- I’m an American who lived in Sweden for five years.
- During my time there, I noticed several cultural differences between the US and Sweden when it comes to work culture, family dynamics, and other areas.
- Here are 10 of the biggest cultural differences I observed between the US and Sweden.
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In 2013, I packed my bags and moved from New York City to Gothenburg, Sweden.
After spending two years going back and forth to visit my now-husband, I was ready to take the plunge and move there long-term.
Five years later, I moved back to the United States, and my time abroad has really made some differences between the two countries more apparent. The US and Sweden are similar in many ways, but they differ in key ways that can be hard to recognize if you have not experienced them by yourself.
Read on to see 10 of the biggest cultural differences between the US and Sweden, from someone who’s lived in both countries.
There is less hierarchy in Sweden than there is in the US
I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered the lack of hierarchy in the Swedish work culture compared to previous experiences in the US.
In many companies, you can find the CEO and other management sitting in a communal area with the rest of the staff. In some companies, the work culture can be seen as a bit less formal than the US but extremely polite. You can easily directly contact top executives and see them out with their colleagues for happy hour.
In the US, this is certainly not as common. Unless you’re in the startup world, it’s rare to see top-level management socializing with junior executives.
Taking a gap year or more is very normal after high school
Unlike in the US, if you plan to attend college in Sweden, it’s extremely common to take some time off post-graduation.
Many Swedes will take a minimum-wage job for a year or so to save up money to travel before they head off to college. Many of my friends worked in retail, hospitality, and grocery stores prior to traveling to popular destinations for backpackers such as Asia, Australia, and South America. They all had many great stories to share and actually felt ready to return to school after taking some time off.
In the US, taking a gap year is a lot less common. The traditional path is for students to enter college right after graduating from high school. As a result, many teenagers are unsure of what they want to study prior to enrolling in college, and many students end up changing their major partway through their college careers.
In Sweden, the sun is to be worshipped
Having cold, long, and dark winters sparks a special relationship with Swedes and the sun.
As soon as the first sign of spring hits, you will be sure to see hibernation come to an end. It’s not uncommon to see people standing against building walls soaking in the sun or at the beach taking a dip in the sea even when it’s 60 degrees.
As a person who grew up on the East Coast of the US, I can say that this was not a common sight when the weather switched over. Although we still experience harsh winters in the US, my relationship with the sun did not feel the same as it did in Sweden. Even after moving back to the US, I can still say I spend as much time outdoors as possible when the weather is nice.
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