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The Culture Guide: 5 Things You Should Not Do When Visiting Sweden

There’s some truth to the stereotype that Swedes are polite yet reserved. Still, most of them are happy to welcome tourists to their country. However, if you want to get the most enjoyment out of your Swedish vacation, it’s best to understand the culture and comport yourself in a way that Swedes find normal and acceptable. Here are five things you should never do when you visit Sweden.

1. Don’t Assume That All Swedes Speak English

Although more than 80 percent of people in Sweden speak English, not all of them do. It’s smart to have a few common phrases at the ready in case you need them. A “hej” (hello) or “tack” (thank you) shows your hosts that you’re making an effort to appreciate their language.

If you do attempt to speak Swedish, don’t use the exaggerated accent and gestures of the Swedish chef on the Muppets. Most Swedes don’t think he’s funny.

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2. Avoid Loud and Animated Conversation

Swedes talk calmly and without much body language. What might be considered normal volume in America can come across as loud and obnoxious in Sweden. If your conversation becomes too expressive, you might see Swedes turn away and shade their eyes. That’s a sign to dial it back.

Also, Swedes value personal space. Don’t stand too close to other people, and don’t sit next to someone on a bus unless it’s the only type of open seat. And never cut a line. It’s unwelcome anywhere, but it’s shocking in Sweden.

3. Don’t Wear Shoes in a Swedish Home

If you’re invited to someone’s home, take off your shoes as soon as you walk through the door. There will likely be a rack where you can leave then, and your host may even offer slippers.

Even if guests are nattily dressed, perhaps for an evening on the town, the shoes still come off. That’s why it’s a good idea to wear clean, comfortable socks without holes. They look and smell better, and sometimes Swedish floors are cold.

4. Don’t Worry If There’s Silence

Much of the world is abuzz with conversation. If there are a handful of people gathered, it’s expected that someone (maybe more than one person) will be talking. Not so in Sweden.

Swedes are comfortable with silence. They avoid small talk and don’t speak unless they have something to say. To outsiders, it can feel funny when there’s a bus full of passengers and no one’s saying a word.

This may seem awkward to you, but for Swedes it’s comfortable. Relax and enjoy the fact that you don’t have to think of anything to say.

5. Don’t Dress Down When Stepping Out

If you go to a nightclub in Stockholm wearing your grubbies, they probably won’t let you in. It’s called “face control.” Often it’s at the bouncer’s discretion who is well-dressed enough and who isn’t. You’ll find some fashionable clothing in Swedish stores if you didn’t bring along enough stylish threads.