The City Hall. Stockholm, Sweden (Stadthuset)

Culture shock is something I have often heard about. I imagined it as something that would happen if I traveled to the Far East, the Outbacks in Australia or a distant corner of Africa. However, I never for one moment thought that it could happen to me within Europe, while traveling to Sweden.

The first shock came when upon registering ourselves in our hotel and heading with our bags towards the elevators a Swede stopped us with the naive but all so jolly exclamation “Excuse me, are you tourists?”.

For those of you who plan to travel to Sweden in the near future, let me provide you with this humble guide – some of my observations – in the hopes that you might begin to understand the Scandinavian soul. The attempt is not to give you a concise list, rather to save you from the blank stare (and mind) that follows such encounters as mentioned above.

So here it goes, 15 things you should know before traveling to Sweden.

  1. Drivers are calm. They follow the speed limit and do not honk their horns unnecessarily. Drivers will not engage in a game of Adjective Detective to find the best one to describe you when you are slow at crossing the road and they already have a green light.
  2. Public transportation is punctual, efficient and clean. The only person that does not speak English in Sweden is the lady who announces the next stop.
  3. Swedes are either brisk walking, running, riding a bike or imitate cross-country skiing on asphalt while on top of skis with little wheels (and all of this in summer?!).
  4. Little kids are either running or riding the bike with their parents. If not, their hair is still swept back by the wind as the stroller is pushed at lightning speed by the running parent.
  5. If not engaged in sports, they are barbequing their dinner on the sea shore.
  6. Swedes don’t smoke in public. If they do, they must hide the smoke in secret carry-on containers as the air is as pure as in the middle of a pine forest.
  7. When you find a bench in the shade and sit down to relieve your tired legs you are sure to smell some cigarette smoke. Finally! Swedes are not so weird after all!
  8. You turn around and realize that the smoke comes from a Chinese tourist.
  9. Swedes don’t stare, don’t look around searchingly and generally mind their own business.
  10. Immediately derived from rule # 9, Swedes do not use curtains. What for? (I wonder, does IKEA in Sweden sell curtains?)
  11. The fact that only Jamie Oliver has discovered the Swedish cuisine until now does not mean that it doesn’t compare to the French or the Italian. It is only because travelers thinking of the cold weather did not go to Sweden and did not taste the Swedish food!
  12. If you are in the middle of a national park and discover to your horror that you forgot to pack lunch you needn’t worry! You don’t need to recall all those survival techniques you learned from MacGyver, as you are sure to find a gourmet restaurant in the middle of the forest. (And the world’s best carrot cake for that matter!)
  13. If you think the bikini-clad Swede standing on a pier and staring at the water in downtown Stockholm is checking her mirror image, you are mistaken! The Swede will jump into the 10°C/50°F water to swim a bit.
  14. When she finally emerges from among the icebergs you release a sigh of relief: these Swedes are normal after all! Their bodies react like yours would. They must come out quickly to warm their (by now thoroughly numb) limbs.
  15. If the bikini-clad Swede climbs out of the water it is just long enough to jump right back in.

If you’ve read this far, you have an additional bonus tip, perhaps the most important one.

16. No matter how adorably weird it gets, just let it go and enjoy Sweden! IT IS WELL WORTH IT!!