Swedish Language Blog

Eye Contact and Shoeless Feet in Sweden Posted by on Jun 19, 2012 in Culture

Learning Swedish, or any language really, also means learning a bit about the culture. Whether it is finding out more about the politics of a country or understanding the dinner habits, as you grow more comfortable with a language, it becomes more important to also grow comfortable with the culture. Or at least understand that culture. Not too long after I moved back to the US from Sweden, I wrote Swedish Cultural Exchange and discussed a few of the different cultural things I brought back with me. Taking my shoes off whenever I enter someone’s home is one of the things that is most obvious to me.

It became even more obvious the other day. I was back home to visit an old friend who is getting married to a lovely woman. We were a group of about 12 guys who played some golf, went to a baseball game, and went for dinner and drinks. All in all, a great way to spend time with old friends. In between golfing and baseball though, we went to a friend’s house. I immediately took my shoes off. Because that’s what I do. It wasn’t more than five minutes before someone pointed out that I was the only person, out of 12, who didn’t have shoes on. Even though we were only there for a little while, we still went in, so my shoes went off. My friends laughed at my Swedishness and I left my shoes off.

It was one of those moments that doesn’t matter when you’re with friends. But it was also one of those moments that demonstrates the little differences in culture. Had I been in Sweden with all of my friends though, expectations would have been different. Had we been in Sweden, shoes would have been removed before entering the home (be sure to have nice socks on. Or at least socks without holes in them). Had we been in Sweden, we probably would have been dressed just a bit better (my 10 year old baseball cap would have been left at home).

Sweden.se does a good job of presenting a lot of those differences and has a video about what to expect at a dinner party. The video below is a little hokey. That’s ok. It shows a couple of those little things that differ between cultures. A few of those little things that are expected in Sweden. Like taking your shoes off when you enter a home. But it also fails to explain all that toasting. Which is a shame, because it can get kind of confusing.

Just as above, had we been in Sweden, every time we toasted my soon-to-be-married friend, we would have held our glasses up, looked everyone in the eyes before drinking, taken a drink, then looked everyone in the eyes once more. Never once would our glasses touch. And of course, we would have said skål [cheers].

Depending on how fancy the dinner party is, you will actually make eye contact in a specific way. If you have a dinner partner you will first look at them with glass raised and nod. Then to the person sitting to your other side, and finally to the person sitting aross from you. That’s three nods. Then drink. Now, with glass still raised, look at all the same people, make eye contact, and give a quick nod. Good. You’re done. Now repeat every single time someone proposes a toast.

And a final word of warning. If you find yourself at a dinner party that may last a while with alcohol in front of you, exercise caution. There can be a surprising number of toasts. Do not feel it necessary to drink the entire shot of akvavit in front of you. Halves are fine. You’ll notice that the more seasoned Swedes will stretch one shot to two toasts. Follow their lead.

Have fun!

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About the Author: Marcus Cederström

Marcus Cederström has been writing for the Transparent Swedish Blog since 2009. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Oregon, a Master's Degree in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and a PhD in Scandinavian Studies and Folklore from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He has taught Swedish for several years and still spells things wrong. So, if you see something, say something.


  1. Mor:

    I am glad that taking shoes off is obvious in Sweden.. We do the same in Czech. I think it’s healthy for feet and good for floor and carpets.

  2. Sonia:

    I have the same habit about shoes, but in Italy everyone looks at me like a crazy woman, obsessed with dirty.
    I think is polite and really hygienic. I look around and see people vomiting at the corner of the street, oil dropping from cars, rubbish on the pavement, a lot of chemical things etc. Why someone should bring all this stuff in his home?
    So I bought a little metal stuff in Ikea, put it close to the door and as I enter home, take away my shoes and put them on it. My best friends do the same in my home but, for example, my relatives do not and no one of them take away the shoes in their own home. What a pity!

  3. Bely:

    The first toast in the video made me laugh. I’ve never experienced such a long toast (with so many eye contacts), so it’s not very common. 😉 At normal dinner parties, we either toast in the air, with quick eye contact and a smile while saying “skål”, or let our glasses touch and say “skål”. Only at weddings I’ve experienced the rigorous eye contact ritual described above.

    I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t take off their shoes at home. When I visit my Spanish family I feel sorry for their feet, trapped in socks and shoes the whole day. (Yeah, they use socks…) Nothing beats free feet. 🙂

  4. Petre Panescu:

    honestly, i don’t know countries in Europe where you don’t take off ur shoes…

  5. Laura García:

    quite interesting. In spain is not considered polite to take your shoes off without asking for permission, and few people do.

  6. Serenitsa:

    I know that in Greece and Italy we don’t take off our shoes! Maybe in all mediterranean countries..

  7. Matthew C:

    …but not if you count Albania and Croatia as mediterranean countries.

  8. Petr H.:

    This is one of the things I like about Sweden. Just as Mor said, it’s almost the same in the Czech Republic and usually when we take off our shoes, we have prepared slippers for everyone to warm their feet and socks remain clean. =)

  9. Marcus Cederström:

    Great comments, everyone.

  10. Iva:

    In Bulgaria We take our shoes off before entering home too. Great for my floor and carpets:))

    • Marcus Cederström:

      @Iva It sure makes cleaning easier!

  11. Angelina:

    I have always taken my shoes off when entering our family homes in the US. My mother never understood it. She said I must not like shoes.

    Maybe I’m European at heart! 😉

  12. Marcus Cederström:

    European and someone who values a clean floor, obviously!