Stockholm's coastline from Skeppsholmen

Interesting unspoken rules in Stockholm

When you go to university in a different country, you tend to subconsciously pick up on certain mannerisms and unspoken rules that are followed by those around you. Often, you don’t even realise you’ve picked up these nuanced mannerisms until you’re back in your hometown and are hit with a reality check. As a KI student living in Stockholm, here are some unspoken social rules I have picked up since moving here in 2022.

The “right side” rule

This majorly applies to escalators or moving walkways, and I’ve heard that it is mostly a Stockholm thing (though I could be wrong). If you’re stationary on an escalator and aren’t in any hurry, it is more appropriate if you stand on the right side of the escalator/moving walkway. This is so that anyone who wants to walk or run ahead has a clear passage and doesn’t have to wade through a maze of people. This obviously isn’t enforced by law and you can technically stand wherever you want, but it is just considered common decency to give those in a rush a clear way. Not doing so won’t get you in any legal trouble, just an “ursäkta (excuse me)” and an awkward shuffle. To avoid that, stick to your right!

The “train door” rule

This one might sound like common sense, but I think it’s worth mentioning. Particularly with metros and commuter trains, it is once again considered common courtesy to let passengers alight or exit the train before you board. This helps curb crowding the train doors and makes for a somewhat organised movement among passengers. This is especially applicable at stations with heavy foot traffic- such as Stockholm Central (T-centralen for metros), Odenplan, Fridhemsplan, Slussen, etc. It is also nice to stand on either side of opening doors rather than in front of them. This helps people exit faster without pushing past anyone, and will help you board faster as well!

Since I travel with the commuter trains to go to and from my lab, I’ve noticed signs on the ground in front of the automatic doors at Stockholm Central that advise passengers to let people exit the train before boarding! Again, this is not enforced by law, but I have noticed people get nasty looks when they push past those alighting the train to get on board👀.

Sign on floor at train station saying "Please wait here. Allow passengers to exit before boarding", in Swedish and English.
The sign at Stockholm Central I mentioned! Image credits: Naomi Thomas

The “personal space” rule

This is one I notice almost everywhere instantly, especially on public transport. If a space isn’t extremely crowded and has a seating arrangement (think metros, public seating areas, buses etc.), people will avoid sitting next to each other unless they’re acquaintances. This is much more apparent in trains where some seats are arranged in a row. Those entering the train first will instinctively leave a seat between themselves and other passengers. If two pairs of seats face each other and someone is occupying a seat on one side, anyone entering will opt to sit on the opposite side. In an ideal situation, they would choose to sit on an “empty set” of seats instead, regardless of whether there already are 3 vacant seats available. The seats left empty in such circumstances are then (rather reluctantly) occupied by other people as the space gets more crowded, but it is always so interesting for me to note how almost everyone would rather have a “respectable” space around them even in public.

Long story short: If you enter a space with seats, don’t go sit next to someone you don’t know if there are other vacant seats available.

Seats on public transport
A common sight on public transport when it isn’t busy- one person per four seats! Image credits- Naomi Thomas

I’d like to reiterate that these “rules” aren’t enforced by law and you won’t get into any trouble if you don’t “follow” them. These are merely instances of common courtesy that I have come to appreciate over time! There are plenty of blogs talking about the nitty-gritty of navigating Sweden as an international student, so give them a read if you’re interested!

Thank you for reading this far! If you have any questions about life at KI or in Sweden, you know where to find me.

Naomi- Biomedicine (MSc)

Naomi- Biomedicine (MSc)

My name is Naomi, and I am from India. I am a master’s student in Biomedicine. I have always been drawn towards research and knew early on that a career built around it was the one for me. So as a result, here I am! I enjoy spending time with my friends and exploring the city with them (though the introvert in me also loves some alone time). I hope I can be of some help with my blogs!


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