Attitudes and values form the basis of any culture. They reflect the ways people think and behave. Knowledge of these can be of significant importance if you wish to communicate with your counterparts effectively. Ignorance of these issues can put up a cultural barrier that may inhibit the communication process, and have a negative effect on the success of your activities in a country.
Corporate social responsibility
Sweden is one of the world’s leading countries in corporate social responsibility (CSR). Issues such as climate change, gender, human rights and anti-corruption are all taken into account when doing business. Since the 1970s Sweden has been active and fast in reacting to the calls for CSR which nowadays is considered to be a crucial part of strategic planning in Swedish business life.
In Sweden, as in Finland and Denmark, punctuality is very important both when doing business and making social engagements. It follows that you should never be late. If you must be late for any reason it is polite to phone and let someone know. Being late is seen as poor etiquette.
Scheduling and planning are sometimes mentioned as part of the Swedish ‘way of life’. As a general rule spontaneity and improvisation are not the strongest characteristics of Swedes.
In business dealings, gifts are rarely given at the beginning of the relationship. Wait for your Swedish partner to give you a gift first. Although exchanging gifts is not common at the beginning of a business relationship, it is appropriate when you are closing your transaction.
At social events gifts are expected. For instance, when you are invited to a dinner, flowers, liquor, wine, cake, or chocolates are appreciated by the hostess. Chrysanthemums, white lilies, red roses or orchids should be avoided as they are associated with other occasions. Family is very important to Swedes, so it is much appreciated if you bring small gifts for the family, e.g. candy for the children.
Holiday cards are appropriate, particularly as a thank you for the recipient’s business during the previous year, and these should be mailed in time to be received the week before Christmas. It is customary to exchange small gifts at Christmas among colleagues and business partners, too.
Business dress code
Sweden is one of the European countries where a casual dress code is the most popular in the work place. However, for business appointments you should dress more conservatively. Swedes themselves are usually fashionably well-dressed in public. Appropriate clothes would be a dark suit and tie for men, and a business suit or skirt and blouse for women. Trousers are also acceptable for businesswomen in Sweden. Swedes value quality and that is also true when it comes to clothes.
The all-embracing value of egalitarianism in Swedish society can be seen in the business dress code. Modesty and a low profile are important. Avoid wearing anything flashy, even the most senior executives do not dress more elaborately than average employees.
Most restaurants do not require a tie for men, although upscale ones expect both men and women to dress well. Highly-styled clothing is preferred by the Swedes in the evening when going out and this is even the case in the smaller towns.
You should remember that there are four distinct seasons in Sweden. This should be taken into account when planning what to wear. During the height of summer, the weather can be hot and humid. The long winter requires appropriate winter clothes: heavy coats, warm gloves, hats, and boots. As is the case throughout all the Nordic countries, the colder weather allows women, and sometimes men, to wear heavy boots to work, and then to change into more comfortable office shoes. Because it is cold in Sweden, be prepared to dress in layers.
Bribery and corruption
Sweden is one of the least corrupt countries in the world and there is very strong public opinion against all modes of corruption. Since 1962, the Swedish criminal code has included sanctions against any person receiving or giving any kind of bribe. This is good news for investors who want to set up a business in Sweden.