How to be a Swede (if you‘re not)

When you move to another country, or maybe even continent, interactions with a new culture can be challenging and difficulties in understanding how to adapt often befall. In 2018 international students constituted 20% of the total students in Lund, of whom students on Masters’s program were as high as 60%. In other words, the presence of internationals is inevitable. I just reached my third month here in Lund since I first moved from Oslo in late-August, and it didn’t take me long to realize that there were certain formalities I just had to learn in order to partake in the comprehensive Swedish society, furthermore to feel like a true LundaEkonom

Many international students might feel anxious and insecure regarding how to socialize and interact with these natives Swedes, furthermore how to adjust to the new culture. But don’t you worry – here is an inside guide to the Swedish society that might give you an upper hand before moving to Sweden and when socializing with the Swedes.

Tagga
One of the first words I heard after my arrival, particularly during the Novice Week, was a word they seem to use rather frequently; “tagga”. This is a word you have to acknowledge when part-taking in social contexts and means ‘turn up’ or “get hyped” as Google Translate so nicely puts it. So… tagga till!

Fika
This is such a nice and cozy concept, and an important social aspect of the Swedish culture. The general meaning is to grab a coffee and a food bite (often something sweet) and is much associated with the working life.

Music
After partaking in the Novice Week (and the aftermath) I sometimes found myself on the dance floor surrounded by singing, rather screaming, hyped Swedes, singing to a song I had never heard before. And, presumably similar situations will occur during my time here in Lund. When the actions allowed it however, I carefully “shazamed” the song, to later find the song on Spotify and learn the lyrics. In some cases where this scenario was impracticable, I tried googling the words I could remember, in desperate hope to find the song. To make it a bit easier for the newbies to be, here is a list of the songs I would categorize as important to know:

  • Genom Eld och Vatten (Sarek)
  • Jag kommer (Veronica Maggio)
  • Hej Monica (Nic & The family)
  • Hon får mig (Fricky)
  • Ligga med Nils (Coola Kids)
  • Stad i ljus (Tommy Körberg) this song closes the dance floors every night
  • Cyklar ni så springer jag (Mares)
  • Vill ha dej (Style)
  • Ooa hele natten (Attack)
  • ABBA’s top hits

Furthermore “snapsvisor” is good to be aware of when we’re touching the subject of music, which is quite old fashion songs the Swedes sing at social events or happenings. The lyrics is found in the “sångbok” (song book), which is a small red book you can usually buy at the events or at Skånis. It is also common to write greetings in each other books during these events, and you are only allowed to read what your companions wrote the day after.

“Kanelbulle”
Meaning cinnamon bun. This is very typical Swedish, and the swedes are crazy over these.

“Plugga”
Transalted to ‘studying’.

Systembolaget
The alcohol monopoly in Sweden, which might seem quite strange for people who come from countries where the policy is… well, totally different. However, Systembolaget is the only store you can buy alcohol (with percentage above 3,5), further you have to be 20 years old in order to purchase, and the opening hours are limited, so make sure to learn the opening hours. An important point that refers to all of the stores is that it always closes early on Saturdays (3AM) and is closed every Sunday. So, if you are one of the spontaneous type’s, I would advise you to keep a little stock of your own.

Swedish candy (lösgodis)
Swedish candy is one of a kind. Norwegians usually travel over the boarders to Sweden just to buy cheap candy, along with other cheaper commodities like tobacco and alcohol. There is actually an own Norwegian term called “harry-handel”, which refers to the travel from Norway to Sweden, exclusive to shop cheap goods.

‘Valborg’ and ‘Midsommar’
Two important celebrations in Sweden, and Valborg particularly in Lund. The latter marks the celebration of spring, hence the last day in April towards 1 of May. The day apparently begins early, around 7-8 AM in Stadsparken, where thousands of people are gathered for picnic and fun in the park, followed by events and gatherings at Nations throughout the day.

Midsommar is very characteristic for Sweden, and marks the period of summer solstice, meaning when the sun reaches its highest position in the sky, and the day with the longest period of daylight. The day is often recognized with girls wearing flowers garland, people dancing around a big flower pole called majstång, and celebrating with their friends and families.

Personal Space
Like us Norwegians, the Swedes like their personal space and are not particularly fan of unnecessary contact. Sitting with someone on the bus when there is a vacant seat behind is quite unthinkable. Also, it’s not typical Swedes (nor Norwegians) to talk to strangers unless they have to, for example in terms of directions etc. This is maybe one of the culture features that is quite different from other, may I say rather inclusive, cultures.

Punctuality
This is also a characteristic that is dissimilar in cultures, but I would say it is a common feature in the Scandinavian culture with punctuality. If you are invited to someone’s house or have an appointment, you usually are there on time, or within the quarter.  

Swedish Meatballs
Another typical feature in the Swedish food culture; Swedish meatballs. It’s very typical to eat meatballs with potatoes, sauce and lingonberries. This is also a signature meal you may enjoy at IKEA, after an exhausting furniture shopping. Might be a good idea to fuel up before you return home, only to begin building the bought furniture – this task can be demanding, baffling,  and offer a lot of frustration… (speaking as a post IKEA victim). An additional and interesting fact to include in the end: IKEA is actually a Swedish brand. 

Creative Names?
It seems like the Swedes are neither inventive or innovative when it comes to names. Maybe it’s just me, coming from a different country and everything, but from my perspective it seems that everyone is named either Gustafsson, Olsson, Eriksson, Andersson, Persson or Larsson…

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