Travel Tips for Sweden

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Top Travel Tips for Sweden

Most Swedes have liberal, cosmopolitan, secular, egalitarian and environmentalist values by Anglo-Saxon standards. This spares Western tourists from cultural clashes which might be imminent in other countries. However, some strict rules of etiquette are almost unique to Swedish people.

  • Though narcotics are not unheard of, most Swedes, old and young, are strongly opposed to them. Punishment is harsh, even for private-use possession, consumption, and intoxication itself. This also applies to cannabis.
  • When it comes to alcohol, Swedes are as double-natured as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Before work or driving, one beer is one too many, and drunk driving is a crime genuinely despised in Sweden. However, drunkenness can be a regular part of many Swedish traditions (e.g. Midsommar, Valborg, etc.)--keep this in mind if you abstain from alcohol. Some Swedes frown on people being sober at a party and reject excuses other than driving or pregnancy--though no formal policy exists that would force one to drink against their will.
  • Salespeople, waiters and other service employees are usually less attentive than their colleagues in other countries, to respect customers' privacy, except a short "hej" to entering customers. Customers are supposed to call for attention.
  • When entering a bus or another form of public transportation it is often considered unpolite to sit next to another person if there is another twin seat available.
  • Always ask if you should remove your shoes or not when entering a Swedish home. In most homes it is customary to remove your shoes. Only on very rare occasions is the wearing of shoes indoors considered acceptable. Generally, you will see a place by the front door of most homes where shoes are to be stored and can surmise from the presence of other guests' shoes what is expected. If you just assume that you are to take your shoes off upon entry, in most cases you will have done the right thing. Bringing indoor shoes to other people's homes is customary among some. Most Swedish homes have wood flooring; wall-to-wall carpets are uncommon. Should you be dressed up and the host asks you to take your shoes off, then you should do that. As in every other culture one's home is one's castle, and you would not like someone to be disrespectful in your own home.
  • Despite rumors of the "Swedish sin", Swedish people are generally not accepting of public nudity except at approved nudist beaches. Don't go skinny-dipping in public beaches if you are more than about four years old. Female toplessness is accepted but not very common (though prohibited at many public baths), breastfeeding in public is also accepted. Male toplessness is accepted in the countryside and at the beach, but might be frowned upon in urban areas.
  • Greetings between men and women who know each other (e.g., are good friends, relatives, etc.) are often in the form of a hug. Swedes don't cheek-kiss to greet but are aware that other cultures do. If you are a visitor from France and do cheek-kiss a Swede, they will return the favor but probably feel a bit awkward doing so.
  • Show up on the minute for meetings and meals, preferably five minutes before the set time. There is no "fashionably late" in Sweden. However, showing up early at a private invitation is considered rude. If it's acceptable to arrive, late it's usually mentioned specifically (e.g.,"...arrive after 1700") or there exist formal rules (some universities apply an "akademisk kvart", an academic quarter hour, within which it is acceptable to arrive to lectures).
  • In regards to homosexuality, Sweden is quite tolerant to gays. In fact, as of May 2009, same-sex marriages have legal standing in Sweden. The chance of facing extreme criticism or homophobia is low in Sweden, as the country has anti-discrimination and hate crime laws. Violence against gays and lesbians is relatively rare.
  • As emphasized in many places Sweden is a multicultural country - as such the paramount point of respect to embrace this attitude as much as possible. Outward displays of racism, sexism, or homophobia will be met with hostility. Even slight preferences may be noticed and noted.
  • Of equal importance is to avoid assuming positions or cultures based on identifiable signs. For example the Chinese girl you might meet may speak no word of Chinese and have never been anywhere near China. This point is especially true for individuals from areas with ethnic strife - don't assume that anyone you meet is either personally connected to, or shares the viewpoints of their ethnic-origin Nation.

Sweden: A Country of Numbers

Swedish people are reputed to be rigid and organized. Almost everything has a number. Swedish people have a ten-digit personal identity number (starting by date of birth in the form YYMMDD) used in contact with all kinds of government authorities, usually mentioned before the name. Customers in Swedish shops or bank need to take a queue number note from a machine to be served in order. Each product at Systembolaget is known for its product number (which is often easier to keep track of than foreign-sounding names), and the most important feature in selection is the alcohol content (often divided by price to find the most cost-efficient product). If you order a drink in the bar, be prepared to tell how many centiliters of liquor you want. Most grocers provide milk in four or more fat content levels (plus an organic version of each, barista milk and low lactose milk, not to mention filmjölk, yoghurt and all other milk products). Before going outdoors, Swedes check air temperature, and before bathing in open water, they check water temperature. Many Swedes also own barometers, hygrometers and rain gauges to support the eternal conversation about weather with statistics. In conversation about housing, Swedes define their flats by number of rooms (En trea - "a three" - is simply a three-room-and-kitchen flat) and usually ask each other about the area by square meter. They have week numbers running from 1 to 52. The world famous furniture retailer IKEA diverts from this pattern, with Nordic product names.

Things to See in Sweden

Sweden is less populated than most other parts of Europe, especially northern Norrland with the Laponia National Park. During the summer Kungsleden in northern Sweden attracts lots of visitors who enjoy a solitary hike between cabins or camp sites in the beautiful mountains. The scenery shifts with seasons.

Sweden also has some Old Towns: Stockholm's Old Town, Uppsala, Visby, Karlskrona and others, as well as several Royal palaces and castles: Drottningholm in Ekerö just outside of Stockholm, Gripsholm in Mariefred, Solliden on Öland, etc.

As mining and metallurgy have been the backbone of Sweden's economy since the Middle Ages, many mines and mills have been preserved, with Falun and Fagersta recognized by UNESCO.

Among more unusual UNESCO World Heritage sites are the Woodland Cemetery in southern Stockholm, Grimeton Radio Masts in Halland, and the Struve Meridian Arch in Norrbotten.

Raggare: The Swedish greaser culture

Since the 1950s, young Swedes have been fond of American cars, rock'n'roll and rockabilly music, and greased hair. A sub-culture known as raggare (also, though unrelated, the Swedish word for "pick-up artist") keeps the American greaser culture alive in the middle-Swedish countryside. As the legal driving age is 18, the younger teens in the countryside ride geared-down custom cars registered as tractors, a unique vehicle class. The Power Meet is a series of meetings for American vintage and custom cars, in several Swedish towns. The biggest meeting takes place in Västerås.

Things to Do in Sweden

Sweden is great for outdoor life - skiing, skating, hiking, canoeing, cycling, sailing and horse-riding, depending on season.

Due to allemansrätten, berry- and mushroom-picking is largely unrestricted, except of course in gardens and plantations. Angling is allowed in seawater (including the Baltic Sea), as well as major lakes (Vänern, Vättern, Mälaren, Hjälmaren and Storsjön). Fishing in other bodies of water often requires a license.

Stockholm and Gothenburg have great nightlife and shopping opportunities.

The Year in Sweden

Swedish weather is best during summer (late May to early September). If you like snow, go to Norrland or Dalarna in January to April.

Be aware that daylight varies greatly during the year. In Stockholm, the sun sets at 3 PM in December. North of the Arctic Circle one can experience the midnight sun and Arctic night. However, even at Stockholm's latitude, summer nights exist only in the form of prolonged twilight during June and July.

The major holidays are Easter, Midsummer (celebrated from the eve of the Friday between June 19 - 25), Christmas (Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day are all considered holidays), and the "industrial vacation" throughout July. Expect closed establishments, heavy traffic (for the holidays) and crowded tourist resorts (for July).

Note that most Swedish holidays are celebrated on the day before (Midsummer's Eve, Christmas Eve etc), while Swedish people do hardly anything on the holiday proper.

Where are the Vikings?

Many tourists from English-speaking countries wonder where they can see real Vikings. Unfortunately, they have not been around for a thousand years. "Viking" is not the name of a separate tribe or nation - it is simply the old Norse word for "sailor", "navigator of the fjords" or "pirate" depending on etymology. While most Swedish, Norwegian and Danish people of these days were not Vikings, but sedentary farmers or fishermen, some men (and in a few cases women) joined expeditions of trade, exploration and piracy, reaching as far as present-day Canada, Morocco and the Caspian Sea. As the pagan Scandinavians were christened around AD 1000, the Viking raids declined. There are still traces from the Viking age, such asrunestones and burial mounds, everywhere in Sweden. Some good places to see Viking age artifacts are The Museum of National Antiquities ("Historiska museet") in Stockholm, Gamla Uppsala in Uppsala and Birka and Adelsö just west of Stockholm.

The Viking Age heritage has been contorted through history - romanticized during the 19th century, as the horned helmets were made up. (A horned helmet would be very impractical in combat.) Most Swedes are proud of their Viking roots, though they don't take it very seriously.

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