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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
* * *
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- Businesswomen may pay the check in a
restaurant without any embarrassment.
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