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The decision to move to Sweden might be the best one you could ever make. Pristine nature, great work-life balance, and the locals’ ability to speak English make it easy for newcomers to fall in love with this Scandinavian country. However, just like anywhere else, you should be aware of the local culture and the way of life, which in some cases might be slightly different from what you’re used to.
This is perhaps the most important thing that one should be knowledgeable about when moving to Sweden or any other Nordic country. The law of Jante is social conduct, according to which a person should not try to stand out of the crowd, be it in a professional, academic, or personal setting. Swedes and other Scandinavians do not encourage one to be too ambitious, to career, or material wealth oriented. In addition, no one appreciates a person bragging about their promotion, salary raise or grade average at a university. This would imply that you are better than others, which would not be the case in many other countries. Actually, this type of mentality is taught from the early days, as pupils are not given an actual grade in school until year six. The grading system consists of ‘fail’, ‘pass’ or ‘pass with a distinction’. In short, being a part of the collective, sticking to the ordinary, and not bragging about your achievements is what is expected of each citizen in Sweden.
In relation to the previous subject, Swedes are very keen on sticking to the set social norms in their personal lives as well. For instance, many of their celebrations throughout the year would include the exact same dishes such as meatballs, herring, or salmon. You can be sure to find them on the Christmas table, during the Midsummer day or at a Crayfish Party. On top of that, it is very common to be served a Princess tårta (a type of cake) to bed on your birthday. Or spend your summer vacation in a summer cottage outside of the city. Or travel to Thailand for a winter break. Basically, the vast majority of Swedes like the way they spend their free time, holidays, or celebrations and don’t wish to change it or do things differently every year. Therefore, it’s very important to get acquainted with the social norms to better understand the local way of life.
Scandinavian working culture is widely discussed worldwide for its flat organizations, flexibility, and work-life balance and Sweden is no exception. Working overtime, answering your phone on weekends, or holidays is not appreciated and is even discouraged (unless your work in hospitality, healthcare, or alike). Whereas, the importance of sticking to the working hours, taking long vacations in both summer and winter as well as engaging in sports is highly encouraged. In fact, in many companies, a 4-week vacation in July and a 300EUR check for sports activities is simply taken for granted. In addition to that, maternity or paternity leaves are non-negotiable and are considered to be your right. Whereas, the flexible working hours where you can choose what time to start and finish your working day is widely implemented as well. Lastly, stress at work is also taken very seriously, and experiencing it is not something an employer would ignore.
Going back to the social norms, Swedes are very trustworthy people who almost always stick to the rules and laws. You would rarely see a Swede walking on a bicycle lane or parking a car in a forbidden spot even for 5 minutes. In Sweden, people trust the system and the system trusts the people. Therefore, many things are based on trust and recommendation basis. As you might be aware of, even during the current COVID-19 pandemic, Sweden did not implement legal restrictions on people. Instead, certain guidelines were provided and most of the people stuck to them.
Renting or buying accommodation in Sweden is subject to slightly different rules than elsewhere in Europe. To start with, there are two types of rental contracts: first hand and second hand. In order to obtain a first-hand contract, you have to queue for several years or even a decade, which would then grant stay for an unlimited time as well as would entail a substantially cheaper rent. However, most expats have to rent second-hand (known as sublet elsewhere), which is much more expensive and contract durations rarely exceed one year (though can be extended). Whereas, buying your own property does not mean you actually own the place and can do whatever you please with it. You are actually gaining rights to the collective and if you wish to rent it out or do major changes to your apartment you first need to get approval from the board.
I hope that this article gave you an insight into the Swedish way of life and it will make your move to this Nordic country much smoother. Since I had to experience each and every one of the above things personally, I truly hope that you can learn from it and be prepared for this truly wonderful and unique country.
This article was written by Erikas - a Lithuanian expat in Stockholm, who together with his girlfriend Héloïse shares expat and travel stories on their blog The Northern Itinerary. Erikas moved to Sweden 4 years ago after his studies in the Netherlands and currently works for a tech startup.