Meeting People in Sweden
As an expat, meeting people in Sweden can be a daunting experience, especially when you are not sure of the local social codes — those which influence when and how is it acceptable to approach someone, what questions are off-limits and at what pace friendships progress.
When it comes to making Swedish friends, striking up a conversation with a stranger is an unusual sight and when it is initiated, it is purely for pragmatic reasons: asking for directions or the time. Even the concept of “stranger” is different here: someone you see every day whose name you don’t know is still a stranger and if you smile or nod at them you might be met with a puzzled, or blank, stare back.
In other European countries, inviting people over for coffee, lunch or dinner is an established way of getting to know them. Often these invitations are offered and received spontaneously and indicate interest on both sides but do not guarantee friendship. Such invites are often aided by a cultural requirement to be hospitable.
In Sweden by contrast, keeping to yourself and even being a recluse are not characteristics which are frowned upon and hospitality is something you save for special occasions. A dinner invite signals close friendship and is sometimes made months in advance which keeps it at a certain level of formality. As my Stockholm-based friend Matilda explains “Inviting someone to your house is a big thing. I’ve had dinner invites 3 months in advance — and this is from people I can already say I am friends with.”
What can you do about meeting people in Sweden?
If talking to people on the street is not an option, inviting them over — even less so, then how do you go about making friends with Swedes?
An excellent way to meet new people and increase the likelihood of a friendship or a meaningful exchange is by taking classes — a popular way to spend your “free” time thanks to the concept of “folkbildning” — the universal, life-long right to freely acquire new knowledge. This also fits Swedes’ main way of interacting with new people: through organised socialising.
How about if you are visiting Sweden for a short while?
Then taking classes and offering and receiving dinner invites might not be on the cards but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a chance to speak to Swedes. Instead of breaking social codes, try using technology to meet and speak to people who’ve already chosen to be approached. The app which helps you connect with people around common interests is called Panion and, fittingly, it was created in Sweden. Among Panion’s users are people of all walks of life whose interests are just as varied. Filter them according to your preferred location or a specific interest and you’ll be one step closer to finding a new friend.
Whatever places you decide to visit and people you end up meeting, you are bound to have a new and memorable experience. And while your trip might have an end date, using Panion doesn’t — there are always new places to go to and new people to meet.
An alternative version of this article was originally posted on Slow Travel Stockholm.
If you want to find new friends with whom you can do these things, download Panion, out now for iOS and in development for Android. Connect with us on Facebook at or join our Friendship 3.0 group where we discuss topics surrounding friendship, social psychology, stepping outside your social comfort zone, and breaking the taboo of loneliness.