Important Things To Know About Sweden Before Your Visit
So you’re planning a trip to Sweden. Congratulations! You’re about to embark on an adventure to a country of immense natural beauty and cosy cultural traditions. There are countless things to love about Sweden, from its beautiful villages and hearty cuisine, to its reputation as one of the most equal countries in the world. Before leaving for your to visit to Sweden, there are some important things to know before you go.
But whether you’re travelling to Stockholm to check out the ABBA museum, or heading to Lund to see one of the oldest universities in all of Europe – there are some things to keep in mind about life in Sweden. Avoid these potential culture shocks, and you’ll arrive well-prepared for a holiday in the land of Ingrid Bergman and IKEA.
Sweden is an (almost) cashless society
If your first thought when landing in Sweden is to take cash at the nearest ATM, you’d be forgiven. Converting money to a local currency makes sense for a lot of holiday-goers, but keep in mind that there’s a growing number of Swedish cafes, shops, restaurants and services at which you will be unable to pay with physical cash. Card payments or mobile payments are preferred virtually everywhere in Sweden.
Swedes speak great English
There’s no need to worry about communication difficulties in Sweden. The country’s love for American and British pop culture plays a part in equipping the locals with great English, and so too does an education system which takes English teaching very seriously. So don’t be offended if, when you attempt to communicate using your English-Swedish pocket dictionary, the locals insist on having the conversation in English. They probably figure it will save you both some time.
Different regions have different transport systems
If you order a taxi in Sweden, be prepared to pay a whopping price. Fortunately, the public transport system is fairly reliable, with regular buses, metro lines and trains running at most hours. Depending on where in Sweden you are, there may be an app you can use on your phone to simplify ticket purchases. This digital form of ticket also has the added benefit of allowing for discounts on group tickets or 24-hour tickets. You will have to purchase your ticket before you hop on the bus or train, as payments can’t be made onboard. One great thing about Sweden is that the country is very bicycle friendly. That’s worth taking advantage of if the weather’s good!
You’ll be expected to recycle
Swedes take recycling very seriously – and for good reason. The country is known for its environmental friendliness, and has made recycling especially easy in an effort to encourage responsible waste disposal. You’ll find recycling bins for glass and plastic in many places, and you can even earn back some cash on your plastic bottles purchases if you pop into a supermarket and use the recycling machines there.
You can’t buy alcohol at supermarkets
The state has a monopoly on alcohol sales, which means there is only one shop at which to buy alcohol. It’s called ‘Systembolaget’ and you’ll know it when you see it, because the place doesn’t sell anything other than alcohol. To buy a bottle of wine or spirit, you’ll need to locate the nearest Systembolaget and be prepared to carry ID that shows you are over 21 years of age. Systembolaget have limited opening hours, so you’ll be well-advised to plan your alcohol purchases in advance. Supermarkets do sell light beers and ciders ( under 3.5%), but if you’re craving a glass of wine when Systembolaget is closed, you’ll need to head to an eating or dining establishment. No matter where you get your drink from, however, remember that alcohol in Sweden is not cheap.
There are only four casinos in all Sweden
Sale of alcohol isn’t the only thing the Swedish state has monopolized. If you were hoping to fit in some blackjack or roulette during your holiday, you might be disappointed. In Sweden, casinos are not the glamorous affairs they are elsewhere. In fact, there are only four of the so-called ‘Cosmopol’ casinos – in Stockholm, Malmö, Göteborg and Sundsvall – and they’re not the ostentatious resorts you’ll find in Vegas. Bizarrely, rules surrounding online casinos are more relaxed, meaning you could still play a bit of online roulette if you’re far from the nearest casino.
Be wary of wild animals when adventuring
The chances of getting attacked by a wild animal in Sweden are slim, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take into account that there are wolves, bears, moose and lynx roaming the scenic forest of this country. Do be cautious when camping and hiking. Be respectful of nature, and – in the unlikely event that a wild animal does cross your path – don’t panic! It might comfort you to know that the last time someone was attacked by a wolf in Sweden, the year was 1821.
Swedes are private people
It’s easy to mistake a Swede’s withdrawn nature as unfriendliness, but don’t be fooled. The Swedes are on the contrary very compassionate and easy-going people. Yet culturally it is unusual that one strikes up conversation with a complete stranger, or acts affectionately toward someone who is not a close friend or family member. Of course, you’ll find Swedes who defy the stereotype, but in general it’s good to remember that Swedes don’t mean to come across as cold when (and if) they’re reserved or quiet.
Self-service is common
As part of Sweden’s equality culture, there’s an emphasis on helping out and minimizing work for others when possible. In cafes and food halls, it’s not uncommon for establishments to expect customers to clean up after themselves. If your food is served on a tray, there’ll be somewhere nearby to place the tray before you leave. It’s a pleasant courtesy common to casual dining establishments, and the locals appreciate a tourist who observes it.
There’s something called ‘fika’
One of the most important things you should understand about Sweden, if you want to fit in and properly experience the culture, is how much they value the little mental break in the day that revolves around coffee and cake. It’s called ‘fika’ and you’ll be well-advised to enjoy it at a traditional Swedish cafe, or – even better – in the kitchen of a local’s home. Swedes typically have a sweet tooth, and they’re the third biggest consumers of coffee in the world (beaten only by the Netherlands and Finland). Combine this love for coffee and cake with social chit-chat, and you have the ‘fika break’. If you’re lucky enough to get invited to fika by a Swede – don’t turn it down!
Now that you know a bit more about what to expect before you visit Sweden, you’re less likely to encounter any awkward surprises. Sweden is an attractive destination whether you’re a traveller interested in wildlife, history, shopping or sports. From summer to winter, the Scandinavian country has so much to offer in form of authentic Nordic experiences.
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