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Swedish culture and traditions

English is widely spoken

The Swedes have the highest proficiency in English as a second language in the world according to the 2015 Education First English Proficiency Index. With 90 per cent of the population fluent in English, you can leave your phrase book at home and get by with English throughout the country. English is widely spoken and for some companies it is the official working language. English is also taught as a compulsory foreign language in Swedish schools. The prevalence of English is hugely appreciated by international visitors and Swedes alike as visitors can easily adapt to their new surroundings and the Swedes get to practise their language skills.

For those with an interest in learning another language, there are opportunities to learn Swedish.  Lund University arranges some introductory courses for students and staff. Those who wish to study the language can do so through free language classes for immigrants funded by the Swedish government. Alternatively you can pay for classes at local education institutes or arrange a private tutor.

Go to the Education First English Proficiency Index

Swedish traits

Swedes can sometimes seem a bit reserved at first, but people are generally very friendly and are always happy to help and to answer any questions you might have. A good way to get to know Swedish people is to join Swedish societies, clubs, associations and non-profit organisations. Learning some Swedish language is also a good way to experience more of the culture.

Couple hiking in Sweden
Picture by Friluftsbyn Höga Kusten/imagebank.sweden.se

A well-known national characteristic is the love of nature. Many Swedes like to spend their free time in the forest or by the sea. In Sweden nature is really available to everyone as there is a right of common access which applies to all forests, fields, beaches and lakes across the country.

Being punctual is important to Swedes - arriving just prior to an appointment, but not too early!

Forming an orderly queue is expected of everyone when waiting to be served in a shop or bank, for example.  Almost no excuse is good enough to get in front of the people who arrived before you. Many places use a system of "queuing tickets", whereby you take a number from a ticket machine when you first enter the store. When your number shows on the screen, or the shop assistant calls your number, it is your turn. 

Taking off your shoes off before entering the home of a Swedish family is a common act of courtesy, especially in winter. Some Swedes bring a lighter pair of clean shoes to wear indoors when visiting people.

It is also customary to have a small present for the host to say thank you for their hospitality, when invited for dinner or other occasions. When you next see the host, it is then customary to thank them again 'tack för senast'.

Weather

“There is no bad weather, only bad clothes” is a common expression in Sweden. Come rain or shine, cold or warmth, the Swedes are always prepared for changes in the climate.

Sweden is often associated with freezing cold temperatures and plenty of snow. Whilst that may stand true for the northern parts of Sweden, in the very south of Sweden - where Lund is located - the winters are much milder.

Students in central Lund playing in the snow

In Lund, and in Sweden in general, you need to be prepared for both sunshine and rain, warmth and cold. The average temperature in Lund is around zero degrees Celsius in winter and around 17 degrees Celsius in summer.

Typically you can expect summer temperatures in Lund to reach the mid-high 20s (Celsius) with up to 17 hours of daylight. Summer is a time to enjoy the beautiful beaches along the coast and the nature all around Skåne. In winter, daylight is reduced to 7 hours and temperatures drop down to zero degrees Celsius. Although snowfalls do occur, it is uncommon for snow to stay on the ground in Skåne for several weeks, in contrast to winters in the north in Sweden.

Food

Meatballs and pickled herring, anyone? Of the many culinary classics in Sweden, one of the most popular is meatballs served with potatoes and lingonberries - a staple meal that is served in many homes around the country.

Swedish meatballs served with potato and lingonberry
photo by Susanne Walström/imagebank.sweden.se

Another classic dish is pickled herring (sill), which is served at all festivities. Whether it is Christmas, Easter or Midsummer, no important celebration meal is complete without pickled herring. Fresh, pickled and smoked seafood (particularly herring, crayfish, salmon and eel), game meats such as elk and reindeer as well as berries and currants (including the ligonberry), are all typical ingredients used in Swedish cuisine.

In Lund, Malmö and Helsingborg you will find a growing international food scene, with restaurants offering Thai, Greek, Persian, Indian, Italian and American cuisine. Specialist food stores selling ethnic ingredients are also located in the cities so you can create a taste of your home country here in Sweden.

'Fika' - coffee break

Of all the words to learn when you come to Sweden, "fika" is one you will quickly pick up. Swedes love to “fika”, meaning to take a coffee break.

Swedish cinnamon buns
Photo by Tina Stafrén/imagebank.sweden.se

Coffee breaks usually involve pastries (especially cinnamon buns), biscuits or sandwiches and the all important coffee; Sweden is the second largest consumer of coffee.

Swedish traditions

The Swedes celebrate many traditions throughout the year. Some of the highlights include:

Valborg

Walpurgis Night on 30 April, when large bonfires are lit across the country as symbols of the passing of winter and the approach of spring.

Bonfire on Walpurgis eve
Picture by Ola Ericson/imagebank.sweden.se

Midsummer

The midsummer celebrations take place in June, on the longest day of the year. This is a day filled with parties and dancing around the traditional maypole that is decorated with birch leaves and wild flowers. Midsummer is, next to Christmas, the most important celebration in Sweden.

Midsummer celebration with people dancing around a may pole
Photo by Carolina Romare/imagebank.sweden.se

Kräftskiva (Crayfish Party)

As the summer draws to an end, crayfish parties with snapps and singing are very popular.

Crayfish party dinner
Picture by Carolina Romare/imagebank.sweden.se

Jul (Christmas)

In the lead up to Christmas there are the Lucia celebrations, where processions of boys and girls in white gowns holding candles charm the crowd with beautiful songs.  Christmas is celebrated on 24 December.

Lucia celebration with a lucia choir
Picture by Cecilia Larsson/imagebank.sweden.se
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