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Stockholm - Local customs

Business Etiquette  

There is a widespread operation of flexible hours in both private and public sectors. Starting times may be between 7 and 9am finishing between 3 and 6pm with lunch generally between 11,30 and 12,30 and two "mandatory" coffee breaks per day. Offices work a 5-day week and visitors will find it impossible to make business appointments on Saturday morning or even on Friday afternoon especially during the summer. Swedes have at least five weeks of paid vacation.

Punctuality is very important in Sweden when keeping both business and social engagements. The time stated on invitations is when visitors are expected to arrive. Business cards are normally exchanged on introduction. Handshaking is the usual form of greeting and hands are shaken again on departure. Casual dress is acceptable most of the time.

Business entertainment usually consists of a restaurant meal, with preference for lunchtime engagements. It is unusual for an occasional business visitor to be invited to a Swedish home until the relationship is long established. Swedes prefer to keep business and private life separate. Evening engagements begin and end earlier in Sweden (7pm to 11pm) than in most other European countries. It is customomary, when invited to a home for the first time, to take flowers or chocolates to the hostess. In less formal situation a good bottle of wine is also welcome. A letter of thanks should be sent afterwards.

Swedes are informal and call each other, often without age distinction, by first name. They believe that everybody is equal and that nobody is better than anyone else and as a consequence, they do not like the use of titles. The Swedish manager thinks of himself more as a coach than a commander and decisions are put off until they reach consensus. In fact, one could even say that it is never clear who is in charge of what and why. Swedes feel that informal contacts and direct communication bypassing management levels and departmental boundaries are necessary for a company to run smoothly.

Do's and don'ts   If you are invited make sure you ask for the door code and be punctual: the time mentioned in the invitation is the exact time you should ring the doorbell. Punctuality is considered a virtue here therefore to be late both professionally and privately is considered very disrespectful.

Once you enter the house you will notice that there are a lot of shoes in the entrance and the reason is that traditionally also due to the bad weather, guests tend to bring an extra pair of shoes which they will wear as soon as they have taken off their outside shoes and their coat. It is not compulsory but it is a well-known tradition here respected by most people.

Do not be surprised if when you are introduced to the other guests the host will mention not just your name but also your profession because the Swedes identify themselves largely with their professions. Once you sit at the table don't drink anything but water before the first toast is made by the host or hostess. When toasting you should pick up your glass and try to look everyone in the eye (if you are less than eight at the table) then take a sip and afterwards again make eye contact with everyone before putting down your glass. If you want to bring a "touch of class" to the evening then remember that traditionally the man sitting on the left of the hostess should make a "thank you" speech during dessert.

Private social gatherings inevitably lead to some extra drinking! Swedes love their aquavit called snapps and during a friendly dinner when herrings are served, you will always have some Swedes stand up, sing a short song, which is like proposing a toast "skål", and than at the end of the song, drink in one go a small glass of snapps together with all the other guests. Nothing wrong with this tradition! The problem is how to drive back home. In fact "drink drive" laws are now so strict that few people are prepared to take the risk. If your blood alcohol content exceeds 0.12 promille or the concentration of alcohol in your expiratory air is 0.10mg/1 or more, this always means a penalty-either a stiff fine or a prison sentence- as well as losing your driving license. So in rotation there is always "one of the two" who will not be able to join in the drinking.

Mind your nose! Don't be shocked if, as a woman, you find the door closed in your face. At the same time if you are a man remember that you are not expected to hold the door for the lady. It is not rudeness, it is a way of emphasizing the equality between the sexes which is a very important issue here, this is reflected in every aspect of life.

It is not easy to get to know Swedes and at the beginning you are the one that needs to make the effort. They tend to be introvert so they do not talk to strangers and you will not be invited to their home for very long time. Their house is their private castle and very few people are admitted. If you want to visit someone, call in advance and ask them if it is convenient because their high need for privacy can also be disturbed by a surprise visit. On weekdays you can call people between 9am and 10pm. On weekends don't call before 10am.

Try to understand their culture and their behavioral pattern so you do not end up thinking that the BQ gathering at your house was a social disaster just because there was not the noise, laughter and loud speaking among your guests as you were used to back home. Their culture requires them to speak softly, without strong emotion. In groups they usually talk one by one. Their answers are usually short and they remain quiet if they feel they have nothing important to say. Interrupting other people is considered rude so they wait politely until the other person has finished speaking. The cultural norm dictates that people should be unpretentious and unobtrusive and boasting is never acceptable.

Be patient! If you are in a shop and you are in a hurry, do not try to jump the queue. In order to make queuing easier most places have a ticket machine by the door. Pull a number and then wait for your number to be shown on the display. In the shops you will find that shop personnel will not approach you, instead you are left largely alone. When you need assistance you have to ask for it and if the place is busy you will need a lot of patience because each customer is given all the time they need to make up their mind. The shop assistant will not serve the next customer until the first has finished.

Don't smoke in urban public transport and in many public buildings because it is banned. However an estimated 10% of the population use "snus" instead.

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