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SWEDISH HABITS

Have your say: What are the biggest culture shocks for foreigners in Sweden?

Wonderful, confusing, irritating or just downright bizarre: certain aspects of life in Sweden can take some getting used to. We want to know what big culture shocks The Local's readers have experienced when moving here from abroad.

Have your say: What are the biggest culture shocks for foreigners in Sweden?
Sweden's coffee and cake breaks at work (fika) may be a culture clash, but often a delightful (and delicious) one. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

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SWEDISH HABITS

Three Scandinavian lifestyle trends that are actually worth trying (and three that aren’t)

There seems to be a never-ending stream of 'Scandinavian lifestyle trends' in international glossy magazines, but only some of them are worth pursuing, while others are all hype and little reward.

Three Scandinavian lifestyle trends that are actually worth trying (and three that aren't)

Fika 

Fika is not in any way as much of a ritual as the international hype has made it out to be. Yes, you can go to a cafe with friends and call it a fika, but at work, Swedes are far more likely to grab a quick cup of coffee at their desk than sit down for a meditative pastry session.

That said, you’d be a fool never to avail yourself of Sweden’s excellent spread of cakes and biscuits, and the idea of taking a break-that’s-actually-a-break from work is a good way of connecting with colleagues and allowing your brain to slow down before picking up pace again.

And until you’ve sunk your teeth into a freshly made cinnamon or cardamom bun, still soft and warm from the oven, with a cup of black coffee on the side, have you ever truly known happiness? Fika is one Scandinavian lifestyle trend I can without hesitation get behind.

Friluftsliv

How do you get Norwegians, Swedes and Danes into a fight? Ask them who invented friluftsliv.

Scandinavians are well known for their love of the outdoors, all year round. Come wind, rain, snow or sunshine, they tend to make the most of getting out and about. The typical saying that exemplifies this approach to outdoor life is “there is no bad weather, just bad clothes”.

I’m loath to say this, but the cliché is true. Dressing up warm can make even a cold winter day seem hyggelig

Adding utepils into the mix – because Norwegians believe they invented enjoying a beer outdoors – makes it even better.

Friluftsliv is so ubiquitous in Scandinavia it’s even got a sub-section of several other lifestyle trends. Let the parent who has never thought of leaving their baby outside in the pram cast the first stone! And if giving “having a dip in the sea or a lake” a swanky new name like “wild swimming” is what urbanites need to make it feel cool enough to make up for their failed sourdough, who am I to stop them?

After all, until you’ve sunk your entire body into a freezing pool of water, teeth chattering as the Scandinavians among you extol the virtues of vinterbadning, have you ever truly known despair? Er… on second thought, maybe stick to engaging in friluftsliv in summer.

Hygge

I know, I know, the hygge hype is not only overblown, but so overdone that it’s hard to pretend it even qualifies as a “trend” any more.

In fact, I worry The Local Denmark’s editor will never speak to me again if I include it in this list.

But is it really such a bad thing to just have… a nice time? Letting your friends know you found it hyggeligt to see them, and making an effort to mark a pleasant moment, are those small things that may not seem like much, but make your everyday life that little bit more enjoyable.

There’s an almost-equivalent in Swedish: mys (and the Dutch have gezellig, they just aren’t as good at nation branding). It’s often less about open fireplaces and hot cocoa, and more about a bastardisation of tacos, but having a quietly nice time at home is… nice. Hyggeligt, even.

Hoogah, higgle, hygge or whatever your name is: I’m a fan.

Candles! Mysigt! Photo: Maskot/Folio/imagebank.sweden.se

Friday/Saturday sweets

Lördagsgodis, a sweet tradition with a sour past, is Swedes’ way of ritualising the ancient art of eating candy on Saturdays (or fredagsslik in Denmark, where they do it on a Friday). The health rationale behind it is to minimise consumption to one day of the week, protecting your teeth from repeated exposure to sugar, but I suspect the tradition has become so popular that in the end it actually has the opposite effect.

Social convention dictates that it has to be bought from the supermarkets’ pick ‘n’ mix section – a potluck adventure where you never know how many strange children’s hands grabbed those hard and stale svampar, lakritsbåtar or rischoklad before they made it into your mouth.

Skip this lifestyle trend, you’re an adult. Grab a kanelbulle or a romsnegle instead.

Gökotta

The most surprising Scandinavian lifestyle trend to hit international magazines in 2023 was the Swedish practice of waking up early on Ascension Day to go and sit in the forest to hear a cuckoo. You could tell that at this stage, they were really starting to scrape the barrel. 

We admit to a degree of culpability as we covered gökotta in one of our Swedish Word of the Day articles.

It’s not completely untrue. There is indeed an old tradition in Sweden of having an early morning picnic, usually around the time of Ascension Day, which used to be referred to – and still is – as gökotta, the wee hours of the morning when only the cuckoo is awake. 

But it’s more likely to be organised by rural community groups, if at all, than individual Swedes, most of whom have never heard of it.

I mean no offence to bird-watchers or early-morning people, but you don’t have to bother with this one. Nobody else does.

Lagom

In practical terms, lagom makes perfect sense. Why would you want the water to be too warm or too cold when you could have it just right? If you’ve already broken into the bear’s house anyway, why settle for subpar porridge when it could be heated to the perfect temperature?

But do we really want lagom to also be a way of life?

Lagom at its worst is also a society where there’s no room for individuality, although by arguing that I realise I’m also committing the offence of treating lagom as much more than what it actually is: a neutral word frequently used by Swedes to describe “not too much, not too little”.

And frankly, is Sweden even a lagom country? Melodifestivalen, crayfish parties or Stureplan on a Friday night beg to differ. 

So by all means, use lagom in conversation. But as a lifestyle trend? It’s time to ditch it.

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