Ten awkward mistakes you must avoid at a Swedish summer party
The season of Norrland summer parties is upon us. Attending social events in a new country can be fraught with anxiety. You want to make new friends but how do you behave? Paul Connolly has words of advice. Illustration by Jessica Kwan.
1. Swan in 30 minutes late
The Swedes don’t do late. If you say you’ll be there at 7pm, be there at 7pm. Not at 7.20pm. In Sweden there is no such thing as fashionably late. People who are late are not trendy, they’re just plain rude. It is their time you are wasting with your slovenly timekeeping, so get your act together – you might not be invited back.
2. Clomp through the house or apartment showing off your new shoes
Take off your shoes! Take them off now! Swedes don’t care if you have new Louboutins or Jeffrey Wests – they need to see your socks. You should practice this at home. When you walk in through the front door, always take your shoes off. You’ll soon get the hang of it. It’s really not the Swedes who are weird for insisting us newcomers take off our shoes, it’s us for thinking it’s strange in the first place. You don’t know what you’ve trodden in when you’ve been outside. It’s summer so you’re likely to be in and out of the house all day at the weekends.
3. Admit that you don’t like strawberries
Swedes adore strawberries. Some Swedes even claim that Swedish strawberries are the best in the world. So declaring to a Swede that you’re averse to these plump little nuggets of red summery loveliness is like saying to an Englishman that you don’t like tea, or telling your children that kittens are evil. It’s. Just. Not. Done.
4. Tell party guests that Allsång på Skansen is a celebration of cultural mediocrity
This summer staple (literally Singalong at Skansen) has been around since 1935 when around 50 people turned up to sing along with whoever was on stage. These days, up to 25,000 people are turned into karaoke zombies, singing along to ancient Swedish pop stars such as Sven-Bertil Taube who first had a hit in 1854, sorry 1954. What’s worse is that this aural equivalent of the colour beige is actually broadcast to the nation on SVT. And people watch it! Nonetheless, however awful it is (and it is), don’t let on that you despise it with every fibre of your being.
5. Help yourself to the booze in the kitchen
No, don’t touch that bottle of wine! Stop! Everyone brings their own supply of alcohol to a party in Sweden. And, seeing as the state alcohol shops (Systembolaget) seem to open about three times a year, it’s no great surprise that everyone monitors their own stash of alcohol with
6. Ask a Swede how much money they earn
You may as well ask them if their mother was a Dane and their father Norwegian. Do not broach the topic of salaries. Ever. That stuff is private and the Swedes take privacy very
seriously. Even if they are hugely drunk at a summer party.
7. Say “Norway isn’t that different to Sweden is it?”
It doesn’t matter how similar you think Swedes and Norwegians are, there are vast, unbreachable chasms between them and their cultures.Honestly, the differences are huge. Firstly…er, I’ll get back to you on that one.
8. Declare that Ikea produces inferior rubbish
Criticising Ikea in Sweden is like burning the stars and stripes in America. Criticising a host country’s culture is almost always unwise. Swedes’ pride in the domestic goods retailer is unbreakable. Even if the furniture isn’t.
9. Make a gagging gesture when someone offers you a coffee
In Sweden coffee is life. Life is coffee. Even if you despise coffee, buy a coffee maker. If you are to ever have Swedish friends it will get used. Often. If you really can’t bear to drink coffee, devise an outlandish excuse – “My brain explodes if it detects any caffeine.” No Swede will risk the stains to their furniture.
10. Heckle the host
There is a quite amusing joke about Swedes’ propensity for toasting and speechmaking.“A Frenchmen, a Swede and a Norwegian were sentenced to death and the day before the execution they were granted their last wishes. The Frenchman asked for a three course meal followed by a cigar. The Swede asked for a dinner and also wanted to make a speech. The Norwegian’s last wish was to be executed before the Swede began his speech.” Some Swedish party hosts will absolutely insist on making a toast. Sometimes several. They might take quite a long time. You may feel a strong impulse to hurry things along with a few injudicious words. Resist that urge. The punishment for heckling is immediate social exclusion.
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