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How to Do Business in Sweden

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Are you currently doing business in Sweden, or are you planning to in the near future? Consider this…

  • Sweden is home to the oldest known company in the world. At more than 700 years old, Stora Kopparberg began as a medieval copper mine and has since evolved into a forest products firm called Stora-Great.
  • Swedes were some of the first Europeans to own cell phones, use the Internet, and invest in technical gadgets.
  • Sweden is the homeland of Germanic culture. The Goths, Suevirs, and Norses (Vikings) all trace their origin back to Sweden. In the ninth and tenth centuries, Swedish Vikings invaded and settled in parts of eastern Europe and founded the first kingdom of Russia. All the tsars of Russia up until Nicholas II were of Swedish Viking descent.
  • In 2006 Sweden was the most generous country in the world regarding foreign aid to poor countries. It is the only nation where donations exceed 1% of GDP.
  • Sweden has not participated in any wars for almost two centuries.
  • The official language in Sweden is Swedish with small Sami- and Finnish-speaking minorities.

When it comes to business practices, Sweden is very different from other European countries. With its expanding economy and unique culture, Sweden offers desirable business opportunities. If business in Sweden interests you, make sure you are prepared and follow these tips for building great business relationships.

Important tips

  • Swedes value egalitarianism highly and view everyone as equals. When doing business in Sweden, you will notice the lack of blatant signs of hierarchy and status.
  • The communication style in Sweden is very direct and open. This can come across as abrupt but is not meant to be so. Interrupting one another is not a common practice; Swedes take turns speaking to offer different opinions. When conversing, be sure to listen intently to anyone speaking and not to interrupt.
  • There are high levels of English-language competence in Sweden. Do not, however, confuse a “high level” with absolute fluency. There are still possibilities for misunderstanding and confusion.
  • Handshakes are used in Sweden for greetings and goodbyes and are conducted in a firm, swift manner (it is a lot lighter between men and women). Men are expected to wait until a woman extends her hand first. Gloves should be removed before shaking hands.
  • Swedes respect one another’s personal space and tend to stand apart while conversing. Do not backslap or embrace them and avoid speaking with your hands in your pockets as this is considered bad manners and will be looked down upon. A person’s space is private, so it is imperative to avoid touching unless a handshake is appropriate.
  • Gift giving is not a common practice when doing business in Sweden. The country’s anticorruption legislation makes gift giving problematic; a gift must not be interpreted as a bribe.
  • A strong separation is made between work and private life, and private time is guarded zealously—especially in the all too few months of summer when Swedes are vacationing and spending time with family.
  • It is important to say hello and goodbye to employees in stores and restaurants.


  • Swedes make business appointments two weeks ahead of time. Refrain from scheduling meetings in June, July, or August, as well as late February through early March. These are very popular times for Swedes to go on holiday. During the Christmas holidays many Swedish businesspeople are unavailable or will not deal with business matters.
  • Punctuality is extremely important whether you are doing business or participating in social events. Never be late; this is seen as poor etiquette and will reflect badly on you. If you must be late for any reason, it is absolutely crucial to phone to let someone know.
  • Swedes set aside specific hours of the day dedicated to business meetings. They are usually from 9:00 to 10:00 a.m. and from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. A well-planned day is considered very important in Sweden, and any last-minute changes will not be appreciated.
  • Relaxation is valued in Sweden. Don’t try to rush a Swede who is taking a long coffee break or an even longer lunch break, even if you are inconvenienced by it.


  • Before doing business in Sweden, make sure you do your research and go into negotiations with an abundance of knowledge and experience. Swedes are very detail-oriented, and any proposal or presentation should be meticulously planned and logically organized.
  • Unlike in many other countries, Swedes do not need private meetings to make business decisions. During a negotiation, they prefer to achieve a nonverbal consensus. This is often very subtle, and most foreigners do not even realize an agreement is taking place. Instead of a formal vote, Swedes establish their decision through eye contact, slight nods, and murmurs. Therefore, do not concentrate on only impressing the high level executives as they often look to middle and lower management for consent.
  • The first meeting with Swedes may be low key and very matter of fact, and they will never make a decision right away. The purpose for this initial meeting is to evaluate you, your company, and your proposal. All details will be smoothed out and all questions will be answered only after several meetings have taken place.
  • It is important not to show any kind of emotion during negotiations. Always remain cool, calm, collected, and controlled when speaking. Outward displays of emotion are found to be distasteful, even when they are positive reactions. For instance, sales techniques that use hype or high enthusiasm are generally not as successful in Sweden.
  • Small talk is kept to a minimum.
  • Most Swedes consider humor to be inappropriate in a business setting. Reserved and even slightly shy manners can leave a positive, lasting impression.


  • Although they consider their colleagues to be good friends, it is not common for Swedes to socialize with their coworkers after work.
  • To show good manners, wait until your host says “skoal” before touching your drink. (Skoal is the Swedish word for “cheers.”)
  • Swedes have more formal toasts than any other country in northern Europe. Allow your host and your seniors to toast you before you propose a toast to them.
  • If you are seated to the left of the host as the guest of honor, you may be expected to make a speech.
  • A smorgasbord is a Swedish buffet (hot and cold) served year-round, but especially during Christmas and Easter. The cold dishes are generally eaten first; then guests progress to the hot dishes.

For your Swedish business document translation needs, contact McElroy Translation. Visit our website to learn more about how we can help you and your company become successful in your international business ventures.

Morrison, Terri, and Wayne A. Conaway (2006). Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands, 2nd edition. Massachusetts: Adams Media Corporation.

* * *

The People

Sweden is a predominantly middle class country with one of the most far-reaching social security systems in the world. Patriotism is important to Swedes, who are very proud of their nation, towns and regions.

Meeting and Greeting

  • Shake hands with everyone present -- men, women, and children -- at business and social meetings. Shake hands again when leaving.
  • Younger people generally do not shake hands when meeting friends. Older people expect a handshake when being greeted or when leaving.
  • If no one is available to introduce you, shake each person’s hand and introduce yourself.

Body Language

  • Generally, Swedes are reserved in body language. They do not embrace or touch often in public.
  • Maintain eye contact at all times while talking with someone.

Corporate Culture

  • Swedes take punctuality for business meetings very seriously and expect you to do likewise. Call with an explanation if you are delayed.
  • Use last names and appropriate titles until specifically invited by your Swedish host or colleague to use first names.
  • English is commonly used in business. An interpreter is rarely necessary. Business cards in English are acceptable.
  • During business meetings, Swedes usually get right down to business after very brief cordialities.
  • Agendas are clearly set for meetings with a stated purpose.
  • Swedes are factual, practical, precise, reserved and get to the point quickly. When communicating with Swedes, be clear and concise in detailing what you expect from them. They will be equally clear with you.
  • Presentations are important. They should be clear, to the point and detailed.
  • Reports, briefings and presentations should be backed up by facts, figures, tables and charts.
  • Swedes are generally tough negotiators. They are methodical and detailed, slow to change their positions and will push hard for concessions.

Corporate Culture

  • In the relatively small private sector, it is important to know who is who and how everyone fits in the corporate structure. Important decisions are often made by middle and lower level managers.
  • While decision making may be a slow process, implementing decisions is often rapid.
  • Do not call a Swedish businessperson at home unless it is important and you have a well-established relationship with this person.

Dining and Entertainment

  • To beckon a waiter wave your hand and make eye contact.
  • Business entertaining is most often done in a restaurant during lunch or dinner. Business breakfasts are acceptable, but not as common as in the U.S. Business can be discussed at any time during a meal.
  • Spouses may be included in business dinners.
  • Female guest of honor is seated to the right of the host. Male guest of honor is seated to left of the hostess.
  • Dinner is often served immediately at dinner parties. There may be no cocktail hour.
  • Toasting is something of a formal ritual in Sweden. Don’t take a drink until your host has given a toast.
  • Look into the eyes of the person being toasted and say Skål (Skohl).
  • Allow hosts and seniors in rank and age to toast first.
  • When toasting, make eye contact and nod to the others present, before putting your glass down.
  • After making a toast, the men wait for the women to put their glasses down first. Do this immediately. It can be annoying for men to wait too long for the women to put their glasses down.
  • The meal ends with the male guest of honor tapping his glass with a knife or spoon and thanking the hostess on behalf of all the guests. The female guest of honor should thank the host.
  • A butter knife is usually provided. Do not use a dinner knife for butter.
  • Always ask permission before smoking.
  • Keep your hands on the table at all times during a meal—not in your lap—and keep your elbows off the table.
  • It is polite to try everything served.
  • When finished eating, place knife and fork side by side on the plate at the 5:25 position.
  • Call or write the next day to thank your host and hostess.
  • Do not ask for a tour of your host’s home unless you have a well established relationship.


  • Swedes wear fashionable, but often casual, European style warm clothing. It is important to be well dressed in public at all times.
  • For business, men should wear conservative suits and ties. Women should wear dresses, suits, and pantsuits.


  • Gifts are generally not exchanged in business, but it is common to give small Christmas gifts to a Swedish colleague. Gifts representative of one’s business or home area are appropriate.
  • When invited to someone’s home, always bring a small gift for the hostess. If host has children, a small gift of candy is appreciated.
  • Give flowers (unwrap before giving), wine (liquor is special because it is very expensive in Sweden), chocolates, books and recorded music. Do not give crystal or items made in Sweden.
  • Gifts are opened immediately.

Helpful Hints

  • Knowledge about Sweden’s economy, high standard of living, sports, architecture, history, etc. is appreciated.
  • Remember to thank someone for dinner or gift upon next meeting.
  • Men should tip their hats to women and remove their hats while talking to women.
  • Do not praise another city or area in Sweden over the one you are presently visiting. Swedes are very proud of their own town or region.
  • Do not criticize Swedish lifestyle, sexual habits, suicide rate, prices, etc.
  • Do not compliment lightly. Insincere comments are considered rude.

Especially For Women

  • In Sweden, women make up 48% of the work force—the highest percentage of working women in the world.
  • Foreign businesswomen are widely accepted and should encounter few problems conducting business in Sweden.
  • Businesswomen may pay the check in a restaurant without any embarrassment.

Mary Bosrock
International Education Systems
1814 Hillcrest Avenue, Suite 300
St. Paul, MN 55116
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