Travel Etiquette 101: Sweden

2.28min read

Published 16 August 2011


Crisp and clean, the tranquil Scandinavian country of Sweden offers a variety of experiences within its elegant and sophisticated cities, its picturesque medieval villages, coastal island archipelagos and the icy tundra of northern Lapland. From initial greetings to proper food etiquette, Adam Barralet shares with us his tips when visiting this gem of Europe:

In Sweden egalitarian is the way. Swedes are work hard, but not too hard. Excess, flashiness and boasting is not the Swedish way. In fact competitiveness is not encouraged in children and they are not generally raised to believe they are more special than anyone else. In fact, in Sweden spanking is illegal so parents are very good at using words to control their children.

A strong handshake with eye contact is the customary greeting and should also be repeated on departure. It is also polite to acknowledge the staff when walking into a restaurant. In conversation Swedes are more like to listen than ensure their voice is heard. Don’t take this as your opportunity to boast about how good you are. Speak with a gentle and calm voice. It is rare to see a Swede get angry.



When out and about be sure to remember your “pleases” and “thank yous”. Swedes rarely take hospitality or kindness for granted and as such, they will give often give thanks. Failing to say thank you for something is perceived negatively in Sweden. When shopping for groceries it is expected you will purchase what you touch.

While you are walking around keep an eye out for a Swedish superstition. You will notice different letters on manhole covers. The most common one is “A” and if you step on this it will cause you to loose love. “K” on the other hand will bring you love.

You are more likely to be invited to a home for coffee and cake than a meal but either way, ensure you are on time. Punctuality is essential and you should never arrive five minutes early nor late. If you are early it is better to just sit in the car or walk around the block. If you are held up, contact your host as soon as possible. Arrive with a gift such as a box of chocolates or flowers. However avoid white lilies or chrysanthemums as these are flowers for funerals. Inside a Swedish home do not ask to see the rest of the house as Swedes are general very private and it is likely that the only room (other than the dining / sitting room) that they would expect you to go to would be the bathroom. Besides you’ve seen enough IKEA in your home country!

If you are invited to a meal it can often be a Smorgasbord (they originated in Sweden). Do not take the last piece from a plate. When eating, keep your hands in full view, with your wrists on top of the table.

The European eating etiquette should be adhered to in respect to knife in the right hand and fork in the left. Do not start eating until the hostess has started. One of the biggest differences around the world is whether to finish everything on your plate. In Sweden you do. It is important that you do not discuss business at the table as Swedes try to distinguish between home and work. Do not offer a toast to anyone more senior to you in age. When offering a toast then lift your glass and nod at everyone present looking from those seated on your right to those seated on your left before taking a sip. You should then nod again before replacing your glass on the table.

In many other countries you will find obvious differences in tradition and etiquette. The style of etiquette in Sweden is more subtle. Generally caring and considerate behaviour is the expected norm. Of which I would expect from anyone visiting from another country anyhow!


Looking for more information on Sweden or need assistance planning your next trip? Contact a Travel Consultant at 1-877-967-5302 or visit your closest store.

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