Sweden does a lot of things right. From work-life balance to recycling to slowing down and enjoying life, they have a lot of traditions we can learn from. Remember when my friend from Sweden came to Chicago? This time, it was my turn to visit her! I had the pleasure of visiting Sweden last summer and fell in love with everything about the way they live life – and we can all learn a thing or two from them. Read on for some of my favorites… but be cautious because you might find yourself ready to book your plane ticket once you get to the bottom!
Coffee is a reason to slow down, not speed up
In many places, especially the United States, we think of coffee as something associated with speed. We drink it when we need to wake up, grab a cup when we’re on the go, and sip some any time we need energy. In Sweden, coffee is more than just caffeine – it’s an opportunity to bond and slow down the pace. Most Swedes take at least one fika a day, a custom that is more than just a coffee break. It is about enjoying the present moment, appreciating the little things in life, and spending time with friends, family, colleagues, or simply yourself.
Taking a fika is not reserved for your spare time. It is something that Swedes make time for. There is always both a morning and afternoon fika taken in the Swedish workplace, and it is incorporated into every day life. No matter how busy they are, they will still take a break for a fika. I encourage you to take some time to pause your day today to take a fika, no matter where you are in the world.
Make vacations a regular part of life
The average Swede gets five weeks of paid vacation. I’m just going to let that soak in for a moment.
Taking actual vacations, not just a quick weekend getaway, is ingrained into the Swedish culture. In fact, you may find stores that shut down for an entire month (typically in July) when most employees take their vacation time. One Stockholm based software company is even implementing a six-hour workday, which the CEO thinks will be a more productive day. Think that makes them lazy workers? Think again. Sweden still ranks in the top ten of the Global Competitiveness Index.
Don’t forget dad!
As if all that vacation time wasn’t enough for a killer work-life balance, they also offer a 16-month parental leave – to be taken by mothers or fathers. As of this year, mothers and fathers are now each required to take three months parental leave (or lose them), with the remaining ten months split up however they would like.
Long parental leaves are great for spending quality time with your child. But they can also be beneficial for the company you work for as well, like this CEO who took a 9-month paternal leave that ended up helping his business. When it comes to equality between the sexes, Sweden has the 4th smallest gender gap. Not quite yet equal, but definitely better than a lot of us!
Singing drinking songs are underrated
If you have yet to experience the friendly nature of the Swedes, it is sure to come out after drinking snaps, any liquor or combination of liquor (typically akvavit or brännvin) taken with food. To follow along with Swedish customs, traditional drinking songs (snapsvisor) are sung before snaps are taken, the most popular being ‘Helan går’. Then finish it off with a cheers by saying Skål! Singing a song sure takes toasting to a whole new level!
Get outdoors whenever you have the chance
Everyone has the right to enjoy Sweden’s outdoors thanks to Allemansrätten, the Right of Public Access. While it’s not an actual law, it is a part of their culture that is written into the Swedish constitution. There are some laws that protect certain areas, but in general you can go camping, pick berries, go swimming, or roam through forests most places in the Swedish countryside as long as you don’t damage the land or leave garbage behind. However, you don’t have to be in the countryside to get outside. You can enjoy the warm summers outdoor in the city, even if it means spending an evening watching the sunset at Skinnarviksberget, the highest natural point in central Stockholm.
Make recycling second nature
As leaders in caring for the environment, Sweden has been named the most sustainable country in the world. Most grocery stores will charge you extra for the bags if you don’t bring your own, and they recycle more than 99% of all household waste. Even if people can’t recycle at home, recycling stations are no more than 300 meters away from any residential area.
In 2010, Stockholm was named Europe’s first Green Capital, largely in part due to their green areas, the 25% cut in emissions since 1990, and they also have one of the most comprehensive public transportation systems in the world with subways, trams, and even boats for relatively inexpensive prices.
Need I say more? No, but I am going to anyway! One thing not many people know about me is that I am not a breakfast person. The big bacon, eggs, pancakes, etc. breakfast that is glorified in the United States has never been enjoyable for me. (Sorry for the many of you I know I am offending right now!) A smaller, lunch-style breakfast has always been much more appealing to me.
When I woke up on my first morning in Sweden, I was greeted with all the fixings for a sandwich. I know my jet lag caused me to sleep a little late, but it still seems early to be eating lunch, I thought to myself. Turns out, bread with margarine or butter and a slice of cheese is one of the most common breakfasts in Sweden. Crispbread (knäckebröd) is also a popular accompaniment to Swedish meals. Don’t be alarmed if it seems like something is missing – these are open-faced sandwiches (smörgås) so they don’t have a second slice of bread on top. Any other toppings like cucumbers, tomatoes, or sliced meat are added on top of the single bread slice.
I must also mention Swedish pancakes, which are actually served for lunch, not breakfast. The Swedes have a tradition of eating pea soup and pancakes (ärtsoppa och pannkakor) every Thursday for lunch. These pancakes are thin and light, and they are commonly served with whipped cream and berries. Talk about delicious!
Less is more
Sweden is widely known for its style and design, a trait that is questioned by some who see simple and plain as uninteresting. I think it’s stunning! The minimalist, elegant Swedish look, brightly-patterned home goods, and crisp home decor that many will recognize as Ikea-style goes to show that less is more.
Take time to get cozy
There is no direct English translation for what the Swedes call ‘having a mysig‘, so the best way to describe it is “cozy time.” Take it to the next level and it becomes fredagsmys, or Friday coziness. Especially during their long and dark winters, Swedes make things cozy, or mysig, by lighting candles, reading, sitting by the fire, having coffee, or snuggling up under a blanket. Doesn’t that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside?
Anyone book their ticket to Sweden yet? I’m about ready to book one myself! At this point, it may come as no surprise that in general, Swedes are more satisfied with their lives than the OECD average. I can certainly see why. The more I learned about Sweden, the more it taught me.
Traveling to Sweden? Check out the Lonely Planet Sweden guide to take with you!