How to Live Like a Local in Sweden

This is a guest post by Panion, the common interest app.

As an expat, nomad, or traveler, you find yourself in new countries multiple times a year, month, or even week sometimes. Getting used to a new country or city can be challenging, everyone faces culture shock at some point or another, and the idea of having to rebuild a community or social circle is a daunting task. Add to that language barriers or attempting to understand new societal norms, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed.

We speak to many expats and travelers who speak to the difficulties of starting over in Sweden, specifically. Many expats talk to the fact that Sweden is ‘cold’ – metaphorically and literally, and can be a huge adjustment to start feeling at home. It’s a challenge – but becoming a true ‘local’ in Sweden can be done.

We’ve developed this ‘cheat sheet’ of tips to help you understand how to live like a local in Sweden. 

How to act like a local 

First things first, in order to “live like a local” you gotta fake it ‘til you make it, as the saying goes! Of course, you can’t generalize an entire population but we polled Swedish expats and locals alike to get an idea of uniquely “Swedish behaviour” to help you not to stick out like a sore thumb.

According to some who live in Sweden, an environmentally-conscious lifestyle is commonplace and popular among locals. To live like a local, opt to bike around your city in place of driving or public transit, choose reusable items instead of single-use items, and bring your own bags to the grocery store.

Spontaneity is also not a Swede’s friend. Expats and Swedish-born individuals alike told us how much Swedes love a plan. So, don’t expect an impromptu dinner date. Act like a local and plan out a meal with friends a month or so in advance.  

Partaking in local activities

Involving yourself in the local hobbies and activities is a way to start feeling more at home in Sweden and feel like a total Swede. We’ve highlighted some activities that are popular with the local crowd and that you may not find in a tourist’s travel guide. 

Bilbingo

If you’re from North America, you may be familiar with drive-in movies, bilbingo is similar, only it’s car bingo! According to the Swedes and expats we spoke to, bilbingo is more popular in rural areas of Sweden, but you’ll see all ages and types of locals there. Attendees drive into a field, pay for their bingo cards and wait for their numbers to be announced.

Körsång

Getting involved in a community for many people means taking part in popular cultural activities. Körsång are choirs, often associated with (but necessarily associated with) a church. Körsång groups that sing together are a popular hobby choice for many Swedes; find your local choir to meet fellow singing enthusiasts and help you feel like a local. 

Fika 

Fika is the act of meeting with a friend for an afternoon coffee together. It’s used as a verb, as in – “Michelle and I fika together every Friday”. Fika dates are cozy and intimate – perfect for when you’re trying to get to know someone or catch up with an old friend. 

Föreningsliv

Many of expats and newcomers we spoke to cited the benefits and importance of föreningsliv – taking workshops and classes that allow you to learn among others. Not only are these classes a way to organically meet new people that share your interests, but they also allow you to explore a new or once-forgotten passion. Feeling comfortable and ‘at home’ in a city for many people can mean having a routine, and a regular meeting you attend can help build that routine.

Pic-nicing at Ale Stenar, Kåseberga

In the summer months, make your way to Ale Stenar, Kåseberga – a striking historic site that features 59 towering boulders. It’s said that the stones are up to 5,500 years old. Bring a tasty picnic of local fare and enjoy the view with other local Swedes. 

Sauna and swim at Hellasgården 

Hellasgården is a popular open-air spa complete with a sauna, swimming, tasty foods, and other outdoor activities like golf, fishing, and hiking. The spa brings you to an enchanting forest setting where you can unwind in a pool, then relax in a soothing sauna. The spot is local-approved, so you may not meet many other tourists, but you can work on your Swedish language skills. 

Taco fredag

As a foodie, this is a tradition I can get behind 100%. Taco fredag, or ‘Taco Friday’ as it translates to, is also called ‘cozy Friday’. On Fridays, groups of Swedes everywhere cozy up with tacos, board games, TV and friends. “Taco Fridays is a really popular thing across Sweden, at least in the cities I visited,” says a Swedish visitor in this article. “Grocery stores and convenience stores even have aisles and sections completely dedicated to it.”

Lördagsgodis

Along the same lines as ‘Taco Fridays’, is Lördagsgodis, also known as ‘Candy Saturdays’. Swedes love their sweets and on Saturdays you can find them shopping for all things sugary and tasty. 

Local holidays 

Part of living like a local in Sweden is knowing how to celebrate the holidays! Here are three major specifically Swedish holidays that every Swede should partake in. 

Midsommar

Midsommar 2020 will take place June 20th; it’s one of the oldest and most widely celebrated holidays in Sweden. To pass as Swedish, you need to know the somewhat bizarre Midsommar traditions. At any celebration, you’ll find a maypole where attendees will hop around as a frog, a feast of herring, and floral crowns. 

Kräftskiva 

In the summer, locals partake in Kräftskiva – a crayfish party! Crayfish parties take place in August and consist of cooking and gorging on fresh crayfish, and drinking copious amounts of alcohol. No party is complete without drinking songs and fun party hats and bibs!

Saint Lucy’s Day

In the winter, locals celebrate Saint Lucy’s Day in December. Saint Lucy’s Day is on December 13th and is a Scandanavian feast day. You may also see singers in long white robes wearing floral crowns. 

Making friends like a local

To live like a local in Sweden, you have to go into your adventure, knowing that this ‘Swedish aloofness’ is something you might very well encounter. Especially if you’re in Sweden during the winter season. Emma, a Swedish native says, “In Sweden, everyone goes into hibernation in the winter so your whole social life is dead for half of the year. Maybe because they want to go out to parks and restaurants and you can’t do that in the winter.” She continues, “A lot of people don’t really want to invite people into their homes. As soon as you get a bit too personal, there’s a threshold.”

Living like a local in Sweden also consists of the “correct” public behaviour according to social norms. One Swedish expats cites that, in her opinion, Swedes tend to be quiet in public and keep their feelings close to the chest. “Nobody shows outward expressions of emotion,” this expat explains.

Given this resistance to intimacy that it seems is prevalent in Sweden, how can you make friends like a local when living in Sweden? 

In addition to the above activities, we recommend checking out Panion – a friendship app that helps to connect expats, digital nomads, travelers, and even locals together for more meaningful relationships. Panion allows users to filter through members to find potential like-minded friends that they have a mutual interest with. 

Don’t let fear or nerves get in your way of feeling at home in Sweden! As one of our members, Olga says, “ eventually I got through it. I really want to encourage people to not give up because even if you’re finding it tough, you can get through it. […] The reality is that despite the initial challenges, I do now have friends, even a few Swedes! […] I’m so glad I stuck with it so I can really appreciate it.”

Panion is a common interest app that lets you connect with likeminded people all over the globe. You can sign up or learn more at www.panion.com.

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