Getting Friendly With the Swede Breed

A few days’ worth of trawling the travel blogosphere has shown me that many foreigners find it difficult to make friends in Sweden. Travellers and expats have recounted their shock at struggling to establish friendships with Swedes, while establishing friendships in their home or other countries comes more easily. However, this shock doesn’t occur because Swedes are unfriendly and probably stems from unfamiliarity with Swedish social convention.

An understanding of social protocols is essential to being able to make friends in Sweden.

An understanding of social protocols is essential to being able to make friends in Sweden.

Realising that Swedish social convention is very different to other countries is critial in adapting to ‘friendship shock’, as I’ll call it. Adjectives used in the blogosphere to describe Swedish demeanour include ‘cold‘,’shy‘, ‘reserved‘ and ‘unfriendly‘. Yet, through my research I’ve realised that these are merely first impressions. There are other reasons for why Swedes behave this way.

I’ve listed below these reasons and ideas for minimising ‘friendship shock’:

– Try approaching people rather than expecting them to approach you. Nonetheless, observe Swedish reserve and save the French pecks and Japanese bowing for later

– Try to speak Swedish as Swedes will appreciate your effort to immerse in their culture

– Don’t expect to make friends out and about in the street. It is customary for Swedes to be far more socially receptive in intimate settings such as clubs, societies and bars

– Don’t expect to make friends overnight. Due to their reserved nature, it takes time to get to know a Swede. After being repeatedly exposed to this, the initially reserved nature of socialisation will become less shocking

– Don’t equate a detached disposition with hostility, nor take offence. In Sweden, reticence means respecting others until there is a greater degree of familiarity. As one expat advice guide puts it, ’emotional detachment is… an accepted way of minding one’s own business, out of respect and consideration for the other person’s personal space’



  1. As an expat I have to say that despite concurring to all of the above (incl. speaking the language fluently) even after 20 years I feel I have no friends and only acquaintances (at best).
    The friends I have are always in mixed culture marriages e.g., Portuguese/Swedish, German/Swedish, English/Swedish etc where the friendship is maintained through the foreign partner.


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