On our website we have a new section called Expat stories so our clients and others can read about expats already living here. As this blogger tries to demystify life in Sweden I often have a good laugh when I read her pieces. I wanted to share one with you.
Sweden 101; Getting to know the Swedes
I was at a work party a while back, chatting to a woman I’d met once or twice before. We seemed to be getting on fairly well, so as the party wound up I ventured to suggest that we have a drink together sometime.
No, thank you,” she replied, and walked away.
Well. That’s me told, then.
I was a bit stung at the time, but when I thought about it, would it have been any better if she had agreed, we had swapped numbers, then she proceeded to pretend she was busy every night until the end of time (which is how I, as a Brit, would deal with the situation)?
I can see where Swedes get their reputation for being reserved and unfriendly, though I don’t think it’s entirely accurate or fair. People here aren’t given to small talk to fill up silences and can be a bit blunt socially, but I’m of the opinion that their reputation is mostly a question of cultural misunderstanding. Swedes simply approach socialising differently.
Take joining a group at a party, for example. For months after I first arrived here, I would hover awkwardly at the edge of social gatherings, wondering why no one wanted to talk to me. I realised after a while that I was used to the social convention that it is the responsibility of people already in the conversation to invite a newcomer in. “Hello!” we’ll shout, “I’m so-and-so, this is so-and-so and we’re talking about blahbideblah.” At these early gatherings, I was unconsciously awaiting such an invitation to be included, but I have now come to the conclusion that it is simply the other way around in Sweden: as the newcomer, it is up to me to approach a group and say, “hello everyone! I’m so-and-so, what are we talking about?”
At least, either that is the accepted way in Sweden or people are too polite to ignore me when I’ve bounded up and introduced myself. Whichever is the case, I now have people to talk to at parties so either way it’s a winning strategy.
There’s also the issue that, where I come from, social gatherings are fairly fluid. We might arrange to meet for a quick drink after work and it might just be that, or else it might turn into a second drink then a third, a pub crawl, some dancing that seemed like a good idea at the time, and waking up tucked up in bed next to a traffic cone. In Sweden, if you are in the market for such a night of debauchery, you need to specify to your invitees that the event might (or might not) involve high spirited thievery of traffic cones, or else they’ll get confused and go home half way through the night.
On reflection, it’s probably advisable to avoid nights like that altogether, but the point remains that it is worth not taking it personally if it feels as though a Swede cuts a social gathering short abruptly. If you invited them for a quick drink after work they will expect exactly that, so it’s no reflection on you if they go home immediately after drinking their quick drink. Further, if they go home for reasons of laundry, it definitely has nothing to do with you: it’s hardly possible to overstate the importance of booked laundry time in crowded Stockholm apartment buildings.
It’s also worth noting that friendship in Sweden is a serious business. While I might see even my close friends only every month or two, groups of friends in Sweden seem to spend an inordinate amount of time together. They meet most if not every weekend, they travel as a group and often spend holidays together. So with the sheer time commitment of Swedish friendship in mind, it becomes more understandable if they are cautious when considering extending it to someone new.
Which isn’t to say that they won’t do so at all. On the flip side of people being blunt if they don’t want to get to know you, if a Swede does agree to meet for a drink (and especially if they stay for two!) you can feel assured that they aren’t doing so out of politeness - and just maybe it will be the beginning of a beautiful friendship!