Here is guide to simple do's and dont's when eating out in Sweden. Much of what is found in this article is common to most westernised European Countries and can be applied accordingly.
Do not begin eating until everyone has taken their place at the table and your host has invited you to eat.
Like most other continental Europeans, Swedes do not switch knives or forks. The knife is held in the right hand, the fork in the left. On finishing your meal you should lay the knife and fork parallel across the right side of the plate and the tips should point to the 10 o clock position.
Usually the fork and spoon above your place setting is for dessert. As to the other cutlery surrounding your dinner plate, the general rule is to s tart from the outside and work your way in with each course.
A small side plate often accompanied by a knife across it is generally used for your bread serving.
The largest glass will normally be your water glass and the smaller ones are used for wine. If presented with three glasses, the largest is your water, the 2nd largest is your red wine glass and the smallest will be your white wine or dessert wine glass. After dinner drinks such as liquors will come with their own glasses.
Your hands should remain visible above the table and the only food that is acceptable to eat using your fingers is bread. If you are required to pass dishes from person to person, always pass to the left. If someone requests a condiment to be passed to them, this should always be placed directly into their hands as it is considered rude to place it on the table in front of them.
Do not take the last helping from a plate unless you are invited to.
Do not cut the lettuce in a salad. This should be folded with your knife and fork and eaten in a small parcel shape.
Finish everything on your plate, to leave food uneaten is though of as wasteful and can be considered rude.
Persons seated at the head of the table or in the centre have the most honoured positions. Important guests will be seated around the most honoured guests. Usually, the hosting couple will sit themselves at either end of the table.
You can attract the attention of waiting staff by making eye contact or simply saying ‘excuse me Sir/Madam.’ Waving, calling the names of staff out or clicking your fingers is considered impolite.
Usually, the person who has invited the guests to the restaurant will be expected to pay the bill, although this can sometimes be decided by social rank/standing.
Expect an addition of between 12 -15% on your restaurant bill as a service charge will be automatically added. If no service charge has been added it is accepted to leave approximately 10% of the bill as a tip. It should be noted that tipping is not mandatory.
If you buy a drink at a bar there is usually a small plate for loose change that you may or may not decide to leave your bar staff.
Dining Out at a Swedish Home
This can be formal or informal, always take your cue from your host. You will be expected to remove your shoes upon entering the house and usually a small gift, such as a bottle of wine will be a very good ice breaker. When about to take your seat at the table, wait for the host to indicate your seat or simply ask where you should be seated.
This is commonly ‘skoal’ and you should not reach for your drink until your host has said ‘skoal’ themselves. At that moment you should raise your glass and then take a sip of your drink. After your host has proposed his/her toast you are free to make one of your own, should you choose to do so. When making a toast, remember to keep eye contact with those in the room from the moment your glass is raised, until it is placed back upon the table.
Do not offer a toast to anyone who appears to be more senior than you in age.
Topics of Discussion
Do not discuss business at the table unless invited to do so by your host. Most Swedes prefer to separate business and pleasure.
Whatever time your host has set for the meal is the time they expect you to be there. Do not arrive early, but similarly to be more than 10 minutes late is considered extremely impolite.
Always err on the side of caution and dress smartly. It can be considered offensive to your host if they are all dressed formally and you arrive in more casual attire such as jeans.
Other points to note:
Swedes are humble in nature and find boasting socially unacceptable. Swedes often prefer to listen to other people, rather than making themselves the centre of conversation. When talking, Swedes speak clearly, softly and calmly. They will not raise their voices in anger in public, nor will they demonstrate strong emotion.
Swedes rarely take kindness/hospitality for granted and they will always say thank you. You will be expected to use thank you a lot: when your cutlery is changed, when your plate is taken away and when a new meal course is delivered. If in doubt always say thank you as it usually considered rude if you omit the polite phrase. You should always thank your host for inviting you to a meal, by either ringing or leaving a thank you note within a few days of having attended the event.
Most Swedes believe in the adage ‘everything in moderation’ which means that flashiness, boasting and anything taken to excess will be frowned upon.
It is often more common for guests to be invited to a Swedish house for coffee and cakes, rather than partaking in a meal.
Remember that women and men have an equal social standing in Sweden, as they do in most countries in Europe and if you defer to the male of the household at all times you won’t be thought very highly of!