Swedish Stereotypes

Swedish stereotypes: What are Swedish people like?

While Sweden’s population is less than a third of California, the country has made a pretty significant impact on the global stage. Even people who’ve never visited before will at least know of the country, and they’ll probably have a couple of ideas about what people are like in this corner of Northern Europe. So, what are the main Swedish stereotypes — and are they even true? 

People in the country differ, and each region has its own culture. Life in Swedish cities like Stockholm and Gothenburg is very different from a rural town in Northern Sweden, where the dark winters seem to never end.

Nonetheless, Swedes carry a lot of similar personality traits — some of which you might have become accustomed to if you’ve spent significant time in another Nordic country. 

What are the Swedish people like, then? We’ll do our best to answer this question and identify the most commonly said things about Swedes in this article. Still, you should also remember that every individual will have unique personality traits — as is probably also true wherever you live. 

What are the Swedes known for? 

Swedes have a lot of shared cultural values, many of which have shaped how outsiders view people in the country. Below are some of the most common things that bind many people in Scandinavia’s largest country together. 

Swedish Stereotypes

Having an eye for creativity 

Perhaps owing to the few hours of daylight and sub-zero winter temperatures or the fact they live in a land with so much natural beauty, the Swedes are a very creative bunch. You’ve almost certainly heard Dancing Queen, a classic from ABBA — one of Stockholm’s greatest exports. 

In more recent years, you’ll probably know about the late, great EDM artist Avicii as well. 

Sweden has abundant musical talent, but it’s also well-known for its cutting-edge design. IKEA needs no introduction, and various other businesses are making their mark both domestically and further afield. 

Many Swedes have become huge entertainers, too. PewDiePie, who hails from Gothenburg and now lives in the UK, is one example; his YouTube channel has accumulated well over 100 million subscribers in May 2022. 

Are the Swedes really that creative then? If you look at their output, you’d have to say yes. The high tax rate and social security net give people the courage to take risks without worrying about starving, and Swedish schools also encourage students to think outside the box and explore new ideas. 

Having a good dress sense 

If we look at Swedish stereotypes, one of the most common is that everyone dresses immaculately in muted colors. Is this true, though?

If Swedish cities are anything to go by, the answer is a resounding yes — for the most part. 

The Swedes dress in clothing that suits them, and you’re unlikely to see many graphic t-shirts when walking the streets of Stockholm or Gothenburg. 

But besides looking good, people in Sweden focus on functionality just as much. After all, what’s the point in wearing a $1,000 outfit when you’re freezing when it’s -10ºC in January? 

Sweden has produced a huge number of globally-renowned fashion labels. Nudie Jeans, Acne Studios, and Filippa K are just three of those.  

Drinking a lot of coffee 

When the hours of daylight are limited in the winter, and the sky is covered in gray clouds for much of when the sun is above the horizon, you need to find a way to muster the energy for your daily schedule. So, what can you do? 

If you ask Swedes, Finns, or Norwegians, they might point to coffee. 

Drinking a lot of coffee is one of the most accurate Swedish stereotypes. According to Statista, Swedish people drank 7.7 kilograms of coffee per capita in 2020. In 2010, that number was as high as 8.8kg!

Meanwhile, an article published by the BBC mentioned that Sweden was the second-highest drinker of coffee per capita in 2016; the Nordic countries occupied every top five spot, with Finland finishing top of the pile.

Many Swedes consume coffee as part of their daily fika ritual, which often involves a sweet pastry. Believe it or not, the average person in Sweden eats well over 300 cinnamon buns annually. 

Swedish Stereotypes

Enjoying the outdoors 

If Swedish stereotypes are anything to go by, everyone in this country enjoys spending their free time hiking around forests and lakes. What’s more, they do everything in colorful jackets and Fjällräven backpacks; quite the contrast from their daily wardrobe of black, gray, and beige. 

Again, this stereotype has some elements of truth (though some Swedes do own black and navy hiking jackets). The Swedes are incredibly outdoorsy — and who can blame them when they live in a country with so many beautiful forests and national parks? 

Even during the colder months when daylight hours are near-non-existent, you will see Swedes out in nature. In the latter stages of summer, you might also notice a couple of them out picking berries. 

Everyone in Sweden enjoys allemansrätten (every man’s rights), which allows you to hike wherever you want — even on private property. In addition to walking and hiking, Sweden is an excellent place for kayaking, skiing, and various other outdoor activities. And yes, by the way — Fjällräven bags are incredibly popular here. 

Avoiding conflict 

Swedes have a reputation for being non-confrontational. The country remained neutral during the Second World War and — though a member of the European Union — it hadn’t decided to join NATO until applying for membership in 2022. 

Does this translate to the average individual Swede, though? In many instances, yes. Swedish business culture is notoriously consensus-driven, with several meetings often taking place before concluding certain issues. 

Generally speaking, Swedes would rather avoid heated confrontations and diffuse a situation before reaching that point. That’s not to say that they’ll blindly agree with you, though, because they won’t — as you’ll find out later in this article. 

Work-life balance 

People across the world hail the Nordic countries as a beacon of living the good life while still working hard. And for most Swedish people, this rings true. 

Both traditional employees and self-employed people in Sweden enjoy a good work-life balance for the most part. 

Statista states that the average actual weekly working hours for everyone in the country was 30.1 in 2021, with self-employed people typically working for 32.1 hours and full-time workers clocking 30.6. 

Many Swedes leave their workplace early to pick up the children or prepare dinner each day, and it’s not uncommon for offices to feel like ghost towns beyond early afternoon on a Friday. 

Of course, some Swedes choose to work longer hours — but doing so is by no means universal. 

Swedish Stereotypes

Summer cabins

If you hop on a train and travel through the Swedish countryside, you’ll notice an abundance of red cabins dotted throughout the country. 

Go by the common Swedish stereotypes, and you’ll believe that everyone heads out to these in the summer, when they also put their out-of-office notifications on for three weeks or so. 

Again, this is partially true. Many Swedes head to their cabins during the summer and enjoy the long days taking life very slowly — with perhaps a few evening swims included. 

While much of modern Sweden is urban, many Swedes still yearn to be close to nature — and their summer cabins are a good way to get this fix. 

Equality 

Sweden is regularly mentioned in gender equality discussions, and the society prides itself on being egalitarian. While the country isn’t perfect, Scandinavia’s largest country is a better place to be a woman than in most parts of the world. 

You can see the Swedes’ emphasis on equality play out in various other aspects of life. The country’s high tax rate means that a relatively large middle class exists, with few people on either side of the spectrum. 

Moreover, Janteloven — which effectively frowns on bragging — is alive and kicking here. 

Many people have a misconception that Sweden is socialist, but that isn’t entirely true. Corporate tax rates are very competitive, and the country has one billionaire for every 250,000 residents. Income inequality is low, but overall, wealth inequality isn’t as even. 

Being on time 

Like the rest of Northern Europe, many Swedish stereotypes involve people being on time — always. Again, this is largely true; god forbid you show up late to an event that you’ve organized with a Swede. 

Many Swedes understand that time is their most important asset, and you can expect a Swedish person to show up somewhere when they say they’re going to; if they can’t for whatever reason, they’ll let you know why. 

While being on time is fundamental if you want to successfully assimilate into Swedish society, the reality is that it’s a pretty good trait to take with you anywhere in the world. So yeah, show up at the designated meeting time. 

A unique sense of humor 

Many people stereotype Swedes as being a bit boring (you can throw some overt political correctness into the mix for good measure, too). And while understanding Swedes’ sense of humor is difficult for foreigners, that’s not to say it’s non-existent. 

The Swedish sense of humor is tamer than, say, the British equivalent — which some probably class as borderline bullying. Making fun of others isn’t something that typically flies well in Sweden, though they are good at self-deprecating humor. 

Humor also differs depending on where you go. In Gothenburg, for example, the locals are well-known for their puns. 

Swedish Stereotypes

Fish, and lots of it 

Sweden has a coastline spanning over 3,000 kilometers in total, so you won’t be surprised to learn that seafood is an important part of Swedish cuisine — especially if you visit the country’s coastal parts. 

Swedish stereotypes would dictate that people here eat more herring than you can handle, and they’re particularly fond of weird smelly fish in cans (see Surströmming) — plus odd stuff coming out of tubes. 

Is that true? Sort of, but it depends on what you’re talking about. 

You could very easily go a long time in Sweden without having to eat Surströmming, and of course, not every Swede likes seafood. But to say it’s not a big part of the local culture isn’t accurate; go to a crayfish party in the summer to see a case example. 

Many Swedish dishes include salmon, and you’ll see prawns on many restaurant menus as well. Smörgåstårta, which is effectively a salmon cake, usually features one or the other (or both). 

As for the fish in tubes, yes — you will see Kalles Kaviar — a mixture of cod roe and other ingredients — in many Swedish people’s fridges. You can enjoy it with boiled eggs and rye crackers. 

Less stringent in relationships

While dating is called “dating” in many parts of the world, the Swedes don’t date in a traditional sense. Rules are much less stringent here, and “dating” a Swedish woman or man will involve getting to know the person more than excessive romantic gestures. 

Many first dates in Sweden involve fika; going to a restaurant is reserved for special occasions like anniversaries and birthdays, and you’ll see why when you get the bill at a Stockholm restaurant. 

Other common date ideas include going to a museum or hiking. 

In terms of dating, you won’t see rules related to how many dates you should wait before sex; as long as both parties give their consent, the ideal time is whenever the pair of you are ready. 

Big Midsummer celebrations

As you might expect from a country where many regions don’t see the sun for months during the winter, midsummer is a huge event in Sweden. If you watched the 2019 hit Midsommar, don’t worry — Swedish midsummer events don’t involve purges (though Hårga is a real place). 

A lot of Swedes do dress up for midsummer, and you will hear plenty of songs sung during this time. It’s not uncommon to go to one of those summer cabins we mentioned earlier in this article at this time of the year. 

Herring is often served at midsummer events in Sweden, and you can expect a lot of alcohol to be consumed as well. 

Swedish Stereotypes

Tech-savvy

Spotify, Klarna, Trustly; Stockholm has a huge number of tech companies, many of which have transformed their industries. So, Swedish stereotypes should have you believe that Sweden is a tech-savvy nation. On this occasion, those stereotypes are pretty accurate. 

Stockholm is an attractive hub for tech start-ups, and the Swedes are — along with the Finns — probably the most entrepreneurial people in the Nordics. In everyday life, you’ll also see the Swedes’ love for efficiency translate to their use of technology. 

Sweden is almost an entirely cash-free society, and many places will not allow you to pay with physical notes. Most of the country has high-speed internet access, too, and you can purchase public transport tickets and whatnot through your mobile device. 

Are the Swedes friendly? 

Upon visiting Sweden for the first time, you might wonder if those World Happiness Reports have lied to you. Except for perhaps between June and August, you’re probably not going to see many people smiling around the streets. 

If you move to Sweden, you might also find the Swedes quite cold — and incredibly difficult to become friends with. 

So, are the Swedes friendly? For the most part, yes — but you can expect an initial teething phase. 

If you need help, you can ask a Swede, and they’ll most likely be happy to assist if they can. Similarly, the Swedes are generally very polite. 

Getting to know the Swedes on a personal level is challenging, especially if you’re moving here as an expat. Swedes do not treat friendships lightly, and you’ll probably need to adopt a patient approach. 

The good news, however, is that the Swedes are some of the most loyal friends you’ll have once you’ve earned their trust. 

Swedish Stereotypes

Swedish personality traits: What are Swedes like? 

Now that you know a little more about cultural values in Sweden and common Swedish stereotypes, we can discuss what the Swedes are like in terms of personality. Below are some commonly shared traits, but — again — they are not universal. 

Quiet talkers 

Talk loudly in a Swedish restaurant and expect to feel the glares in the back of your head, plus a couple of passive-aggressive notes about you in their group chat. You’ll quickly notice that Swedes value quiet; even Stockholm feels like a small town at times. 

If you’re from a place where talking loudly is the norm, such as the US or Canada, you might want to tone your voice down a couple of decibels. And please, for everyone’s sake, don’t shout down your phone when on public transport. 

A direct way of talking 

While the Swedes do not like conflict, that doesn’t mean you’re not going to get a piece of their mind. Swedish people are encouraged to form their own opinions on the world around them from an early age, and many will share their unfiltered thoughts with you. 

Small talk is also not very common in Sweden, so you can expect a blunt answer if you ask superficial questions. It might seem a little off-putting if you’re not used to it, but the direct approach solves a lot of problems and miscommunications early on. 

Caring 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, for a society based on collectivism, Swedes are largely very caring people — both as friends and romantic partners. The idea that they lack emotions is very inaccurate, and you can expect Swedish people in your life to make a genuine effort to help you. 

Ambitious 

Sweden is a largely conforming society, but that doesn’t mean people want to settle for being average. Many Swedes are ambitious and hard-working people, as you can see by the highly-educated population. 

Perhaps the largest difference compared to other countries is that many Swedes want a) a career or business they enjoy and b) to make a positive impact. Money isn’t as huge of a deal because you’re just going to get taxed higher anyway, and salaries are pretty good for most positions. 

Swedish Stereotypes

Swedish men stereotypes 

When you talk to people about Swedish men and women, you’ll probably hear different stereotypes about the pair of them. So, we’ll break down the common Swedish stereotypes for both in the sections below. 

Swedish men are shy

Swedish men, like many Scandinavian men, are often shy people compared to those from the likes of Southern Europe. As such, you’ll probably need to lay your intentions very clearly on the table if you’re interested. 

While many Swedish men are shy, you will still get outgoing ones. So, it pretty much depends on the luck of the draw. 

Swedish men have long, skinny legs 

Go to downtown Stockholm on any day of the week, and you’ll notice a disproportionate number of skinny jeans on show. Swedish men tend to be slim, and most of them wear tighter-fitting trousers than might notice elsewhere. 

Swedish men are bearded Vikings 

Okay, this stereotype is both true and untrue. Some Swedish men look like your stereotypical Viking with a strong beard game, but you’ll notice just as many guys with clean-shaven faces and modern haircuts. 

Sweden is also a diverse country these days, so you’ll see people of foreign or mixed origin as well. 

Swedish Stereotypes

Swedish women stereotypes 

Swedish women are perhaps more frequently stereotyped than men, and we’ll go through three of the most common stereotypes below. 

Swedish women are blonde with blue eyes 

When you visit Sweden, you will certainly notice a lot of Swedish women with blonde hair and blue eyes. However, you will also see a lot of Swedes with different hair and skin colors. You will also see Swedish women of different foreign origins, especially in the larger cities. 

Swedish women are independent 

While the Swedes are collective as a society, many people — including the women — are independent and have their own lives going on. If you ever end up in a relationship with one, you can expect it to end in tears if you want them to drop everything for you. 

Swedish women often make the first approach 

Because many Swedish men are shy, you will often see Swedish women making the first approach when they’re attracted to someone. While men are expected to make the first move in many countries, the general rule in Sweden is that anyone can initiate contact if they’re interested. 

Some Swedish stereotypes have elements of truth, but every individual is unique 

So, there you have it – that’s our complete guide to Swedish stereotypes. Many of them definitely have elements of truth to them, but a lot of outsiders’ views of the country aren’t the full picture. 

Coffee and pastries are popular here, and you’ll undoubtedly see people that meet the archetypal Swedish man or woman in your mind — but that’s only part of the complete story. 

Sweden is a great country to visit and live in, but Denmark ticks both of those boxes as well. Many people start with a trip to Stockholm or Copenhagen, and choosing one is difficult.

We recommend both — but if you’ve only got time for one, our guide to picking between them will help you out. 

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