Stockholm Shut-Downs

In order to initiate romance with a Swedish person, one must prepare for the tiresome tightrope walk customary of the Northerners, because this will spiral a sane mind into despair.

Before going into details however, there is one, virtually untranslatable word in the Swedish vocabulary crucial for describing this dating process: “lagom.”

Most closely translated to “just about right,” the rule of lagom is key to navigating the wobbly rope that leads across the abyss of failure and rejection.

Naturally, the Swedes are not all pale clones with a collective hive mind when it comes to dating and a lot depends on the individual, but if a romantic prospect is too invested or uncommitted, not following the rule of lagom, they risk getting caught in stormy weather.

For example, attempting to strike a conversation with someone at a bar would generally come off as an aggressive approach with a high risk of failure in the eyes of a Swede. This is why many Swedes refrain from such aggressive approaches, and seem shy compared to, for example, Americans.

“After being in the U.S. for about six months I had grown bigger confidence and thought that I was a ten, but when I went back to Sweden I was treated as a five. Instantly I realized that Swedish men are cowards,” Swedish student Marine Råbom said.

A successful Swedish romance should therefore start in the most casual and unpredictable way possible, like being seated next to someone at a dinner gathering or accidentally ending up sharing a seat on a crowded bus.

Once a personal relation is formed, the real tedious part begins.

In order to achieve balance through lagom, many Swedes resort to comfort in numbers. This way, the early stage of courtship is not considered dating, but a mere social hangout.

“In the beginning, you always make sure that you have another friend around, so that a moment of awkward silence can be interrupted by your friends,” Råbom said.  

Next, to get to the level that could be considered dating, one must muster the courage to ask the other out for a “fika,” the next key Swedish term.

“Fika is not like ‘grabbing a coffee’ [is for Americans],” Råbom said. “A fika is more intimate. It might be hard to understand, but that is just how it is.”

Fika is the most lagom date possible, since it generally takes place in the middle of the day and consists of coffee and pastries.

If a few fikas pass by without trouble, the relationship is in the green and can go to the next level. Thereon, a more traditional courtship can proceed.  

However, the confusing part about being in a relationship with a Swede is knowing when  the word “couple” is an appropriate label.

“You don’t want to be the one to break the ice, and ask the question ‘what are we really?,” Råbom said.  

Swedish people are generally not fond of labels, so months can pass before the word “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” comes up in a conversation.

However, if a couple has spent several nights with each other and talk on a daily basis, the two can safely be considered a couple.

Compared to American dating culture, courtship in Sweden is much more vague, confusing and tiresome, where a single misstep can sweep the ground, or rope, from under one’s feet.

“The awkwardness in Swedish dating goes hand in hand with the awkwardness in general,” Råbom said. “Lets just say Swedes are very awkward.”