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Readers reveal: The biggest culture shocks for Indians in Sweden

For many Indians, it can be a shock arriving in Sweden in winter, with streets deserted, temperatures below zero, and darkness by 3pm. But that's just the start! Here are some of the most common culture shocks readers from India report.

Readers reveal: The biggest culture shocks for Indians in Sweden
Several Indian respondents said they had been surprised by the nakedness on display in changing rooms and bathing areas in Sweden. Photo: Tina Stafrén/Imagebank Sweden

Compared to towns and cities back in India, cities in Sweden can seem almost emptied of people, something that can take getting used to, reported one reader living in Jönköping. 

“It is so quiet here that in the beginning I used to wonder whether anyone lives in my surroundings,” she said. “Not seeing anyone in the street where I live and not hearing a single voice is a big difference from my home country.” 

Swedish reserve

Even when you do encounter a neighbour or a passer-by, it can be difficult to engage him or her in conversation, or even get a ‘hello’. 

“It’s difficult to make Swedes talk. You have to push them a lot to be social,” complained another respondent, who works as a software architect at Ericsson in Stockholm. “It’s worse than hitting on a new girl in a cafe or bar.”

“Swedes are reserved and not open,” agreed a respondent working for Volvo in Gothenburg, while a respondent working as a researcher in Linköping companied that “Swedes appear to limit themselves to their own circle of friends”. 

“Swedish people just don’t interact! It is so so difficult to socialise with them,” said a respondent doing a Masters at KTH, while another complained that “they never look or smile at strangers while passing them.” 

An IT consultant working in Helsingborg complained that “there is almost no small talk here”. 

Nakedness in changing rooms and unisex toilets

Swedish reserve does not seem to apply, however, when it comes to public changing rooms and toilets – at least compared to Indian norms, with many of our Indian readers struggling with the level of public nakedness. 

“I was already familiar with much of western culture through movies and TV shows, so public displays of affection and the dating culture in Sweden were no surprise for me,” says one respondent doing postdoctoral research at a Stockholm University.   

“But what came as a complete shock was seeing people get completely naked in the changing areas of gyms and swimming pools. That took some getting used to, especially the level to which nudity is normalised and accepted in the Swedish society.” 

One respondent living in Gothenburg said she had also found it difficult to adapt to the “common toilet for men and women”.

And of course, the absence of handheld bidets in toilets is as unwelcome in Sweden as it is in the US or in other European countries. 

“For Indians, it’s always the toilet paper when coming to any western country for the first time.  We use bidets, just need to press a button!” complained one respondent. 

It is possible to buy bidet attachments, called a krandusch, at Biltema and other hardware stores in Sweden, which can be fixed to a normal tap if you have a basin near your toilet in your bathroom. 

Flat hierarchy 

Both Indian readers studying at universities and those working for Swedish companies said they had experienced a jolt when they realised they were expected to refer to everyone by their first names. 

“Here, professors and managers are called by their name, not by ‘Sir’ or ‘Ma’am’,” one student reported. 

Another respondent said they felt the flat hierarchy in Sweden was “good”, although they objected to lagom, the Swedish principle of ‘just enough and not too much’ being “applied mindlessly everywhere”. 

Swedes often pay individually when eating together in restaurants. Photo: TT

Eating habits 

The Swedes behaviour in restaurants and when sharing meals together at home also took some getting used to. 

“It was the way people pay in the restaurant when they go as a group. In India we pay as a group, not everyone paying separately. This is still a big cultural shock to me today,” said a respondent working as a software developer in Stockholm. Another reader had been surprised that there was “no tipping culture” when people go to restaurants. 

It’s not just the way people behave when eating out, but the time that they do it. 

“It’s dinner at 6pm, early in the evening and [then people] continue drinking after dinner until late in evening, whereas in India we generally have dinner at 9pm and stop drinking after dinner,” said a reader who works at a company in Helsingborg. 

Another respondent complained that in Sweden, there are “no quick bite food stalls or snack shops”. Presumably, in his eyes, korv med bröd hotdogs don’t count. 

Rule following 

The orderly way Swedes approach crossing roads also came as a surprise to many Indian readers, with one reader from Chennai, who lives in Lund, remembering how amazed she was when she arrived 12 years ago to see people waiting at pedestrian crossings and cars stopping at red lights. 

“I remember the view from the Scandic Malmö down onto the street. I was so surprised that I called out to my husband, ‘Look! The drivers are respecting the pedestrians’. It was fascinating, because in India people don’t take any notice of traffic signals and also the cars don’t respect pedestrians.” 


The same person said she had had problems initially adapting to shops’ opening and closing hours, a complaint made by many respondents. 

“In India, we have long working hours, and the essential shops are open to 11pm at night, so when you come here and the shops are closed by 5pm, you are like ‘come on!’.

One Indian respondent was harassed on a tram in central Stockholm, without other passengers coming to his aid. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

People not coming to one another’s help 

Another aspect of Swedish reserve that came a shock to an engineer living in Stockholm was the reluctance of his fellow passengers to intervene when he got racially harassed by a man on the underground. 

“He started yelling things and then he started to point and say some stuff that I couldn’t understand, and then he called me ‘Paki’, which is like calling an Israeli a Palestinian. It’s not funny, so I got spooked.”

He asked a woman sitting opposite him for help, and to explain what the man was shouting about. 

“She just looked through me,” he remembers. “The strange thing was she was not the only one there. There were four people sitting next to me and I asked her in plain English for help, and nobody reacted at all.” 

“I asked my manager about this and asked, ‘are people here like this? If someone’s basic rights of people are being violated, why don’t people say something?’. So I was a bit mad at that time. I thought ‘maybe we’re in the wrong place, maybe we should just leave’.”

His wife then had a similar experience on a tram in central Stockholm. 

“The same thing happened with my wife and my wife’s friend, who is Italian, and once again people didn’t do anything. They just walk by. Maybe it’s a metro city thing. Maybe it would happen in Mumbai too, but I think in Mumbai people would say something.” 

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Five tips to get your hands on a first-hand rental apartment in Sweden

They're often high quality and cheaper than the market rate, but oh so hard to come by. The Local's readers share their best tips for how foreigners without years in the housing queue can rent a so-called first-hand apartment in Sweden.

Five tips to get your hands on a first-hand rental apartment in Sweden

Sweden’s tightly-regulated rental market means that most newcomers end up moving from one sublet apartment (or “second-hand apartment” as it’s usually known in Sweden even among English-speakers, andrahandslägenhet) to the next every year or so.

In practice rents are often high and leases insecure, despite laws in theory preventing overpriced sublets.

First-hand rentals, on the other hand, tend to be better quality, more long-term and often remarkably cheap, making them an attractive but elusive option – unless you signed up for the public housing queue years, or even decades, ago it’s hard to snag one.

But not impossible. In a Facebook post, The Local’s readers shared their tips for how they managed to beat the competition and secure a first-hand rental.

Here are their best strategies:

1. Move out of the big cities

Many readers suggested avoiding Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö, where the housing shortage is particularly bad. Student cities like Uppsala and Lund also tend to be on that list, but many smaller or more rural municipalities have far shorter housing queues, sometimes none at all.

“I live in a 10,000 people city, 180 kilometres from Stockholm,” said Rodrigo.

Johanna said she’s moved from Stockholm to the countryside, adding she’s got “many friends living in more rural areas of Heby and Dalarna or way up north like Haparanda” where apartments come “dirt cheap”.

2. You don’t always have to move far

If you can put up with a longer commute, there are many municipalities within commuting distance of the big cities which have shorter housing queues and reasonable public transport connections.

“On any given day we have 100 different rental flats here in Eskilstuna – it’s literally one hour’s train ride to Stockholm,” said Jörgen.

3. Keep an eye out for exceptions

Some housing queues make exceptions from their standard housing queue for certain categories of apartments.

These vary depending on the municipality, but could include for example new builds. In Stockholm, there’s a special category called “bostadssnabben” which are apartments offered on a first-come, first-served basis, regardless of how many queue points the applicants have.


Some municipalities also allow tenants to swap apartments internally, so you may be able to go for the low hanging fruit initially and then later find someone who wants to swap apartments with you.

4. Get in the queue anyway

It’s not uncommon for people to sign up for rental queues even if they’re not thinking of moving any time soon – many Swedes sign up as soon as they turn 18, and even many property owners stay in the queue – in order to collect queue points and improve their chances of renting in the future.

Not all municipalities charge a fee for a spot in the housing queue, either, so it may even be worth having a think about in which areas of Sweden you might conceivably want to live at some point in the future, and signing up for those queues on the off-chance that you end up moving there.

Far from everyone in the queue is active, and sometimes, all you need is a bit of luck.

“Be very active. Apply to as many as you can, as often as you can. Don’t be too selective about the area. I got one where the primary applicant had to have 70 percent of the income. Less competition,” said Marios, who got a 90 square metre apartment in a Stockholm suburb in three months.

5. Go private

The most common way of renting in Sweden is through the municipalities’ own housing agencies, and in some queues such as Stockholm, private landlords rent out their homes via these queues too.

But in some cities, there are private companies that rent out apartments outside of the housing queue, and they don’t always follow the same “queue point” procedure as the municipality. Some have their own housing queue, which may be shorter, and some use a lottery system, for example.

It makes it a bit more hit-or-miss whether you’ll be successful, as these queues don’t always have the same reliability and transparency as the municipal housing queues, but it’s still an option.

Bear in mind that there are degrees of dodginess when it comes to private rental companies, with some being just as good or better than municipal landlords and some being… not. Many people join the Swedish Tenants’ Association to get more information on tenants’ rights.