My international friends from university asked me today to explain how dating works in Sweden. Apparently they have trouble getting into the rules of the Swedish dating game.
One of the most common places to find a partner is at a nightclub (or a mutual friend’s party), which may seem pretty obvious. However, the way to meet someone there is more subtle. It’s not as easy as going up to someone and offer them a drink or ask them to dance. Many people see this as too forward and will get defensive if they are approached in this way. So how do people approach one another when they go out?
If you want to meet someone, you’d better make your way to the dance floor. Many people regard those who only hang out in the bar as suspicious*. The first step is eye contact. If you catch somebody’s eye, and the two of you look at each other for more than a second, then you’re good to start dancing with each other (at this point, you don’t even have to ask about the dance, you both know it’s coming).
From the moment the two of you start dancing, the rules aren’t as strict as before. Depending on your moves and all-around charm, you might just share that one dance, or you might even spend the night together. Either way, the chances are good that you’ll exchange phone numbers, which is crucial for the next step.
Assuming that things went well at the club, sometime in the next few days one of you (it might just as well be the girl as the boy) will text the other and ask them out for a fika, which means a daytime meeting at a café for a coffee. Again, you have to be careful not to seem pushy by asking the person out for a drink or dinner. It’s too soon for that at the “fika stage”.
I should note that while this fika obviously is a date of sorts, you never call it that. A fika is by definition not a date. Instead, both parties pretend that they’ve forgotten about their brief romance at the club and keep things rather platonic at the non-date fika. The fact that both of you are aware that you’re on a date while simultaneously pretending that it’s not a date can make things quite awkward, but that’s how it’s done. To keep the conversation non-datish, the subjects you talk about are usually very neutral ones such as the housing market, Stockholm versus Gothenburg, how great your iPhones are, or how much the public transportation system irritates you (actually, the Swedish public transportation system is among the best ones in the world). Girls, don’t read anything into it if the guy doesn’t pay, you’re expected to split the bill in the name of equality.
If you want to ask out someone that you already know, from work for example, you usually skip the night out and go directly to the fika. This is because the concept of a date almost doesn’t exist in Sweden. If you would have asked someone you know to go out for drinks, that would have been very difficult to say that it’s not a date, which is why fika is a better solution.
If the fika goes well, you’ll likely start texting each other a couple of times a day. I might add that texting is the preferred channel of communication with Swedish guys. It’s important to keep track of whether he ends his text messages with kram, which means “hug”, or puss, meaning ”kiss”. Eventually you’ll have another date, usually at the cinema, and if that goes well too, you’ll have what constitutes a relationship. Although it might still be a bit early to change your Facebook status.
If you’re dating a Swedish guy you should be aware that he probably won’t try to woo you in the classical ways. Try not to get offended or assume that he’s not into you if he doesn’t bring you flowers, if he doesn’t hold the door up for you, if he doesn’t pay for the movie or if he doesn’t offer to walk you home. Instead, he will always respect you and he will never assume that you are weak or bad at something just because you’re a girl. He’d never assume that you won’t be able to get over that puddle of water without his help.
Of course, this gives a generalized picture, and I’ve heard of people meeting each other in other ways (Hannes and I have a different story, I’ll tell you some other time). But from my experience, this is one of the most common scenarios.
When I lived in Italy, I often got approached by different men who wanted to ask me out. All kinds of people, too – waiters, policemen, the guards at the Vatican Museums, shop keepers. This dating culture differs a lot from Sweden’s, and it just goes to show that if you want to make it in the dating game in unknown territory, you’d do well to find out which rules apply there first.
*A couple of years ago there was a hit hip-hop song that played on this. The chorus goes:
Alla som inte dansar är våldtäktsmän, which translates into: ”Everyone who doesn’t dance is a rapist”