Fika - the Swedish culture. Cup of coffee and deserts.

The Swedish way – coffee, commuting, and conversation (Part I)

Hello there! I’m excited to share my journey into the heart of Swedish culture with you. In this blog, I’ll be sharing my experiences of embracing Swedish culture, from the love for coffee to the art of conversation.

Stockholm, the city at the heart of it all, has a history spanning centuries and boasts a blend of safety, cosmopolitan charm, stunning architecture, trendy shopping districts, captivating museums, lively theatres, pulsating nightclubs, and a diverse culinary scene that draws culinary enthusiasts from near and far.

As I immerse myself deeper into the rich tapestry of Swedish life, I’ve come to realize that I’ve inadvertently adopted certain Swedish behaviours. The most amusing of these is the unmistakable tendency to avoid striking up conversations with strangers in public – a charming quirk that defines the Swedes’ inclination toward privacy.

The Swedish love for coffee, it is not just fika – it is more than that

Sweden is more than a place on the map; it’s a way of life. And at the heart of this culture is a deep love for coffee.

Back in Ethiopia, my friends and I would gather for lunch and savour a cup of coffee, paying homage to Ethiopia, the birthplace of the renowned coffee arabica. But since I arrived in Sweden, my coffee experience has transformed from a cup to a bottle, kicking off in the early morning hours.

In Sweden, coffee is not just a drink; it’s a revered cultural ritual known as “fika.”

A picture of a Swedish fika, one of Swedish culture, with coffee and cinnamon buns
Swedish fika. Photo by: Yohannes

This tradition has become a comforting constant in my daily life, whether I’m on a break between classes, catching up with friends, or exploring the charming coffee spots that dot the landscape of Stockholm. If I were to borrow a phrase commonly posed to those struggling with alcohol addiction – “Have you ever felt you needed a drink first thing in the morning (Eye-opener) to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?” – my answer, in the context of coffee, would undeniably be a resounding yes. The aromatic embrace of a morning coffee has become my Swedish ritual, a fragrant symphony that heralds the beginning of each day.

A picture of an iced coffee by the side of a laptop on a table
Iced coffee and laptop. Photo by: Yohannes

The Swedish way of commuting where personal space is king

Another interesting aspect of my immersion into Swedish culture is the unwritten rules of commuting. Swedes love their personal space so much that they treat it like a VIP section at a concert – only the most important people get to be there. If you’re not on the guest list, you’ll have to find another seat. It’s like musical chairs, but instead of music, it’s the sound of silence that plays in the background.

A picture of an underground train and a person boarding - showing the personal Swedish culture.
A person boarding an underground train. Credits: Cecilia Larsson Lantz/

So, if you’re ever in Sweden and see an empty seat next to someone, don’t be offended if they don’t want to sit next to you. It’s not you, it’s them – and their love for personal space.

In Sweden, it’s customary not to take a seat on public transportation unless there are at least two vacant spaces. This unspoken etiquette reflects the respect Swedes have for personal space and the unspoken understanding of communal harmony during transit. Adapting to this cultural norm has not only become second nature to me but has also allowed me to appreciate the thoughtfulness embedded in everyday actions.

Why Swedes avoid small talk

It’s interesting to note that in Ethiopia, striking up a conversation with strangers is the norm, and could even lead to a budding friendship. People who have never met before would strike up a conversation on a bus, and before you know it, the entire bus is engaged in the topic and has become friends.

In contrast, Swedes are like master chefs when it comes to conversations – they only use the finest ingredients and carefully craft each sentence to perfection. They believe that conversations should be like a gourmet meal – rich, flavourful, and satisfying.

Two elderly people having a conversation while standing. Small talk is not common Swedish culture.
Two elderly people having a conversation. If they were Swedes, how important would that talk be? Photo by: Cristina Gottardi,

So, if you’re ever in Sweden and someone doesn’t strike up a conversation with you – it is weird I know, but don’t be offended. They’re just waiting for the perfect moment to share something meaningful with you. It’s like a game of verbal chess, and the Swedes always win.

And honestly, I can feel myself completely changing from the most talkative person to a Swede type of quiet person. I am not sure which one to keep though.

These are just a few glimpses into the Swedish culture. Stay tuned for the next part of the blog, where I’ll explore more of this fascinating way of life. I’m curious to hear your thoughts. What’s your take on Swedish culture? Share your insights as we continue this cultural journey together!

Yohannes - Health Economics Policy and Management

Yohannes - Health Economics Policy and Management

Hi there! My name is Yohannes, and I come from Ethiopia, the Cradle of Humanity. I've always been curious and ambitious, and my journey to Karolinska Institutet is a testament to that. I studied medicine and developed a deep fascination with the intersection of healthcare, economics, policy-making, and management. This passion led me to KI. I look forward to learning more about healthcare economics and becoming a part of the vibrant international community at KI. In my free time, I enjoy writing and drawing, always exploring and trying new things.


Adise Mosissa Ejeta

Adise Mosissa Ejeta

Wow it is an interesting cultural difference and knowing before engagement is wiseness Dr .John. Thank you for sharing your experience!

Biruk Tesfaye

Biruk Tesfaye

Can't wait to try fika after reading this amazing blog! Any coffee lovers out there want to join me?



As someone who has always been fascinated by different cultures, I found your insights into the Swedish way of coffee culture is truly captivating.

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