Sweden Business Etiquette

Välkommen till Sveriges! (‘‘Welcome to Sweden!” in Swedish)

Sweden (officially called “The Kingdom of Sweden”) is a picturesque Scandinavian country nestled between Norway and Finland. With a strong history of Viking rule and icy winters, Sweden has more recently become well-known for pop culture exports such as ABBA, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and Alexander Skarsgård.

Sweden is also known for its slew of innovative and profitable businesses, including: Saab, Volvo, AstraZeneca, H&M, Skype, Spotify, and (arguably most famously) IKEA. With all of these highly-successful businesses popping up in Sweden in the past few decades, this country has definitely become a business hotspot.

So, before you take a business trip to Sweden, let’s first learn about the dos and don’ts of Swedish business etiquette.

The Lowdown

  • The capital of Sweden is Stockholm.
  • The official language of Sweden is Swedish, although many people do know how to speak English (87%, to be exact).
  • Sweden is a unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy (their monarch is Carl XVI Gustaf).
  • Sweden has a policy of neutrality in world affairs and maintains a Nordic social welfare system which provides healthcare and education to all citizens.
  • Sweden has a very low tolerance for corruption and bribery. It is ranked as one of the least corrupt countries in the world. This is a benefit for businesses that are looking to set up clean connections in Sweden.

Dressing Sharp

  • Dressing casually in the workplace is acceptable; however, you should dress in conservative business attire for business meetings.
  • Avoid flashy clothing – modesty is key!
  • For both men and women, dark, conservative suits are standard. Swedes value clean, quality clothing pieces.
  • If you plan on visiting Sweden in the winter, dress in layers and bring a coat of nice quality, as the temperature can be quite cold.

Make or Break Meetings

  • Punctuality is very important in countries like Sweden and you will be judged if you are late for a meeting.
  • You should schedule meetings well in advance – no surprise, “last minute” meetings.
  • The first meeting is usually more relaxed and informal – more of a “meet and greet.”
  • Handshakes and business cards should be exchanged at the outset of the first meeting, although the business card etiquette is far less strict here than in other countries.

Dining Decorum

  • Business lunches are a common occurrence when conducting business in Sweden (usually between 11:30 am and 1:30 pm – pretty standard).
  • Swedish people are very friendly and hospitable – if you are invited to a home, be prepared with a gift.
  • Food in Sweden is typically simple and healthy.
  • No smoking in restaurants!
  • Tipping on a meal is not a necessity, but is appreciated if the service is exemplary.
  • Meals are generally not the time to talk business, unless the Swedish party brings it up.

Giving and Getting Gifts

  • Gifts are not typically exchanged at the outset of a business relationship.
  • Gifts are acceptable at: dinners, family functions, and social gatherings.
  • If you are invited to a Swede’s home, it is appropriate to bring cake, chocolates, flowers, liquor, or wine for the host. You can also bring candy for the children of the house, if there are any.
  • Do not give red roses, white lilies, or orchids – these flowers have specific connotations.
  • Holiday cards are appreciated!
  • Exchanging gifts at the close of negotiations, however, is acceptable.

Down to Business

  • Sweden is an egalitarian society - meaning that there is a lack of business hierarchy as in other countries. You can expect more agreement and compromise in Sweden because of this.
  • Do not show emotion in negotiations – Swedes value emotional control in the business setting.
  • If you are giving a presentation, make sure that it is very detailed and organized.
  • Negotiations will only start once the Swedish party feels that they know your company well enough to make an informed business decision.
  • Swedes are well-known for being very analytical in their negotiations. Therefore, the process may take some time.

Now that you’re well prepared for your next jet-setting business trip to Sweden, don’t forget to stay tuned for our next Business Etiquette blurb! Adjö! (“Goodbye!” in Swedish)