stuff the southies seems to be more keen on! 🙂 But hey i might be wrong. And yes the doctors do wear clothes that make you feel like you’re getting a brain transplant. I think it’s because they are “ready for anything” though, so they can take care of drop-ins faster. Or maybe it’s just cause Sweden is old and dry, with no sense of humor, just like the politics, and our fruits. Don’t know how long you’ve been here, but welcome none the less!

    1. PRW1975 says:

      Hi Elias and thanks for the comment- We live in Stockholm so yes we’re southies! We’ve been here a bit over three years now so slowly getting used to you Swedes and your customs. Det trivs bra!

  2. Sara Åberg says:

    Personally I find British people to be rude and obnoxious and heavy drinkers. And I disagree with some of these things, they are so utterly false I was laughing while reading this. I am from Sweden and I have lived in the country and in the city, so I can assure you that some of these things are false.

    1. Phil Whittall says:

      Hi Sara, thanks for the comment – which ones are false? Though it isn’t really a matter of true or false, it’s what I’ve seen. British people can be all you say (I wouldn’t totally disagree) but if you’ve not seen that then it wouldn’t be true to your observations which are polite, mannered and who drink less than Swedes.

  3. Hana says:

    I had chance to know Stockholm for one year and half, it is mostly now migration country, as I know they dont like much slavistic nationalities and if you get telephone number, propably noone will take it ( I mean office..skatteverket), it is difficult to find rent in capital city so it is normal, if you ask about meeting to see new home, you may get also negative answer that appoitment is over but what is typical, a lot of emigrants from Iraq, Somalia and Eritrea rent home by black way about 4000-5000 swedish crowns monthly, I wont be wonder if their economy goes down because they are afraid from african and others, they take big money from country, even some of them have false receipt from doctor (using special trolley) if you cant move and you take more money but in fact they are healthy

  4. Mia Ricketson says:

    This is the dumbest and most inaccurate description of Swedes that I have ever seen. If you are so negative about Sweden why do you live there . I am Swedish but also lived in England for 20+ years and now live in USA. Where ever I live I look at positive things around me and make it part of my life otherwise you just become miserable.

    1. Simplepastor says:

      Hi Mia, thanks for the comment. I also wrote this one. I love living in Sweden, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that seem strange to me. Those were ten things I noticed, now after 4 years of living here (and planning on staying many more) I’d probably write a different list but there would still be things that I find strange. Which points in particular did you think were inaccurate?

  5. Mateusz Wysokiński says:

    I am not sure what Filmjölk is actually is… but when I read desription of it in English, I supose that is very popular in Poland too. Tastes great with young potatos, butter and dill 🙂

    1. Phil Whittall says:

      Thanks for the tip Mateusz, I’ll try it next time I’m in Poland!

  6. William L says:

    Sara Åberg, Just because someone is happy to engage another in spontaneous conversation, and not sit as far away from their fellow man as humanly possible ( unless they are parking the car, then it seems it’s ok to park as close as possible) and maybe enjoy a drink or two without feeling like they should beat themselves with birch sticks afterwards doesn’t mean they are rude and obnoxious or heavy drinkers. I can only imagine that the ” Brits” you have met was whilst you were on holiday, probably in Southern Spain somewhere, or Thailand which seems to be the norm for Swedish people as I expect at some point the Government told you all to go to on holiday there. I live in Sweden and find the apathetic, ignorant and antisocial attitudes portrayed by Swedes laughable. You all seem incapable of relaxing, unless it’s a Wednesday night or Saturday night, in which case you turn into binge drinking lunatics. Oh thats right, I can’t tar everyone from Sweden with the same brush, unlike you.

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