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Home > New Posting > Cultural Etiquette

The People

Sweden is a predominantly middle class country with one of the most far-reaching social security systems in the world. Patriotism is important to Swedes, who are very proud of their nation, towns and regions.

Meeting and Greeting

  • Shake hands with everyone present -- men, women, and children -- at business and social meetings. Shake hands again when leaving.
  • Younger people generally do not shake hands when meeting friends. Older people expect a handshake when being greeted or when leaving.
  • If no one is available to introduce you, shake each person's hand and introduce yourself.

Body Language

  • Generally, Swedes are reserved in body language. They do not embrace or touch often in public.
  • Maintain eye contact at all times while talking with someone.

Corporate Culture

  • Swedes take punctuality for business meetings very seriously and expect you to do likewise. Call with an explanation if you are delayed.
  • Use last names and appropriate titles until specifically invited by your Swedish host or colleague to use first names.
  • English is commonly used in business. An interpreter is rarely necessary. Business cards in English are acceptable.
  • During business meetings, Swedes usually get right down to business after very brief cordialities.
  • Agendas are clearly set for meetings with a stated purpose.
  • Swedes are factual, practical, precise, reserved and get to the point quickly. When communicating with Swedes, be clear and concise in detailing what you expect from them. They will be equally clear with you.
  • Presentations are important. They should be clear, to the point and detailed.
  • Reports, briefings and presentations should be backed up by facts, figures, tables and charts.
  • Swedes are generally tough negotiators. They are methodical and detailed, slow to change their positions and will push hard for concessions.
  • In the relatively small private sector, it is important to know who is who and how everyone fits in the corporate structure. Important decisions are often made by middle and lower level managers.
  • While decision making may be a slow process, implementing decisions is often rapid.
  • Do not call a Swedish businessperson at home unless it is important and you have a well-established relationship with this person.

Dining and Entertainment

  • To beckon a waiter wave your hand and make eye contact.
  • Business entertaining is most often done in a restaurant during lunch or dinner. Business breakfasts are acceptable, but not as common as in the U.S. Business can be discussed at any time during a meal.
  • Spouses may be included in business dinners.
  • Female guest of honor is seated to the right of the host. Male guest of honor is seated to left of the hostess.
  • Dinner is often served immediately at dinner parties. There may be no cocktail hour.
  • Toasting is something of a formal ritual in Sweden. Don't take a drink until your host has given a toast.
  • Look into the eyes of the person being toasted and say Skĺl (Skohl).
  • Allow hosts and seniors in rank and age to toast first.
  • When toasting, make eye contact and nod to the others present, before putting your glass down.
  • After making a toast, the men wait for the women to put their glasses down first. Do this immediately. It can be annoying for men to wait too long for the women to put their glasses down.
  • The meal ends with the male guest of honor tapping his glass with a knife or spoon and thanking the hostess on behalf of all the guests. The female guest of honor should thank the host.
  • A butter knife is usually provided. Do not use a dinner knife for butter.
  • Always ask permission before smoking.
  • Keep your hands on the table at all times during a meal -- not in your lap -- and keep your elbows off the table.
  • It is polite to try everything served.
  • When finished eating, place knife and fork side by side on the plate at the 5:25 position.
  • Call or write the next day to thank your host and hostess.
  • Do not ask for a tour of your host's home unless you have a well established relationship.


  • Swedes wear fashionable, but often casual, European style warm clothing. It is important to be well dressed in public at all times.
  • For business, men should wear conservative suits and ties. Women should wear dresses, suits, and pantsuits.


  • Gifts are generally not exchanged in business, but it is common to give small Christmas gifts to a Swedish colleague. Gifts representative of one's business or home area are appropriate.
  • When invited to someone's home, always bring a small gift for the hostess. If host has children, a small gift of candy is appreciated.
  • Give flowers (unwrap before giving), wine (liquor is special because it is very expensive in Sweden), chocolates, books and recorded music. Do not give crystal or items made in Sweden.
  • Gifts are opened immediately.

Helpful Hints

  • Knowledge about Sweden's economy, high standard of living, sports, architecture, history, etc. is appreciated.
  • Remember to thank someone for dinner or gift upon next meeting.
  • Men should tip their hats to women and remove their hats while talking to women.
  • Do not praise another city or area in Sweden over the one you are presently visiting. Swedes are very proud of their own town or region.
  • Do not criticize Swedish lifestyle, sexual habits, suicide rate, prices, etc.
  • Do not compliment lightly. Insincere comments are considered rude.

Especially For Women

  • In Sweden, women make up 48% of the work force -- the highest percentage of working women in the world.
  • Foreign businesswomen are widely accepted and should encounter few problems conducting business in Sweden.
  • Businesswomen may pay the check in a restaurant without any embarrassment.
Adapted from material compiled by Window on the World, a cross-cultural training and consulting firm. Originally based on material contained in the "Put Your Best Foot Forward" series of books by Mary Murray Bosrock.
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