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Things That May Surprise You When Moving to Sweden Posted by on Jul 21, 2009 in Culture

Because all of your comments under the post about “Culture Shock When Moving to Sweden” were so great, and because that entry is proving to be quite popular, I thought it might be useful for those planning a move to Sweden to list all the major points you have mentioned in there. And because there are quite a few of them, I decided they deserved a post of their own.

So, here they are, in no particular order, the many things that may surprise you when moving to, or visiting, Sweden.

Personnummer. Yes, that’s a biggie. Kind of like a Social Security number in the US, but much more important. You can’t do anything without your personnummer – you’ll be asked for it when opening a bank account, signing up with an internet provider, going to the doctor, getting a job, applying for a discount card at your local ICA supermarket and many, many other things. In other words, you’ll need it pretty much everywhere and for everything, maybe with the exception of using a public restroom.

Bike paths. They’re everywhere and they’re actually being used! People ride their bikes here almost everywhere. Even in the dead of winter. If you’ve never ridden a bike in the snow to pick up a package from your local supermarket (because mailmen here don’t deliver them), then you can’t say you’ve had a truly Swedish experience.

Consumer culture, or rather – lack thereof. This is something that most native Swedes and I disagree on. In fact, my Swedish readers are always very quick to voice their displeasure whenever I comment on the apathetic customer service in Sweden. However, this particular point is not unique to Sweden. And yes, Ann is right – the situation is improving, slowly, but improving.

Nummerlapp. The queue number dispenser. You better get used to it. Fast. And like it. You’ll see it everywhere, from electrical shops to health clinics. And don’t be surprised when you see people queuing up to take a queue number – now that’s a truly Swedish experience!

Silent people. Yes, Swedes are known for being the strong, silent types, but really, would it hurt them to say “hej” when passing a stranger? Or a neighbor? I heard a joke once that if a person is greeting random strangers, that person most likely is: a) drunk, b) insane, c) American, and d) all of the above.

Coffee. Yes, it’s THE national drink of Sweden.

Men proudly taking care of babies. I’ve written about it before. And this is one of those things that I absolutely love about Sweden. But their job is not limited to taking care of babies. Swedish guys do everything a woman does (except giving birth) and sometimes even better. I know quite a few Swedes who won’t let their foreign wives cook or bake bread, because they (the men) think they can do a better job.

Health care. I guess depending on where you’re coming from, you will say that health care in Sweden is either dismal or fabulous. But regardless of your opinion, I agree that Swedish health system is just something else entirely.

Post office. There isn’t any. That takes a bit of getting used to.

Swedish mile. Just so you know, it’s 10 kilometers long. I know of at least one foreigner who, upon hearing that “oh, it’s only about a mile from here”, decided to walk. Needless to say, he was not amused.

And those are just some of the things that may surprise you when moving to Sweden. Or not. 🙂

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  1. Luke (Sydney):

    I have just accepted to have xmas on the beach, if I move to Sweden I would have to cope having kräftskiva in summer!

  2. Alastair:

    Having lived in Asia for several years, my annual trip back to Sweden with the family always gets interesting. Some of the fun items from this year:

    – having to pay for bags and then pack them yourself at the supermarket
    – at Systembolaget (state alcohol store) you need to place the bottles in the correct place in the middle of the conveyor belt with the labels facing the bar code scanner (to avoid giving the cashier a dodgy back
    – having to take the clothes you tried on back to the correct rail in H&M
    – after a week out in the countryside, finding a tick still attached to me after it has happily flown half way across the world back to Asia

  3. Ramsey Smith:

    No public post offices..i guess they sort the mail as they walk down the street? Does UPS or FedEx have offices there yet? You buy stamps at the food store then?

  4. Tanja:

    Yes we do sell stamps in food stores/ supermarkets. Ask the cashier.
    We do have post office they are just rare 😛
    I infact prefure having a post office other than waiting 10 days for deilverys in England.

    -English cheese cake is better than swedish
    and my bf thinks that english bacon is better than swedish bacon. I think there poo. actual shite… brown hgjguki8ouo

  5. Gabrielle:

    Luckily as a brazilian I wasn’t surprised by the queue numbers! 😉

  6. Olaf Burt:

    Silent people? In the major cities maybe, but not so much anywhere else.