Stockholm streets with old buildings and woman on a bike

A Guide to Five Typical Swedish Habits for Expats

5 min read

Living in a new country brings excitement... and challenges. The first years are usually dubbed 'the honeymoon phase'. This is the time when everything seems shiny and new.


Even the mundane details of daily life seem fresh and thrilling! Especially when they're local-specific traditions or habits that you've never encountered before.


As the honeymoon phase fizzles out, things become routine and less fascinating than before. In a matter of time, we start to settle in and eventually adopt the habits of the local culture. Whether this happens consciously, or just comes about organically, we find ourselves embracing the actions, traditions, and habits that once seemed strange to us.


This is actually a good sign - it means that you’ve become part of the local culture, and it has changed the way you look at people, life, and even yourself.


After living in Sweden for almost three years, here are the things that I found unusual at the beginning but now seem totally normal:


1. Eating boiled eggs with caviar (in a tube) for breakfast


At first glance, many Swedish newbies assume these tubes are toothpaste or acrylic paint. But they couldn't be more wrong. These tubes are smörgåskaviar, a fish roe spread that you use as a topping for boiled eggs.


Tubes of smörgåskaviar at Ikea
Tubes of smörgåskaviar at a local Ikea. Photo by Robert Couse-Baker.


At every grocery store you go to in Sweden, you see these distinctive tubes and you will notice that almost every customer grabs at least one of them. The most famous brand among all is the blue and yellow tube called Kalles Kaviar.


2. Eating meatballs (and pancakes, porridge, pretty much anything but bread) with lingonberry sauce


If you’ve been to IKEA and tried their meatballs, you've definitely tasted the iconic lingonberry sauce.


Swedish meatballs at Ikea with lingonberry sauce
Lunch at Ikea featuring Swedish meatballs and lingonberry sauce. Photo by Ken Hawkins.


This sweet and sour dip is widely used in Sweden. Though it looks like a jam, it’s rarely used as a spread for bread. Instead, you will find it on your dinner plate when you’re eating kåldolmar (or stuffed cabbage rolls). This was on the menu every day when I stayed at the hospital after giving birth to my second daughter. No wonder I got used to the taste!


3. Crispbread over fresh-baked loaves of bread


I’m a huge fan of the fresh-baked bread. But since moving to Sweden, my other favorite breakfast item is the classic crispbread (knäckebröd) with avocado as a topping.


knäckebröd crispbread with ricotta
Swedish crispbread (knäckebröd) makes for an excellent breakfast option. Photo by Rebecca Siegel.


I first tried it out of curiosity - there’s always a dedicated knäckebröd lane in Swedish supermarkets. I found that I really liked its crispiness and I've read that it’s actually a healthier option over traditional bread; so more reason to eat it regularly! Locals love eating knäckebröd with pickled herring, though I have to admit I haven't been brave enough to try that dish yet. I think I need more time for that!


4. Eating Smörgåstårta at birthday parties


Before living in Sweden, my idea of a cake was a warm, sweet, sugary dessert. I would have never pictured cakes involving seafood. But that what Smörgåstårta is - a seafood cake... yum?


Smörgåstårta dish for Swedish party
Swedish parties will feature smörgåstårta - a "tart" of shrimp and vegetables. Photo by Fredrik Rubensson.


This savory cake is a mix between a sandwich and a layered cream cake. Inside, you will most often find shrimp, salmon, cucumber, tomato, and mayonnaise. I had my first piece of smörgåstårta at a friend’s birthday party and despite my initial lack of enthusiasm, I now find it quite tasty!


5. Eating candies (a lot!) on Saturdays


Lördagsgodis is the Swedish word for this Saturday ritual.


Jelly beans and gummy bears in candy bowls
Swedish people love Lördagsgodis - the tradition of eating candies on Saturdays. Photo by Foodie Factor.


Lördagsgodis is the Swedish tradition of stocking up on sweets on the weekend. It actually has a dark history (as it arose from a government-led experiment on mental institution patients and the effects of consuming sugar). However, it is now a joyful and fun experience for young and old and is actually a good way to manage your child’s sugar intake. I have a sweet tooth, so as an expat, this particular habit has been the easiest to adopt.


Adapting to the local way of life, whether in Sweden or in another country, is a process. And one that can be helped with friendship. As one user found upon moving to Sweden, having a friend allowed them to start building a routine in their new city. The routine paved the way for them to start feeling 'at home' and at ease in the strange new city. Using an app like Panion can help you make local friends or connect with fellow expats. 


Panion allows you to search through users by keyword so you can find friends who share the same passions that you do! So, whether you're looking for a Lördagsgodis pal, or a brunch buddy to enjoy crispbread with avocado with, Panion has what you're looking for. 


So, what about you? Which typically Swedish habits are you starting to embrace?


This article first appeared on The Newbie Guide to Sweden as 'Typical Swedish Habits' and was written by Hayu Hamemayu.

The Newbie Guide to Sweden
The Newbie Guide to Sweden
New to Sweden? The Newbie Guide to Sweden helps you understand how Sweden works. Read about other newbie experiences and connect with other newbies on their website.