“Lagom är bäst” is a common Swedish saying that roughly translates to “moderation is best” or “enough is as good as a feast”. This concept is deeply rooted in Swedish culture and values and reflects the importance of balance and fairness in daily life. While reading this article, you will see why this saying is so important in Sweden, as it relates to its values and traits.
Here’s everything you need to know about Swedish culture and customs:
Swedish is the official language of Sweden, and nearly the entire population speaks it. It is a North Germanic language, which means it is part of the same language family as Norwegian, Danish, and Icelandic. Swedish has many similarities to these other languages, although there are also many pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary differences.
Many Swedes also speak English fluently, so it’s possible to get by in Sweden without speaking Swedish. In fact, many international students find they can get by with English in their daily interactions. That being said, learning some Swedish can be very helpful for navigating daily life, as not all signs and menus are available in English.
One interesting aspect of Swedish is that it has a gender-neutral pronoun, “hen,” which is used to refer to someone without specifying their gender. This has become increasingly common in recent years as a way to be more inclusive and avoid assumptions about someone’s gender identity.
Family is an important part of Swedish culture, and Swedes tend to have close-knit relationships with their immediate family members. It is common for families to gather for regular meals and celebrations, such as holidays and birthdays.
Typically, in Swedish families, both parents are employed, and household chores are allocated among family members regardless of age or gender. In fact, Swedish fathers are often encouraged to take paternity leave and be actively involved in their children’s upbringing.
Compared to some other countries, Swedish families tend to be small. The average household size in Sweden is relatively small, with around 1.7 children per household.
Despite the small size of Swedish families, family ties are still strong. It is common for parents to be actively involved in their children’s lives, and many Swedes prioritize spending time with family members over other activities.
Sweden has a rich history of religious diversity and is now widely regarded as one of the most secular nations in the world. Although the majority of Swedes are technically affiliated with the Lutheran Church of Sweden, only a small portion of the population practices their faith regularly or openly identifies as religious.
Generally, religion plays a minor role in Swedish public life, and individuals tend to keep their beliefs private. It is common for Swedes to consider religion a personal matter and to avoid discussing it openly with others.
Despite this, Sweden places a high value on religious freedom and allows individuals to practice any religion they choose. There are a variety of religious groups represented in Sweden, including Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and others.
Swedish cuisine is heavily influenced by the country’s geography and climate, emphasizing fresh, local ingredients. The long, cold winters in Sweden have led to a tradition of preserving foods, such as pickling vegetables and curing meats, which can be enjoyed throughout the year.
Here’s a list of popular foods in Sweden:
- Meatballs. Small, savory meatballs made from ground beef and pork, seasoned with onion, breadcrumbs, and spices. They are typically served with mashed potatoes, lingonberry sauce, and pickled cucumbers.
- Gravlax. Cured salmon that is typically served thinly sliced with a sweet mustard sauce, dill, and bread. The curing process involves rubbing the fish with a mixture of salt, sugar, and dill, and allowing it to cure for several days.
- Smörgåstårta. A savory sandwich cake made with layers of bread, mayonnaise, and various toppings such as seafood, cheese, and vegetables.
- Smulpaj. A Swedish dessert that is similar to a crumble or crisp. It is typically made with fresh berries or fruit that are topped with a crumbly mixture of flour, sugar, butter, and oats and then baked in the oven until the topping is golden brown and crispy. Smulpaj can be served warm or cold, often with a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream on top.
- Räkmacka. A popular open-faced sandwich that is typically served as a light meal or snack in Sweden. It consists of a slice of bread, usually rye bread, topped with a generous layer of mayonnaise and a pile of peeled shrimp, often accompanied by a slice of hard-boiled egg, lettuce, and lemon wedges.
Swedish clothing reflects the country’s cold weather and seasons. Winter clothing is warm and cozy, with heavy jackets, scarves, gloves, hats, and boots with good traction. Layering is also common. During the summer, Swedes dress casually in lightweight and breathable clothing, such as shorts, t-shirts, sundresses, and sandals.
Swedish fashion is minimalist and functional, featuring neutral colors and simple designs. Swedes value sustainability and ethical production, with many brands prioritizing eco-friendly materials and recycling. Clothing in Sweden is practical, comfortable, and stylish, with an increasing emphasis on sustainability.
Traditional clothing in Sweden includes the Sverigedräkten and the Folkdräkt.
The Sverigedräkten is a folk costume introduced in the late 19th century to promote national identity and cultural pride. Women wear a dark blue skirt and bodice, while men wear a dark blue jacket, white shirt, black pants, and a black hat. The Sverigedräkten is often adorned with jewelry and is worn for special occasions to symbolize Sweden’s cultural heritage.
The Folkdräkt, on the other hand, is a traditional costume worn by people in different regions of Sweden. It consists of various styles of blouses, skirts, vests, and hats, all unique to specific regions. The colors, materials, and designs of the Folkdräkt vary greatly depending on the region and can include intricate embroidery and patterns.
The Folkdräkt is often worn during cultural events, celebrations, and traditional festivals and is a source of pride for many Swedes who value their regional identity and heritage.
Art in Sweden has a long and rich history, dating back to prehistoric times, with rock carvings and paintings found throughout the country. Over the centuries, Swedish art has been influenced by various artistic movements from around the world, including Romanticism, Realism, and Modernism.
Some popular art forms in Sweden are:
- Painting. Swedish painting has been notable for its use of bright colors and bold, expressive brushstrokes. The Skagen Painters, a group of artists who lived and worked in Skagen, Denmark, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, influenced the Swedish painting style. Carl Larsson, Anders Zorn, and Bruno Liljefors are some of the most well-known Swedish painters.
- Sculpture. Swedish sculpture is known for its modern and avant-garde style. The works of Carl Milles, in particular, are highly regarded and can be found throughout Sweden.
- Photography. Photography has played a significant role in Swedish art, with many notable photographers hailing from Sweden. Among them are Christer Strömholm, known for his street photography, and Lennart Nilsson, famous for his medical and scientific photographs.
- Design. Sweden is also known for its contributions to design, with companies such as IKEA and H&M achieving global success. Swedish design is often characterized by its simplicity, functionality, and clean lines.
Sweden has several world-class museums showcasing its art and design. The National Museum in Stockholm, the Gothenburg Museum of Art, and the Malmö Konstmuseum are among the most well-known.
Sports are an important part of Swedish culture, and many Swedes are actively involved in sports either as participants or spectators. Some popular sports in Sweden include:
- Ice Hockey
Sweden boasts a vibrant and diverse music scene with a range of genres and artists. Pop music is a notable genre associated with Sweden, and the country has given rise to successful pop acts such as ABBA, Roxette, and Max Martin, who has written hit songs for several international pop stars.
Sweden is also recognized for its metal scene, with bands like Opeth, In Flames, and Amon Amarth gaining worldwide fame, and its electronic music scene, with Swedish House Mafia being one of the most prominent acts globally.
Traditional Swedish music includes folk music featuring instruments such as nyckelharpa, fiddle, accordion, and Swedish bagpipes.
Sweden has also become a hub for music streaming services, with Spotify, founded in Stockholm in 2006, being the world’s leading music streaming platform.
Swedish Fika is a cherished custom deeply ingrained in Swedish society. The concept of Fika is a daily ritual of taking a break from work or other activities to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea, often accompanied by a cinnamon bun (‘kanelbulle’).
The act of Fika is not just about enjoying a beverage and a snack but also about socializing and spending time with others.
Swedish Do’s and Don’ts
- Do respect personal space. Swedes value their personal space, so avoid standing too close or touching someone unless invited to do so.
- Do remove your shoes. It’s common practice to remove your shoes when entering someone’s home in Sweden.
- Do be punctual. Swedes are known for their punctuality, so arrive on time for appointments and meetings.
- Do embrace fika. Fika is a Swedish tradition of taking a coffee break with friends or colleagues. Embrace this tradition by enjoying a coffee and pastry with others.
- Do be environmentally conscious. Swedes have a strong emphasis on sustainability and eco-friendliness. Be mindful of recycling and reducing waste, and try to use public transportation or walk instead of driving when possible.
- Don’t skip the queue. Swedes value fairness and respect for others, so cutting in line is considered impolite.
- Don’t make loud noises. Swedes tend to be quiet and reserved, so avoid making loud noises or being disruptive in public spaces.
- Don’t be overly familiar. Swedes are generally reserved and don’t often engage in small talk with strangers. Don’t be overly familiar or intrusive.
- Don’t be late. Swedes value punctuality, so don’t be late for appointments or meetings. If you are unavoidably delayed, be sure to inform the other party in advance.
Values and Traits
Sweden values social equality, inclusiveness, and a strong work ethic. The country is known for its high levels of trust and respect for individual privacy. Swedes tend to value personal space and avoid conflict while also valuing sustainability and environmentalism.
Some of the key values and traits in Sweden include:
- Equality. Sweden is often praised for its commitment to social equality, with policies and programs in place to support and uplift all members of society. This includes a strong emphasis on gender equality, with Sweden often ranked as one of the most gender-equal countries in the world.
- Individualism. While Sweden values social equality, it also places a high value on individualism and personal freedom. This can be seen in its progressive social policies, such as its generous parental leave and extensive welfare state, which allow individuals to pursue their own goals and aspirations.
- Trust. Trust is a fundamental value in Swedish society, with people generally placing a high level of trust in each other and in institutions such as the government and police. This can be seen in the country’s low levels of corruption and crime and its high levels of social cohesion.
- Respect for nature. Sweden is a country with a strong connection to the natural world, with many Swedes valuing the outdoors and engaging in activities such as hiking, skiing, and camping. There is a strong emphasis on environmental protection and sustainability, with many policies and initiatives in place to reduce the country’s carbon footprint and preserve its natural resources.
- Modesty. Swedes tend to be modest and humble, reluctant to draw attention to themselves or their achievements. This can be seen in the country’s flat hierarchy, with managers and leaders often being accessible and approachable to all members of an organization.
- Punctuality. Swedes are known for their punctuality, with timeliness being an important aspect of personal and professional life. It is considered rude to be late for a meeting or appointment, and it is common for trains and buses to run on time.
Traditions, Holidays, and Celebrations
Here are some festivities and celebrations in Sweden:
- Midsummer. Midsummer, or Midsommar in Swedish, is one of the most important holidays in Sweden. It occurs on the Friday closest to the summer solstice, usually between June 19-25. Celebrations involve dancing around a maypole, eating traditional foods such as herring and potatoes, and drinking schnapps.
- Sweden’s National Day. Also called Swedish Flag Day, it is observed on June 6th to honor the election of King Gustav Vasa in 1523, which established Sweden as an independent nation. It was declared an official national holiday in 2005. Swedes celebrate the day by raising the Swedish flag, participating in cultural events, parades, concerts, and picnics with friends and family. The Swedish royal family greets the public during a ceremony held at the Royal Palace in Stockholm.
- Lucia Day. Lucia Day, or Saint Lucy’s Day, is celebrated on December 13th. It involves a procession led by a young woman wearing a crown of candles and singing traditional songs. Other traditional foods and beverages are also consumed during the celebration.
- Christmas. Christmas is celebrated in Sweden on December 24th, with a traditional meal of ham, meatballs, and other dishes. Other traditions include decorating a Christmas tree, attending church, and exchanging gifts.
- Easter. Easter is celebrated in Sweden with traditions such as decorating birch twigs with feathers and colorful eggs, eating traditional foods such as pickled herring, and participating in egg hunts.
- Valborgsmässoafton. Valborgsmässoafton, or Walpurgis Night, is celebrated on April 30th and marks the arrival of spring. Celebrations include bonfires, singing traditional songs, and drinking alcoholic beverages.
- Crayfish Party. The Crayfish Party is a summer tradition in Sweden, usually held in August. It involves eating crayfish and drinking schnapps, often while wearing paper hats and singing traditional songs.
Daily Life in Sweden
Swedes place a high value on work-life balance, with many companies offering flexible work schedules and generous parental leave policies. This allows Swedes to prioritize their personal lives and spend time with family and friends outside of work.
In addition, Sweden has a well-developed public transportation system, with reliable buses, trains, and subways in urban areas. Many Swedes also use bikes to get around, particularly in cities like Stockholm, where bike lanes are common.
Spending time outdoors is a great pastime activity, particularly during the summer months when the weather is mild and the days are long. Popular outdoor activities include hiking, swimming, cycling, and boating.
Swedes tend to value personal space and privacy, but they also place a high value on socializing with friends and family. The popular Swedish tradition known as fika, a coffee break that usually involves pastries or cake while socializing with coworkers or friends, demonstrates the importance of socialization.
Sweden is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, with a high internet and smartphone usage rate. Many daily tasks, such as banking, grocery shopping, and public transportation, can be easily managed through mobile apps or online services.
The Swedish Monarchy
King Carl XVI Gustaf, who ascended to the throne in 1973, currently serves as the ceremonial figurehead of the Swedish monarchy, which is a constitutional monarchy with limited political power.
The royal family, which is highly respected and popular in Sweden, performs duties such as representing the country and promoting its culture and values. Despite the lack of significant political power, the monarchy is still an important symbol of stability and continuity in Swedish culture and tradition.
Interested in studying in Sweden? Here’s our step-by-step guide for international students.