Photo: Anna Andreson Fotografi/Shutterstock

10 Swedish Habits We Should All Adopt

by Claire Litton Cohn Apr 13, 2017


Lagom is a word that means “just the right amount”. Lagom är bäst is a popular Swedish proverb, and translates to “enough is as good as a feast”. This policy of moderation can be oppressive when it encourages the naturally circumspect Swedes to moderate their conversational topics or restrain themselves from laughing too loudly…but taken with a proper degree of lagom itself, a little moderation is a great idea. We can use this concept as a chance to scale back our purchasing, avoid getting in yet another comments fight on Facebook, and maybe sit down and enjoy the pleasant spring weather instead of rushing into Starbucks.


Everyone starts dragging a little at about 10 am. Fortunately, in Sweden, that’s fika time! Friends, coworkers, and families alike take a little break for a refreshing beverage (let’s be honest, in Sweden, it’s usually coffee) and a little snack. The snack is usually a kanelbulle (a cinnamon roll sprinkled with sugar) or some other simple pastry, and can also be enjoyed in the afternoon. Having seen the regular snack schedule my toddler is on at daycare and noticing how hangry I get, I can’t help thinking that we would all benefit from regulated snack times.

Subsidized daycare

Not so much a habit as a governmental institution, Swedish daycare (or “dagis”, which means kindergarten) is regulated, creative, and subsidized according to your income. Low-income families pay basically nothing, while higher-income families pay a maximum amount per child…which usually works out to be about the same amount as the government “child allowance”. Having accessible, affordable daycare allows parents to work easily, encourages equality between genders (no need for a mother to sacrifice her career because the family can’t afford childcare), and lets kids make friends and have experiences they wouldn’t get at home. The daycare next door to us has a “bus section”, with a special touring school bus that drives the 3-5-year-olds to various locations around the province: They go to beaches, forests, national parks, and museums…all for less than the cost of two nice dinners out.


Rather than getting into unruly anxiety-inducing lines to get to a post office clerk or see a doctor’s receptionist, risking the chance that someone will cut ahead of you or not see the end of the line, Swedes use number machines for EVERYTHING. While this is confusing at first, after awhile, you come to appreciate the civility of being able to wander around a store or even leave and come back before your number is called, without losing your place in line. I had to go to the employment office for some forms the other day, and the nummerlapp line was pretty long…so I just went to the store next door for a little while and came back in time to get called to the front. Genius!

Family over work

No matter what you do or where you are, Swedes see your job as secondary to your family life. Have to leave early to go to your daughter’s piano recital? Have fun! Nobody will give you grief about missing a meeting, and it would be unthinkable to interfere with someone’s scheduled parental leave. This can be a bit of a pain when, say, your bank loan officer is gone for a week because their kid is sick and they’re taking VAB (vård av barn, days paid by the government for you to stay home with your sick child), but Swedes are happier and healthier because they don’t spend 80 hours a week at work. This hasn’t interfered with Sweden’s reputation as innovative inventors and producers of pop culture, either: They’ve been responsible for Skype, inflatable bicycle helmets, and pacemakers…as well as zippers, ultrasounds, and thermometers.


My husband described these as “what cranberries wish they were”. These tart, sweet, perfectly-sized berries make delicious jam and are flavourful additions to every dish, whether sweet or savoury. I just had some vegetarian dumplings scattered with browned butter and lingonberries, and my mouth thought it died and went to heaven. Other than being tasty, lingonberries are full of antioxidants and can reduce spikes in blood sugar, which is particularly helpful for diabetics. They are also anti-inflammatory and help prevent urinary tract infections, much like their previously-mentioned less-yummy cousin, the cranberry.

Doing everything online or by mobile.

You can file your taxes or buy a house by text message. You can book a doctor’s appointment or check your blood test results on specialized websites. Your prescription for that blood test was transmitted to the lab digitally, associated with your ID number, so you don’t have to concern yourself with keeping track of a piece of paper. A basically cashless society, there is a special app (Swish) for transferring funds to people using phone numbers, so you never have to carry bills to pay that fruit stand owner for the pint of raspberries. It’s awesome.

Biking everywhere.

Sweden is one of the top ten countries with the most number of bicycles per capita in the world, and it shows. Everyone bikes everywhere (especially in the summer, or anytime close to the summer, or when it’s even slightly sunny outside). Need to get some groceries? Go by bike! Want to pick up your kid from daycare? Bike with a kid seat! Have to pick up more than one kid? Get a cargo bike! You don’t need padded spandex shorts and a fancy titanium bike frame in Sweden, since everyone just tootles around on beat-up old fixies, texting with one hand and waving at drivers with the others.

Spending lots of time outside.

Tell a Swede there’s a birch forest nearby, and they’ll leave a trail of dust in their hurry to enjoy the fresh air and birdsong. The first time I ever came to Sweden was in May, and the AirBNB we stayed in did not have curtains in the bedroom windows. It gets light around 4 am in May and stays light until around 11 pm. When we asked the hosts why they didn’t have any curtains, they shrugged, and said: “It’s dark here for so long that when it gets light again, we want to get as much sunshine as we can.” Everyone loves to hang around on patios so much that restaurants and pubs provide comfy blankies for outdoor customers to stay warm while they enjoy their drinks.

Free fruit for kids in the supermarkets

This is a great way for stores to use up their heading-towards-overripe fruit and prevents a toddler meltdown from hunger in the middle of the store. A bin full of bananas and spare oranges or apples, right by the door, and parents get to shop in peace while kids work out how to remove a peel and stuff their faces. It’s usually fruit that would get taken off the displays and thrown out, so it also reduces waste. Everybody wins!

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