About Unwritten Laws

When you at last have come in, got your residence permit and your national ID number, many opportunities open up. At the same time a lot of obligations and responsibilities turn up. And it is not so very easy to get into the society. To make it as good as possible for yourself, it is important that you put in extra effort to learn how things work and ponder on what you need to do to be a part of the Swedish community.

The most important thing is, as earlier mentioned, to learn Swedish. If you have not already started, it is high time. As soon as you have your residence permit another opportunity opens up, i.e. SfI. However, if you want to learn Swedish well and as fast as possible, it is necessary that you try to learn Swedish also outside of school. I our first October issue, No 14, you can read more about this. And at www.informationsverige.se you find a lot of useful information.

What is not really mentioned are the unwritten laws, which we wrote about this summer. Here is a short summary of the first three items. The rest will come later. They are written with self irony, and therefore we hope they can be entertaining also to a Swedish reader.

1. In the Bus: Never Sit Down Beside a Stranger if Other Seats Are Vacant Swedes are extremely anxious about their integrity. This means that in a normal Swedish bus every double seat has to be occupied before it is considered okay to sit down beside someone you don’t know. If you sit down beside a Swede with whom you have had no previous contact, despite the fact that there are empty double seats available, this will be regarded as a clear violation of integrity and the one you sit beside will believe that

  • a) you are making sexual advances, which, depending on the gender of you and your new seat neighbour will start homophobic shaking, fear of being raped, police report about sexual harassment or sexual advances in return as the man you sat down beside presume he has “halva inne” which means he thinks you want him, or
  • b) you are high on drugs or alcohol.

2. Never Brag – If Not on Social Media
Although it is nowadays fully acceptable, well even expected, to brag on social media, the Jante law still holds the Swede in a firm grip. So, it is not okay among Swedes to say you are good, even if you are. If you want to brag, you have to learn the Swedish technique of disguised bragging:
“Wow, what a beautiful dress you have, Margit. I wish just one of all my Dolce Gabanna dresses were as beautiful.”
“In comparison to Mozart I am a lousy composer. I cannot understand why so many record companies want to buy my songs.”

3. Coffee is among the most important things to the Swede
If you get a visitor, you have to serve coffee, or fika, as it is most often referred to. This is valid also when you serve food. The same goes for informal meetings with Swedes. If you want to meet a Swede informally, you do not ask: “Do you want to meet to talk?” as it will
be perceived as badly as if you sit down beside a stranger in the bus (see article 1. in this series). Instead you ask: “Do you want to have a cup of coffee?” If you then talk or not when meeting at the fik is not of importance. What is important is that you drink coffee.