Culture Clashes and how to deal with it

Sweden is very diverse and culture clashes are unavoidable at times. These are my recent culture clashes in the past months. No doubt it can be awkward but at the same time, it’s also a good learning experience.

Laugh it off

In Sweden, it is not common to have table flags in restaurants.

I went to a restaurant with my Danish friend and Swedish friend to celebrate our Swedish friend’s birthday. My Danish friend said to the restaurant staff, ‘It’s our friend’s birthday, we would like a flag.’ The Swedish staff looked stunned, completely lost and had no clue about the flag.

In Denmark, it is common to have table flags in restaurants for birthdays. We told the waiter it’s a Danish thing and he immediately understood and laughed. We spent the rest of the day discussing about Sweden-Denmark culture clashes and laughing it off. All of us still remain good friends after the conversation.

laughing gif

Stay at Home

In Sweden, if you are not feeling well, you should stay at home or work from home. When someone starts to feel unwell or have a flu at work, my Swedish colleagues would usually joke and say  ‘Don’t spread your flu, go home’. They really mean it.

Back home, when students or employees are sick and want to stay home, we must produce a doctor’s certificate to certify that we are unfit for school or work. It doesn’t make sense to visit the doctor for minor cold, headaches and fever where most would simply use some painkillers. This is why many of us still go to school or work despite not feeling well.

It actually took me awhile to sink in that it’s really ok to stay at home when not feeling well.


Know the Buffet Flow

In Sweden, there is actually a buffet flow. Swedes love to queue and they are orderly. Always good to check the buffet flow whether its clockwise or anti-clockwise when you take the food. Do not disrupt the flow. If it’s a straight line, you start to take the food from Point A to B and not the other way round.

During a buffet session at a recent work event, I was so excited to meet people from my home country. We queued up for the food and upon reaching the buffet table, we turned clockwise instead of anticlockwise as we were too caught up with the mingling. Realizing that, we quickly squeezed back into the other direction. Order is restored.

To hug or not to hug? Wait for the cue.

In Sweden, it is common to hug your friends and relatives when you see each other and when you say hello. If you meet someone new for the first time or if you are not so close to the person, you normally shake hands. Although Swedes have a hugging culture, they are also respectful to other cultures and religions where hugging or handshaking are not permitted.

It was a little strange for me in  the beginning as we don’t not have a hugging culture back home but now hugging becomes a norm.

I remembered meeting a Swedish colleague in person for the first time recently. He is based in India and has lived in several countries. Knowing that he’s Swedish, I stretched out my hand and was ready for a handshake but then he kissed me on the cheeks instead. I froze as I wasn’t prepared. Living in other countries change the way one greet others, even for the Swedes abroad.


If you’re unsure to shake hands or hug or kiss on the cheeks, wait for the cue and let the other party take the initiative first.

Credits: All gifs are from GIPHY


Written by Angelina

12 Jun 2016