Saturday, 29 March 2014
Travelling to Sweden - A Guide by a Swede
Being confronted at a daily basis by cultural differences, I realised that Sweden is one of those countries where it's very difficult to fit in well, since we have so many unspoken rules. So after mulling it over a bit, I decided to write a small guide of how to behave when you come to Sweden as a tourist. :) I hope it will be helpful!
(Please note that I am generalising! Of course all of this will not apply to everyone. But following this guide will help you to not go wrong!)
Travelling by train
One of the most common ways to travel all of Sweden is by train, so there are a lot of trains going this and that way. A very common commuting line is from Copenhagen (Denmark), up through Malmö, Linköping, Norrköping and eventually to Stockholm. Stockholm is the capital city of Sweden, and the biggest city.
When buying tickets for the train, you usually do so in automats. They look like this:
When buying tickets in one of these, you need to have a credit card available, as they will not take cash. You simply input your location and destination, and when you would like to travel, and the automat will give you departures to choose from. When you have paid, the automat will give you your ticket. You can also buy tickets at Pressbyrån, or at the SJ information desk. When buying tickets at Pressbyrån, it is good to already know what departure you want.
All the trains have id-numbers, which correspond to a number on your ticket. This is important to remember, since sometimes there is more than one train departing for the same destination, if you are in the bigger cities.
On the train, it is good courtesy to keep the volume down as to not disturb other travellers. Also, avoid walking up and down the isles, and do not put your luggage on top of other people's luggage - also do never move another person's luggage, this is considered extremely rude. When lifting the table, do so carefully and silently.
When you leave the train, to do not push people but wait quietly for your turn. The same is true when boarding the train. Also, try to avoid trying to get first to the doors, since this is considered cutting in line and thereby very rude. People will think there is something wrong with you.
Travelling by bus
Most of the buses in Sweden do not allow cash, and most often you need to buy a travelling card to travel. Babies up to 3 years old often travel for free, 4-13 are considered children, 14-26 are considered youths and 26+ are adults. Over 65 years old, is senior, and usually travel for the same price as youths (and students). To travel as a student in Sweden, you need to be able to prove you are a student. You usually do so by presenting an ID from your school, or an app with cards such as Studentkortet or Mercenat. These need to be accompanied by a personal ID.
Keep the volume low on buses, and don't talk on your cellphone. It is considered very inappropriate to talk about private matters on a bus, especially on the phone. There are often newspapers on buses, which you may acquire for free. It is considered good courtesy to put them back where you found them after you read them, but it is allowed to take them with you. It is all right to leave other newspaper on buses, for others to read. If you find an abandoned newspaper, it is all right to pick it up. If it is lying beside someone, you should always ask if it belongs to them first before you take it.
If you listen to music in head phones, keep the volume low. If you would like a seat where someone placed their bag, ask them if you may sit there. Do never pick the bag up and give it to them, as this is considered as rude as sitting on it.
A lot of buses have seatbelts, and these are to be used. It is forbidden by law not to use the seat belt, and is heavily fined if you are found guilty. (Usually from 60 euro to 140 euro depending on city.)
In Stockholm it is considered extremely rude to place yourself in line before a person that came to the bus stop before you. Keep note of which people were already there when you arrived, and don't get in line until they have all lined up. If you cut in line, you are likely to be told off severely.
If the bus is not full, it is considered weird and rude to sit down next to someone. You will often find Swedish buses where each row of seats (on each side) have only one passenger. The buses will fill up like this first. Only when there are no free rows it's all right to sit down next to someone. Always ask if it's okay, they will almost always say yes, but it is good courtesy to ask.
Travelling by tram
In a few cities in Sweden (Norrköping, Göteborg and Stockholm) there are trams. Trams usually have the same code of conducts as buses (and the underground). Most often you can never talk to the chauffer in trams, so you will need to know where you are going. Most trams have a voice that reads the next stop out loud.
The trams in Göteborg move very fast, giving you only seconds to get on or off. As such, pushing is allowed, but only here. No queueing.
Pretty much all Swedes can speak English, and the younger generation is usually quite good at it. It is safe to speak English - no one will be bothered by it. If a young Swede asks you to say something in Swedish, avoid it until you have looked it up in a dictionary. It is considered a prank to make non-Swedish speaking people say rude or vulgar things in Swedish.
In school, children may choose one or two extra languages, and these are usually German, French and Spanish. German is the most widespread of the three, since children interested in French often switch to Spanish at some point. Because of this, you can sometimes make yourself understood in German, but the general ability to speak it is only passable. You will most likely get your answer in English.
Swedes are very private, soft spoken people, and they very much dislike loud voices or noise. If you raise your voice, they will think you are angry, since this is a sign of anger. Do not stand too close to Swedish people, try to keep at least an arms length of private space. Swedes do usually not strike up a conversation unless it is required for work or school, or at social gatherings. As such, you can often find commuters standing silently - giving each other space - waiting for a bus or a train.
When you do meet a Swede in a formal or social setting, it is common to nod at each other or shake hands, saying your name. Do not expect them to remember your name at once. Swedish conversations usually leave out names as much as possible. Shake firmly, and then take a step back. This is not considered rude, but good policy. If you want to show that you are friendly, smile. Swedes do not articulate much with their hands, so try keep this to a minimum.
It is considered good courtesy to laugh at jokes, even if you did not understand them or did not find them funny.
Striking up a conversation
The Swedish equivalent to "hello" is "hej", with a sharp j. This can be substitudet with "hallå" (The å not being pronounced like an a - a very common mistake. Å is pronounced more like o.), or "tjena" or "hejsan". All of these are informal ways to greet each other, and are mostly used between people who already know each other. Swedes very seldom say "goddag" - meaning "good day". When someone says hello to you, this is not an invitation to start a conversation, something very important to remember.
When you start up a conversation, avoid saying hello. Go directly to safe subjects - like the weather. Avoid asking or talking about personal matters altogether. Swedes get very uncomfortable when presented with private questions. Also avoid asking about their family.
It is all right for men and women to speak with each other, but keep in mind to never hit on a woman unless you are at a club or already know her very well. Hitting on women like this is considered extremely rude, and she is likely to never want anything to do with you ever again if you do so. When a woman turns quiet and will not initiate a continuation of the conversation, you should consider yourself dismissed. If you are dismissed once, it is final - do not try again, or you might meet with the well-hidden Swedish temper.
Insults are taken very seriously, even if made by mistake, and will not be forgiven until a suitable apology has been presented. If you apologise and explain why you said what you said, this is usually enough depending on how severe the insult was.
Avoid speaking ill of other people as much as possible, since this tends to make others very uncomfortable.
In Sweden, queueing is taken very seriously. Do never try to cut in line or push, and don't stand too close to the person in front of you. Give them space and time to put the basket away (if in a grocery store or similar), before you put yours up to unload your wares. This is true everywhere. You should also avoid talking to other people in the queue. It is all right to talk quietly to a friend, though.
When you buy groceries, you should always turn the barcode towards you, and don't stack groceries on top of each other. This is considered good courtesy.
When you eat out in Sweden, you will hardly find any restaurants that serve "traditional Swedish food". The only time this will be available, is during lunch, and usually at places with the word "kök" in the name. Look for the word "husmanskost", and you will find this type of food.
Most often the restaurants in Sweden serve foreign food, since Swedish food is so simple to cook that people generally do so at home. When they eat out, they want something more exotic. There are a lot of take out restaurants - and if you want pizza, you can find that virtually everywhere. Pizza is easily the most popular take out, and there are usually quite a lot of pizza restaurants, so you might do well to ask around for a really good one.
In restaurants, you don't give tip - it's included in the cost. If you want to tip, do not leave it on the table - the staff will think you have forgotten it, and will try chase you down. Either state clearly that it is a tip, or put the tip in the designated jar (which is usually seated by the cashier). The staff at Swedish restaurants have fairly good pay compared to other countries, so the tip you leave will most likely be used for after work activities.
In a regular restaurant you can bring your outdoor clothes and bag, chat and sit however you like. No one will think it odd. However, if you visit a finer diner, there are quite a lot of unspoken rules. Most of it is (I suspect) common etiquette, such as never lick your knife, don't take food from neighbouring plates, do not hog the bread basket, do not chew with your mouth open, keep your voice down and speak lightly to the people sitting next to you only, be quiet during speeches and so on. You do not need to hold out the chair for the female companions during dinner, unless you are alone. If you do, it will make them feel awkward, since Swedish women are very independent.
At finer dining restaurants you are also expected to leave your coat in the hall. Make sure you empty the pockets, and bring all valuables with you. This is not because you are likely to be victim of theft, but because the staff will not take responsibility if something is stolen. If you have a very expensive coat, you can often ask them to store it behind the cashier desk for safe keeping. Avoid bringing the coat with you.
When served, always stop conversing, look at the server and say 'thank you'. This is good courtesy and will earn you better service. The staff will always ask if the food tasted well ("Smakade det bra?") after the meal, and you are expected to say yes. If you go into detail on what wasn't good, you will end up making everyone uncomfortable.
Swedes do very seldom complain about things, so the staff may be very surprised if you have complaints, and will often not know how to solve the problem. Therefore, do not say things such as "this didn't taste well", but tell them exactly what the problem is to help them. Such as "the potatoes are cold". This will make it much easier for you to get what you want, and for them to help you.
Try to avoid laughing out loud at restaurants such as this, because you will be considered a nuisance. Also, eat with your knife in your right hand and fork in the left. Do never cut the food up and eat with your right hand, or you will be considered a slob. Also, do not get intoxicated, since this can get you thrown out.
Visiting a Swedish home
In Swedish homes, you always remove your shoes. Keeping your jacket on is a sign that you want to get out of there quickly, so if you are staying more than five minutes you should take it off. You do not need to shake hands with the family, unless they present their hands to you. It is good courtesy to repeat your name for every hand you shake, even if the others have obviously heard you.
When you bring gifts, something edible or flowers is a good bet. Swedes love their food, chocolate boxes or good wines. Only bring wine or whiskey if you know that the family you are visiting drink alcohol. Try to avoid gifts that will only benefit one of the family members. If you bring candy for the children, do not give it directly to them, but give them to their parents or ask nicely first if it's all right.
Do never comment the appearance of a host's wife or children, as this is considered very rude. Be very respectful towards the spouse - male or female. In Sweden the roles for men and women are pretty similar, so do not assume that it is the women that cook and take care of the home. Same sex couples are common and not made a very big deal of, so you shouldn't either. It is considered very rude to comment on a person's disposition, and extremely rude to call lesbian couples 'sexy'. This will get you thrown out of their home, or never invited again. It is fine to ask how people met, since this is not considered too private.
When you eat food, always compliment it and try a bit of everything. Swedes like feasts, and their notion of a good dinner is one where every scrap of food put on the table has been eaten. Always expect dessert in some kind - very often fruit with cheese and bisquits. Swedes often drink wine for social dining, but in a more informal family setting they usually opt for lemonades or iced water or fizzy drinks.
As I've stated before, Swedish people are very private, so you shouldn't ask private questions even when you do know them a little better. If a Swede wants to share something private with you, they will do so on their own accord.
Swedes do never ask favours unless they know you well, and will expect the same behaviour from your part. Also, do not expect anyone to solve your problems. Do not speak too much about yourself, especially not to congratulate yourself. Even if true, it will be considering boasting, and is frowned upon. If you want to tell someone of your success, you will do good to humble yourself a bit as well by telling how badly it has gone previously or similar.
Swedes are usually a bit more open and chatty on the internet, and love to help others and give advice. As always though, avoid asking personal questions or comment on a person's looks. If you are on a social media such as facebook, do not send a friend request until you have spoken to the person at least once. It is considered rude for strangers to send friend requests, even if you do have the person's friend on your list.
Swedes do not take kindly to being exploited on the internet, and is very well aware of their rights. Expect them to fight back tooth and nail if they believe they have been wronged, more often than not bringing in the authorities in the game. Although Swedes may seem to be quiet and withdrawn and not comment, you do well to keep in mind that they are of Viking descent.
There is a common occurence in Sweden where people gather simply to drink enough to be very intoxicated, so keep this in mind when you are invited to what is called a "party". A party will most likely mean everyone is expected to drink enough to pass out.
At such parties, there is usually a designated driver, who is not drinking. If you dislike drinking and drunks, you should avoid this kind of gathering. If you are invited to a "dinner", it is usually safe.
In Sweden you have to stop by pedestrian crossings, even if there are no lights. If you are caught not stopping, you will be heavily fined. A lot of Swedes will expect cars to stop, and might just walk right out over the crossing without looking, so you need to pay attention if you see this sign:
Wow, that was a bit lengthy. o.o;; I might fill in more stuff if I remember something I forgot to put in.