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Swedish Gestures and Body Language


Ever heard of the 7-38-55 rule?

Simply put, the seven percent refers to meaning communicated by spoken word, 38 through voice, and the rest (55 percent) is via body language.

In other words, body language is the number-one most influential element of communication.

It may be what stands between you and that next relationship, job, work contract, or even friendship.

Thing is, body language is not one-size-fits-all. 

It’s different from one country to another, and may take some time to learn and get used to. For this reason, learning Swedish gestures and how to use them can help you immensely as a learner of the language.

In fact, there are two approaches to this…

You either follow the old-school way of making mistakes and learning from them, or you use a resource like this blog post to learn all the important elements of Swedish body gestures.

We’ve done the work for you and broken down all the possible gestures you might need for different circumstances.

Without further ado, let us get right into it…

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Swedish Table of Contents
  1. Day-to-Day Interactions / Filler Gestures
  2. Dining Etiquette & Body Gestures
  3. Business Etiquette
  4. General Information About Swedish Body Language and Etiquette
  5. Conclusion

1. Day-to-Day Interactions / Filler Gestures

Some body gestures might feel very marginal. Imagine the eye-contact we make with the cashier or security guard of the supermarket, or even the way we greet the friends of our friends. 

We don’t normally attribute much importance to such gestures, but we might deliver the wrong impressions if we do them incorrectly (or skip them altogether). Here’s how to go about the most common Swedish greetings and gestures during your visit to the country: 

A- Handshakes

Businesswoman and Businessman Shaking Hands

Meeting a group of people in a business context? Shake hands with everyone present, even those you don’t personally know. 

Around older people, the traditional handshake when greeting and leaving is expected. On the other hand, if you’re meeting with younger people, chances are you won’t need to make any physical contact, not even a handshake. 

In a business meeting or similar context, if there’s no other person around to introduce you, take initiative and shake hands as you introduce yourself.

B- Eye Contact

A Woman’s Cheeks and Eyes

Eye contact is crucial during communication in Sweden. You’ll want to make as much eye contact as necessary during your conversations with others. Making little or no eye contact could give off the perception that you’re careless or negligent.

For example, if you’re in a meeting discussing a contract or project over dinner, you’ll want to make sure you’re giving your partner as much eye contact as you give your food, or even more. You don’t want them to leave with a bad impression that may cost you a business deal or work relationship.

2. Dining Etiquette & Body Gestures

Smiling Chef

Whether you’re out for dinner to a restaurant or are invited by a Swede, respecting dinner etiquette is a must. 

First, if you happen to be a smoker, never light up a cigarette without permission. You’ll want to make sure you are in the right place for smoking, and that those around you wouldn’t have an issue with that. Non-smokers may not be comfortable inhaling smoke.

When it comes to actual dining, you’ll be expected to respect several norms and gestures. 

For males, remove your hat indoors. And when ending a meal, it’s customary for the male guest of honor to tap their glass with a piece of cutlery and to thank the hostess on behalf of everyone present at the dinner. If the host is a male, the female guest of honor would be expected to thank the host on behalf of everyone.

Let’s talk toasting. When toasting, make eye contact with the other guests. After toasting, men should put their glasses down only after the women do. It may be a bit of a hassle to wait for women to do so, but it’s usually a pretty easy process. While looking at others’ eyes and toasting, say Skål.

When around seniors, always allow them to toast first to show respect.

When it comes to the bill, businesswomen pay the check at a restaurant with no embarrassment whatsoever. Gender equality is big in Sweden, so there’s less pressure and fewer expectations from men, and women are more independent.

During the act of eating, a few norms should be respected. Do not use a dinner knife for butter; there will usually be a butter knife provided to do just that. Also, put your hands on the table while leaving your elbows out. 

If you need to beckon to a waiter or host, wave one hand and make eye contact with them.

Post-meal, place your knife and fork side by side on your own plate at a 5:25 position. It’s best to finish what’s on your plate so as to show satisfaction with the host’s dinner, and to try a little bit of everything served.

The day after the dinner, it’s worth dropping your host a message or making a quick call to thank them for the invitation. And even better, make sure to invite them back for dinner in the future.

3. Business Etiquette

Businessman Shaking Hands with a Woman in an Orange Shirt

When doing business, you want to make sure you perfect your etiquette and do just as well as a Swedish businessman would do. 

Clothing-wise, Swedes are very well-dressed even in casual situations. Appropriate business clothing for men would be a dark-colored suit and a tie, and for women, it would be a skirt and blouse or a business suit.

Use appropriate titles—Herr. (Mr.) and Fru. (Mrs.)—plus last names when talking to others, until you’re invited to use first names instead. In business settings, English words are very commonly used in conjunction with Swedish. Knowing Swedish helps, but English can still take you a long way in the country of Sweden.

It’s also worth noting that Swedes take time and punctuality very seriously. You don’t want to miss a meeting or come late; that might cost you trust and maybe your whole work relationship. 

When things don’t go as anticipated, call as soon as possible and reschedule. Calls are expected to be done through business numbers only. Do not call home numbers unless it’s a matter of urgency or you have a well-established relationship with the person you’re calling.

4. General Information About Swedish Body Language and Etiquette

Two People Communicating with Hand Gestures

There are quite a few things that are worth knowing about Swedish body language and etiquette.

Generally speaking, you’ll want to be pretty careful when it comes to body language in Sweden. You’ll mostly want to be attentive and somewhat reactive to what others do rather than take initiative yourself. Swedes are pretty reserved when it comes to body language, and they avoid touching or embracing frequently around other people, including friends.

On a different note, it’s worth educating yourself about Sweden in general. Holding conversations about country-specific topics can get you the attention you may want from Swedes.

You can do this through observing your surroundings in day-to-day life, or by using resources like the internet to learn more about Sweden. The country’s economy, high standard of living, architecture, history, sports, music scene, and politics are all great examples of topics you may want to do research about. 

That said, when around Swedes, be careful not to bring up any sensitive or irritating topics. 

For example, Swedes hold a lot of pride for their own cities or regions, and therefore expect you not to praise other cities or areas of Sweden (let alone other Scandinavian countries). 

Of course, this depends on the person you’re talking to, but it’s a good rule of thumb to keep in mind. The same goes for criticizing Swedes’ negative habits related to lifestyle, sex, suicide rates, marriage, prices, etc. Keep it positive.

Plus, be careful with compliments. You don’t want to sound insincere, so only compliment when you actually mean it; otherwise, you might be perceived as rude.

5. Conclusion

Congratulations for getting this far. You’re now able to fully engage with Swedes without worrying about the tricky nuts and bolts of Swedish body gestures.

Even better, you can start learning some Swedish to spice up your interactions. Remember the 7-38-55 rule we talked about in the introduction? The 55 percent goes to body language, the 38 percent is for voice, and the remaining seven percent is for spoken word. 

Therefore, spoken language makes up about 45 percent (38+7) of your communication. Wonder what the best way to learn in the least amount of time is?


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