Experience has shown that a relaxed atmosphere, pleasant conversations and the enjoyment of good food help intensify and strengthen business relationships. In this article, we’d like to introduce to you some important cultural characteristics regarding business meals in Sweden.
Punctuality is incredibly important in Sweden. Arriving even 15 minutes too late is unacceptable and will cause you to be seen as being unreliable and having bad manners. We recommend always planning enough buffer time, especially for the unexpected.
LUNCH VERSUS MIDDAG
In Sweden, it’s rather unusual to go out for a quick drink after work. On the one hand, the closest neighbor or bar tends to be several kilometers away. On the other hand, family life is important and tends to take up late afternoons and early evenings.
Business meals consequently tend to happen over lunch, and people often meet in traditional self-service restaurants. On that account, we’d like to give you the following tip: praising the food and giving thanks for it at the end of the meal tend to go down well in Sweden.
If you’re invited to middag, though, you’ll be joining in on the main meal for Swedish people – most often between 6:00 and 8:00 p.m. For this meal, the dress code is extremely important. It often depends on the occasion and, if worst comes to worst, it can be accompanied by a strict protocol. Just do as the Swedes do, or ask your host how you should dress. But the dress code tends to be modest and casual.
After having middag together, it’s not unusual to round off the day with a visit to the sauna. It’s perfectly conceivable that this idea could make some foreign business partners uneasy, but we nevertheless recommend taking the opportunity to try out a relaxing evening in the sauna in Sweden. And if it’s at all reassuring, men and women are normally separated in saunas.
TOPICS OF CONVERSATION
In principle, you can talk about anything during a business meal in Sweden. Professional topics are absolutely fine, as are private and recreational topics, provided they don’t get too intimate. You’ll open doors and hearts with questions about typical Swedish celebrations, traditions and regions. Recreational sports continue to play an important role for many Swedes, which is reflected in the amount of sports clubs they have. Soccer and golf are very high in the rankings of most popular sports.
But to experience true Swedish passion, you should experience hockey. And remember to stay up to date on the most recent games. Nothing is worse for Swedes than to lose to Norway at hockey. If this happens, you should probably pick a more innocuous topic.
Nowhere in the world are risqué jokes or politically controversial statements suitable in a business context, and this goes double in Sweden. Sweden is one of the most democratic and solidary countries in the world. The people donate a lot, and even the state spends a large portion of its budget on good causes. A lot of value is thus placed on political correctness. Avoid jokes about Muslims, women, African Americans, Jews, disabled people and other minorities, as well as criticism of the Swedish state and the royal family.
And for one final tip, stay flexible! Not all Swedes behave the same. This means that you won’t find all the cultural differences introduced here in every situation and with every person, but you certainly will for the majority.
If you’re interested in other topics such as collaboration, meetings, presentations or negotiations with foreign business people, we recommend taking our cross-cultural training for more than 80 different target countries.