Black Coffee and Black Clothes: 10 Initial Impressions of Stockholm from an American Student

We’ve all heard that the Swedes are tall, blonde, and quiet, but there is really a lot more to them. After a couple of weeks in Stockholm, I have picked up on a few unique characteristics of this city and the people who live here. Now that the initial culture shock is wearing off, I’ve come up with a list of my top 10 impressions of Stockholm and the Swedes. Maybe this is what other students will notice in their time in Sweden, too.

1 ) Reserved Swedes

At first it may be an adjustment for Americans to monitor their tone of voice and learn to not start conversations with strangers. Although this may be an abrupt switch, it doesn’t take long to learn that the reserved nature of the Swedes is not rudeness or shyness, it’s a different way of communication. Which brings me to my next point…

2) The Swedes are very in tune with each other

There seems to be a lot of nonverbal communication going on that I don’t yet understand. People know when to get out of each other’s way to get off of public transportation and I seem to be the only one constantly bumping into others on crowded sidewalks.

3) Everybody jaywalks

The lights signaling when it is and is not okay to cross the street are basically irrelevant. If there is not a car coming (and sometimes if there is), the Swedes are walking. Compared to my semester in Copenhagen, where everyone obeys traffic signals, jaywalking in Stockholm feels like a walk on the wild side!

4) Personal space

Many Americans, including myself, take their “personal bubble” very seriously and do not like to sit next to strangers. It is an adjustment for some of us to learn to take the empty seat next to someone on the train rather than opting to stand. It is even weirder for us to sit next to a stranger without saying anything to them!

5)  The Swedes like their clothes like they like their coffee: black.

When did gray start to look like such a bright color? I tend to wear a lot of black and neutrals, but some of my gem tones are really looking eccentric here.

Trying to blend in with my neutrals!


6) Even the children are fashionable

From infants riding in style in their carriages, to toddlers in full body snow gear, to 6-year-olds in skinny jeans, the kids all look awesome. There is even a large population of well-dressed tiny dogs. Although I don’t think I would look great in a stroller or a snowsuit , Swedish children look adorable in them, and some of these young kids really are more fashionable than me!

7) Not everything is IKEA

The combination of modern and classic design makes the city interesting. DIS students are lucky to have the opportunity to go to school in a modern facility and have the opportunity to take in classically beautiful architecture, too.

Gamla Stan could not get any more beautiful!


8) It’s cold and dark

No surprises here. As a Minneapolis native, I understand cold, but it can be difficult when combined with such short daylight hours. Some students, especially those from southern states, may have a difficult time adjusting to this. Bring on the fika.

9) I can’t do the SEK to USD conversion in my head, but I know that 50 SEK is a lot to spend on coffee

I consider a good cup of coffee to be priceless, but most of us are spending more money than we usually do and balancing a budget can be difficult. It is always appreciated when good deals are pointed out to us and we can find ways to save!

10) Coffee is a way of life

Now this is something I can get on board with. I had heard about fika before I came to Stockholm, but now I understand just how seriously the Swedes take their coffee breaks. I started drinking a lot of coffee when I got here because I was jetlagged, but I kept drinking a lot of coffee to keep up with the Swedes.

From enjoying lovely lattes in quiant cafes, to drinking drip coffee at my desk, there is no wrong way to drink coffee!


I have always been a coffee drinker and all-black-everything has been my style mantra for years, so in some ways I feel like I fit right in. Next steps to becoming a real Swede: Stop talking to strangers and get a tiny dog!

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