What Tourists Should Never Do in Sweden

Fig Police Policewoman Funny | © Max Pixel
Fig Police Policewoman Funny | © Max Pixel
Photo of Judi Lembke
27 June 2017

No one wants to be that tourist who stands out like a sore thumb by saying or doing the wrong thing or otherwise offending residents, so how can visitors manage to blend in with the locals during a trip to Sweden? Steer clear of the following behaviours to increases the chances of a smooth holiday visit.

Don’t Talk About Money

Don’t ask how much people make, how much their house cost, or what they spent on anything. If they offer that information, just smile and move on. This is an odd one because Sweden is completely transparent in other ways including being able to text a number to find out what anyone in the country makes, the value of their home, and how much they spent on those trousers from H&M.

Don't talk about money | ©Sippeangelo / Flickr

Never Say ‘Hurdy Gurdy’

Oh, ho, ho, ho, ho! Isn’t the Swedish Chef hilarious? Doesn’t he sound JUST LIKE the Swedes? Actually, ask any Swede and they’ll say he sounds more like a deranged Norwegian—but don’t ask because that’s not a good way to make any friends. Swedes may smile faintly at the mention of the famous Muppet’s character but no, they don’t find him particularly funny.

No Hurdy Gurdy here | ©HarshLight / Flickr

Don’t Smoke Weed

Sweden has tough drug laws. With no scale, hash is considered as dangerous as heroin—and Swedes generally have no issue with this. They might get falling-down drunk on a Saturday night, but it’s rare to see anyone whip out a joint, a bowl, or a bong. It’s simply not done and the few people who do smoke keep it a secret.

Stick to beer and forget the weed | ©MattysFlicks / Flickr

Keep a Low Profile

Don’t gesticulate while speaking loudly. Swedes are low-key and speak in calm, measured tones while generally adhering to the famous rule of jäntelagen. Of course, when they’ve had a few drinks this might change. The joke in Sweden is if you encounter a really loud person on the streets they are either a) Drunk, b) American, or c) Both.

This is not the thing to do | ©Pelle Sten / Flickr

Never Leer at the Opposite Sex

Swedes have raised subtly checking out attractive people to a high art. Learn from them and leave the catcalls or wolf whistles at home. Those who try it will not only upset the object of their attention and gain a telling off from the person, but everyone else within hearing range will probably join in as well.

<a href = "https://www.flickr.com/photos/familjenhelsingborg/16041949503/in/photolist-qrzbGg-bfqmCT-Sk2esw-i9B3fv-oJqF3w-iexKS9-x7LAu-aN9htv-kydZ7k-kydBRg-p4sxQB-c2Yu9h-cG2Zxo-mvj9dg-fafFWQ-f3MAzx-Bjn5zS-7EPDxY-kydKBV-7EPRoN-bkbWXq-kydBwD-puKEKx-7ELLSM-dCnVvm-7EPFh9-kydZ3n-7EL5KK-4FmFrA-e1YeYV-7EQAjG-7EMRop-dVSPJr-hrFcFq-7EPNHw-7EQJ2L-6m9BuB-kyfyLd-pDa5eV-7EPtdW-7ELJex-kL7M92-7EQ2cL-7ELQZk-7EQtkA-7EKGS4-7EQqbY-7EKH6D-7ERFij-a4VQdM"> City Life | © Familjen Helsingborg/Flickr

No God Bothering

Less than 5% of Swedes attend church with any regularity. While there is a high tolerance for religious differences in this sectarian country, no one wants to hear about it. Those who do try to discuss their religion will be met with painfully-polite silence and tight smiles—or find themselves in for one hell of a debate as to why religion should remain their personal business because no one wants to hear about it.

Don't talk about religion | ©Allie_Caulfield / Flickr

No Sex Trade

In Sweden, it’s legal to sell sex but illegal to buy it. Sweden is a global leader in combatting the sex trade,with Her Majesty Queen Silvia making it one of her main causes. It’s rare to see prostitutes on the streets and those who are find support in getting out of the work instead of shame for working in it.

<a href = "https://www.flickr.com/photos/wanhoff/5271199920/in/photolist-92Nh6f-dR4jV5-9wbKF9-92KaHi-ehjhYH-ehq2YY-9wbLVW-qYXAUy-4GvszS-ehji6K-ehq2Q7-pMFB1g-ehq2Uw-ehq2Wh-Sqz8am-dFhdaR-dFhcA2-oKtd57-hw8Rdd-Sczmvs-bbsj34-8TNck8-r8ckqS-99xQq9-e4P5iR-bBrZwv-nFhvGU-bbsjgB-noZFgF-SWQUZo-noZBTh-bbsjuv-nFt9ow-noZH2V-o8uhQ3-mBzYEx-np15fe-nFuhJ8-noZGaz-4Rj2u6-noZCQN-SLEHmj-doQ5vw-UuqR6K-FMbYPW-SLEFJG-89KtkJ-doPW2R-doRpEX-asQMkt"> Anti Human Trafficking Day 2010 | © Thomas Wanhoff/Flickr

Never Ask for Decaf

Swedes are among the biggest coffee drinkers in the world, with average consumption 4-5 cups a day. And the coffee is very, very strong, just the way they like it. Most places won’t even have decaf on offer—and even if they do, it’s probably some powdered mess mixed with water. Either go all-in or choose something else.

Drink it strong or don't drink it at all | ©kate mccarthy / Flickr

Never Say Swedes are like the Norwegians. Or the Danes.

The three Scandinavian countries may have some shared history, but they are all fiercely proud of their own cultures. And since Sweden is the biggest and arguably the most powerful of the three, Swedes are very protective of their position. The languages are not the same, the people are not the same, and even the landscapes of each country are very different. Appreciate the Swedes for what they are.

All Scandinavians are not created equal | ©Fredrik Rubensson / Fickr

Don’t Imply Swedish Women are ‘Easy’

Swedish women—and men, for that matter—are fully in control of their sexuality and do not consider enjoying sex and having active sex lives as ‘being easy’. They are forthright about their sex lives and aren’t keen on having sex with anyone who doesn’t understand the basic concepts of owning one’s behaviour and being safe. Sex is not seen as shameful in any way and openly discussed.

Being in control doesn't mean easy | ©Emily Doe / Flickr

Don’t Expect People to Buy Rounds

Buy the first round and think someone else will buy the second? Think again. Drinking in bars is relatively expensive, but it’s really all about culture and tradition. For many years, booze was heavily controlled by various authorities so people were quite stingy with what they managed to acquire. This has carried over into modern times. While close friends might buy rounds, it’s rare for this to happen among anyone else. If they do, they’ll ask recipients to ‘swish’ them the money.

Nope, they're not going to buy your beer | ©Henry Burrows / Flickr

Cookies Policy

We and our partners use cookies to better understand your needs, improve performance and provide you with personalised content and advertisements. To allow us to provide a better and more tailored experience please click "OK"