5 Swedish words which will help you understand Sweden

by Serghei an EVS volunteer in Medborgarskolan Kulturama Preparandum in Växjö

Have you ever tried learning a new language without school lessons or personal teachers? I am trying to do this now. I am learning Swedish by myself. And so far I can say it’s a tough challenge. Especially in a country where almost everyone knows English.

You may ask what’s the purpose of learning Swedish when you can use English? I would say, there is no better way to understand other country rather than learn its official language. 

So I started this journey just two months ago and now I feel that I need much more time before I start understanding Swedes. 

But as in any language in the world, there are some Swedish words which can be easily remembered and used to make life in Sweden more simple. 

So here is my Top 5 Swedish words, which help me better understand this country


Fika –  is a Swedish way of making a break at work, conference, concert, exhibition opening just to have a cup of coffee or tea with some goodies and a nice talk with your colleagues. It is very strange that I haven’t heard about this word before I arrived to Sweden, because it’s a big thing in Sweden. And there is no place, time or conditions where fika is inappropriate. One day I had a chance to attend a church service right in the middle of forest. It’s also a nice story (how Swedes can organise a service in the woods) but I’ll keep it for another time. After the service, some well-dressed ladies just opened baskets they brought to the forest church service and started pulling fika stuff out. So in 5 min there were two kinds of biscuits, cakes and a couple of thermoses with hot coffee and hot water for tea. It was a bit of shock, having coffee in a forest, but I would say it was a pleasant surprise. 


Swedish people are not scared of weather condition. No matter if it rains or snows, if you have to go out, you do. Someone even told me that people in Sweden are so calm and patient just because they have to deal with the vagaries of the weather almost every day. Even though everyone is used to bad weather, there is this nice phrase passa på in Swedish vocabulary. The one of the meanings is: Let’s go outside, since the weather is nice and sunny. I am not surprised that this kind of special word exists. In spring, the first week with the nice weather literally the whole city was spending its free time outdoors. Barbeque, pikniks, outdoor sports or parties, the city was full of these events. I am not sure if anyone was even working those days (joking).


This word is one of my favorites. The meaning is pretty easy to guess – all people right. Specifically it means that every person has a right to get something from nature for its own welfare without affecting others. You can pick fruits, berries, mushrooms and all other stuff right from the forest as much as you need for your personal use, but not more.


There is no exact translation for this word, but as many words in Swedish this one has a very clear meaning. Lagom means not too much and not too less, lagom is just right. And it does not refer only to something which can be measured. There is a whole culture based on this word. You can feel lagom, weather can be just lagom or it also could be lagom amount of coffee in your cup. You can even make Europe LAGOM again. It was a slogan of EU election campaign of one of the Swedish parties.


Its meaning is a mix of being good at something and being hard-working. Swedes are good at motivating others to be more efficient. Even if your task is super small and could be considered not important, be prepared to hear this word duktig addressed to you just because you’ve done your task well.

Serghei with his supervisor

So, those are my 5 Swedish words which can slightly open the door to Swedish mentality. Hopefully now, when visiting Sweden, it will be a bit easier to understand why Swedes prefer to spend more time outdoors and can even bring some fika with them.

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