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21 Wonderful Things You Should Know Before Moving to Sweden

Sweden

If you're considering moving to Sweden, there are a few things you should know about it first - it’s not all furniture and meatballs you know.

1. Environmentally conscious

When it comes to recycling, the Swedes are world leaders. Less than one per cent of Sweden’s household waste ends up in the rubbish bin. Everything else is recycled in different ways. So resourceful are Swedish people that drinking straight from the tap is the norm. The water is clean and fresh, it saves money and helps protect the environment from plastic bottles. The Swedes like to keep things sustainable so think twice before throwing your plastic bags away. In an effort to ensure a waste-free environment, Swedish supermarkets charge you for your carriers – so never leave home without a supply!

2. Dress sense

Source: Flickr | AnnieAnniePancake

Despite being very fashion conscious, Swedes have a sensible, practical approach to clothes. Even when they dress up, the Swedes don’t dress up too much. Instead, they prefer to keep it casual. Even at work, the office dress code is strictly low key and there’s not much difference between how Swedes dress at parties and how they dress any other time.NB: If you invite a Swede to a "Fancy Dress" party expect them to turn up in tuxes and ballgowns, now their best sexy vampire and Freddy Krueger costumes.

3. Coffee?

Very few countries drink as much coffee as Sweden. The Swedes consume 8.2 kg of coffee per year, making them the 6th highest consumers of coffee in the world! In Sweden, coffee drinking comes from a tradition known as fika – where friends and family meet for a coffee break and enjoy some sweet treats on the side. In Sweden, fika is seen as an opportunity to relax and bond with people.

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4. Language

Swedish is spoken by almost 10 million people. However, most people in Sweden speak English as their second language – great if you’re not much of a linguist, as you can always revert to English if you’re stuck. In Sweden, children start learning English around the age of nine.

5. Customs

In Sweden, many customs have their roots embedded in the changing seasons. After a long dark winter, the Swedes celebrate summer in all its glory. During Advent, they pay homage to St Lucia by dressing a young girl in white and placing a crown of candles in her hair. Sweden also has many international influences. Take the Swedish Santa Claus, for example – he’s actually German. St Lucia was actually Sicilian, and the celebrated St Martin’s Day takes its name from a French bishop.

6. The great outdoors

In the summer time, Swedes love to greet the arrival of summer. A range of street festivals and parties are now a regular feature of the Swedish summer calendar, with the festivities bringing people together to socialise and enjoy food and music. During the summer, there are several ‘fiddlers’ meetings’ held across the country, bringing traditional Swedish sounds to the streets.

7. Music

Source: Flickr | Robert Ramirez

Traditionally, Swedish music shares the same sounds as those of Nordic folk music which embodies such genres as polka, waltz and polska. The accordion, clarinet and fiddle are the most common Swedish folk instruments. Of course, no mention of Swedish music would be complete without paying respect to its most famous export - Eurovision winners, ABBA.

8. Food

Source: Flickr | Elaine Ashton

Among other delicacies, Sweden is known for its Lingonberry jam. Famously sweet, the jam is used as an accompaniment to a variety of dishes including meatballs, pancakes and porridge. In Sweden, there’s always a reason to tuck into something sweet – there are even specific calendar days dedicated to particular treats. Cinnamon Bun Day for example, is celebrated on the 4th October.

9. Snus

You’ve just arrived in Sweden and as you look around the airport, you see that many adults have a swollen upper lip. Don’t worry, you haven’t just moved to a country full of brawlers, it is just snus! If you haven’t been to Sweden before, you probably haven’t heard of it. Snus is a small teabag-like bag of tobacco, which is placed under the upper lip. It is left in the mouth for while before being spat out into the handy container, which it comes in (there is a nifty separate compartment for used snus).

10. Fika

Source: Flickr | Chung Ho Leung

One of Sweden’s foremost cultural activities is fika. This can be roughly translated to taking time out for a coffee break. At around 10am and/or 3pm each day, Swedes take a break to have a coffee, catch up with friends and colleagues and perhaps indulge their sweet tooth. Many expats find that they gain a kilo or so during their first few months in Sweden and fika definitely has something to do with that! Most café’s sell the traditional kanelbulle and semla as well as their own specialties such as berry tarts, kardemonbulle and kladdkaka.

11. Systembolaget

All full strength alcohol is sold in the Systembolaget. It’s opening hours are 10:00- 18:00 Monday- Friday, 10:00- 13:00 on Saturday and closed on Sunday. This means that you have to think ahead for weekends so make sure that you don’t run out of alcohol, because if you do, you will be stuck with low percentage beers from the supermarket or 7/11. You should also keep in mind that spirits are significantly more expensive than in other European cities so many people will actually drive or take a ferry to Germany or Denmark to stock up on liquor.

12. Midsommer

Source: Flickr | Peter Salanki \| Midsommar girls

What is the first image that you conjure up in your mind when thinking of Sweden? For many, it is scene in a wild flower patch, where blonde haired, blue eyed women dressed in white dresses and flower crowns gather. Well, if you find yourself in the Sweden during Midsommer, you are in for a treat. The Swedes will head to their summer cabins (which most people have) for a weekend of food, drink, campfire and song. One of the most popular folk songs sung by young and old alike is about frogs and involves them getting into a line and hopping about like frogs around a campfire.

13. Valborg

At the end of April, people from all over Sweden gather to the student cities of Uppsala and Lund for a weeklong celebration of Valborg. Valborg originated in the Viking times where bonfires were lit to celebrate the beginning of Spring. These celebrations include a champagne breakfast, champagne gallop, all day picnics, parties and boat races.

14. Gymnasieskola

If you meet someone and they start rambling on about their time in gymnasium, they aren’t referring to their fitness regime. Gymnasium or Gymnasieskola refers to high school or secondary school. At the end of May students graduate from Gymnasium and celebrate by wearing their graduation caps and driving down the street, pumping music on their handmade graduation buses.

15. The art of patience

Source: Flickr | Emil Erlandsson

They say that patience is a virtue, and I say that Swedes have been blessed with the patience of saints. One person, who will take your order, prepare the coffee/food and take payment before moving onto the next order. For someone coming from a big city where time is money, this can be incredibly frustrating. At first it may be difficulty to wait you turn but in time, you will become just as laidback and enduring as the locals. After all, coffee is one of the most important part of a Swede’s day!

16. Hot men with kids

Sweden is known as a worldwide leader when it comes to gender equality and parental leave is no exception. Men are entitled to the same length of paid parental leave as women so it is very common to see impeccably dressed men pushing around a pram during the week. They can be found in cobblestone cafes sipping on espressos with their fellow stay at home dads or taking the children to the local playground. So prepare yourself for the sight of a beautiful, chiseled men and their even more adorable children. They will surely melt your heart!

17. Vitamin D

Source: Flickr | Jenny Kristina Nilsson

On April 1, government regulation allows Swedish café’s and restaurants to open outdoor bars and seating areas. Around this time of year, the sun finally comes out and so do the Swedes. If you go down to the local park or forest, you will find the men shirtless and the women clad in bikinis trying to absorb as much vitamin D as possible. The only problem is that it is usually about 10 degrees Celsius!

18. Do not disturb, do not destroy

During the summer, many Swedes venture to their local forest to pick wild berries. They can do this because the Swedish Constitution grants its residents the right of Allemansrätten. As long as they don’t disturb or destroy the land, they have freedom to roam in nature. This freedom entitles them to camp, ski, hike, cycle and swim in any public, natural area.

19. Toothpaste or lunch?

There is a whole aisle in the supermarket dedicated to food in tubes. This ranges from the world famous Kalles caviar, to shrimp and cheese spread. At first, it may seem pretty unappetizing but in time, you will probably join the locals in their love of spreadable food.

20. Split bills

Due to the high cost of living in Sweden, splitting the bill is the norm. Dining establishments are extremely accommodating, and will provide separate receipts for each guest. This is also the case when you are on a date, it is likely that you will ‘go Dutch’ and split the bill with your significant other. You should also bear in mind, Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö are almost cashless cities, with the vast majority of places only accepting debit or credit payments.

21. Take a number and stand in line

Source: Flickr | James McDowell

Sweden is all about queuing. Whether you’re at the bank, pharmacy or phone repair shop, expect to take a number from a machine and wait your turn. You might only have a quick question to ask, but if you dare ask it before your number is called, you will be met by an onslaught of death stares from everyone around.