Understanding friendships in Sweden as am expat.
I made my first Swedish friend while I was living in the U.S. Rebecka and I went to the same university and had a mutual friend who introduced us (hi, Pilar!). I was already interested in moving to Scandinavia and had visited Sweden before meeting Rebecka, but getting to know her helped cement my desire to move here. Fast forward two years and Rebecka and I are both living in Sweden! And while Rebecka was my first Swedish friend, she definitely wasn’t my last!
Today I will be sharing my experiences with making friends in Sweden!
As a whole, Swedes have a reputation for being a reserved society. Some say it is because Swedes don’t “need” an extensive social network they can depend on as they have a very well-developed welfare system watching their back. Others say it is because Swedes have often known each other since their childhood school days and one cannot infiltrate those deep bonds unless a current member brings you in. Or perhaps it is due to Sweden’s “culture of individualism”. Either way, it is notoriously hard to make friends with a Sweden. But it is definitely not impossible to find some great friends here in Sweden!
When it comes to making friends with Swedes start small and find your way in. School is a great place to start. If you are studying in Sweden, look for new friends within your program. Of course, this is a great place to make friends in general, Swedish or not. Some of my closest friendships have come from my studies at Lund University. If you would like to get to know one of my good friends from university, check out Emily’s blog!
If you are not studying, asking a Swede where hen (he or she) studied is a great place to strike up a conversation. Sweden is a highly educated country (thank God for free tuition!), so it is a safe bet that your conversation could lead somewhere.
Similarly, Swedish for Immigrants (SFI) is a great place to meet other expats. You are in class together each week (or for hours each day in the intensive course) and can really get to know each other and form strong bonds. And, of course, many of you will share similar circumstances and have the same questions about visa renewals, Swedish driver licences, etc., so it may become a very handy friendship to have as an expat.
Work, of course, is another great place to make Swedish friends. We have become quite close with many of my partner’s colleagues over the years and have been able to form ties that are not united only through work. We started hosting movie nights with my partner’s team to get to know his colleagues, inviting 11 or so over to cram in and share a laugh over What We Do in the Shadows or Jojo Rabbit. We layer blankets and pillows on the floor, light some candles, and call it mysigt (cozy).
In my experience though, work is a great place to make friends of a younger age. My colleagues who have children are, understandably, not as free to get together for an “after work” or to play Ticket to Ride until midnight on a Saturday.
In Sweden, associations (föreningar) or clubs are very popular. Many people are part of different groups locally, and this is a great way to make Swedish and expat friends. I personally joined a calisthenics club when I first moved to Sweden and spent each Saturday learning how to do handstands and other body-weight exercises. It was a great way to feel more integrated into the Swedish society, meet new people, practice my Swedish, and have some fun! Look into joining a church group, finding a local choir, or anything else that piques your interest. And if your community doesn’t already have an association or club that you are interested in, start one! It is very easy in Sweden and you often can get funding from your municipality. Essentially, dive into the things you are interested in and try to make friends there. The yoga studio and rock climbing gym have been two places where I have made some great friends, and all began by bonding first over our shared hobbies.
Another way to feel more integrated into the Swedish society is to date a Swede! This is a great way to learn about the culture, practice Swedish, and get an introduction to other Swedes! Swedes are a tight bunch and being a flickvän eller pojkvän (girlfriend or boyfriend) is often the easiest way to get into a Swedish friendship group. While I can’t speak to this experience personally (my partner is American as well), it is easily the most commonly hear reason why an expat is living in Sweden — they moved here for love! I’ll be talking all about Sweden and Dating in February.
And sometimes a Swede will do the unlikely thing and approach you. Just two or three weeks after moving to Sweden, my partner Nick and I were approached in our apartment stairwell by Michelle, a Swede. Since we were living in a temporary apartment under the name of Nick’s employer, Michelle knew we were new to Sweden. Michelle also lived in the apartment building directly above us. She did the unexpected and invited us for a fika at her apartment. There we met her sambo (live-in partner) Björn and totally hit it off! We have been the closest of friends for over two years since.
Over all, I have found my Swedish friendships to be extremely fulfilling. The Swedes I know are exceedingly loyal and caring. I know I can call upon them for favors and that they have my best interest in mind. And as an expat in Sweden, I have also formed many close friendships with other expats. It is amazing to see how diverse my circle of friendship has become over the years living abroad. While we come from so many different geographies, we all share one common love: Sweden.
- According to the Internations Expat Explorer survey from 2015, Sweden is at the bottom of the rankings for the ‘friendship’ category. In 2015, 72 percent of Internations’ respondents said they found it tough to get to know the Swedes!
- A 2017 study by Statistics Sweden found that more than 55% of 16 to 24 year-olds don’t socialize with any close relatives. So if you are having a hard time getting to know some Swedes, their families might agree with you.
- But it turns out Swedes might be lonely too. Research for Statistics Sweden found that 16.8% of 16 to 24 year-olds said they had “felt alone during the last two weeks”. The only higher-ranking group was Swedes over-75 (17.4% loneliness). So it might be easier that you think to approach a Sweden and start a friendship!
- Being outgoing really helps with making friends — or at least with meeting people. While it can be scary to strike up a conversation with a stranger, it can lead to something really great. Just like with Michelle saying hello in the hallway!
- So what happens once you strike up a conversation with a possible new friend? The Swedish thing to do is to ask to become friends on Facebook. Once your request has been accepted, send a message asking to meet for a fika. Coffee is casual and can be two hours if things are going well, or just 30 minutes if you don’t click (which makes it a perfect first date too!).
- Let people know you are in the market for some new friends. While it might sound strange, it can be very effective! Maybe someone in your network already knows someone else living in your new town. Or join Facebook groups like Expats in Malmö or Americans in Copenhagen and throw out an open invitation to meet at a local bar for an “after work” (what the Swedes call Happy Hour!).
Hope you learned some new Swedishness today and I’ll see you in the next post!