Praktik week 11: UK vs Sweden

With just over a week to go before my time as a praktikant officially ends, I thought I should take a step back and look at the bigger picture. As I’ve mentioned, this is my first experience of a Swedish workplace, so it’s been interesting to note the differences and similarities.

In general the cultural differences between Sweden and the UK are fairly subtle, and the same is true in the office. Still, here are a few of the nuances I’ve picked up on so far…

1. Coffee, of course

In British workplaces we have what we call the ”tea round”. Convention has it that when you go to make a cup of tea, you ask your nearby colleagues whether they would like a cuppa, and if so, you make their tea while you’re getting your own.

This can lead to all sorts of micro-level conflicts such as ”who doesn’t make their fair share of cups of tea”, ”who has ridiculously complicated tea preferences”, and ”who keeps offering to make tea but then forgets”, which naturally thrive in the workplace.

Here, it’s not tea but coffee that everyone likes to get worked up over. There is a clear coffee hierarchy: the ”fin kaffe” that comes from the filter coffee maker is far superior to the kind that comes out of the automated machine, so before a morning meeting a pot will be brewed and brought in… until someone else with another meeting comes in looking for it. And then there’s the whole ”I put this coffee on to brew but by the time I came back to get a cup of it there was hardly any left” issue.

In short, it’s a minefield. I like to imagine that all kinds of workplaces in cultures all around the world have a variation on the same hot beverage-related gripes; what would an office be without them?

2. Everyone act normal

One thing that struck me in my first week at Salgado was the uniformity of the lunch hour. Lunch is at 12 o’clock. Sure, you might leave to pick up some food at 11:45, or stay at your desk until 12:15 to finish that important email, but that’s about as varied as it gets.

I’m more used to an environment where everyone has their own little lunch routine that could take place any time between around 12 and 2. You might have a couple of friends you coordinate with, but otherwise pretty much anything goes.

I think it’s a reflection of Sweden’s somewhat conformist society, which you can see other examples of in a workplace setting too. Take holidays. The idea of everyone taking their time off simultaneously – including 4 weeks in the summer – is still pretty bizarre to me. I know you can borrow from those weeks to go on holiday at other times of the year, but overwhelmingly it seems like people don’t.

It’s a far cry from a system where those who don’t have school-age children time their trips purposefully to avoid the 6-week summer holiday and thereby get cheaper deals, or take a week off in March to get a bit of sun abroad just as the long winter becomes unbearable. It’ll be interesting to see how I adjust to a world without regular holidays distributed through the year once I start life as an employee…

3. Al desko: a no-no

A positive side to the lunchtime routine is that people tend to gather in the kitchen to eat and chat together. Taking your sandwich or salad to your desk to eat would seem a little antisocial, unless your workload is particularly crazy that day. It’s a refreshing change from an environment where eating ”al desko” is so common that in some workplaces actually stopping work during your lunch break is frowned upon.

4. Drinks anyone?

Given the UK’s pub culture it’s pretty common to go for after-work drinks, either as a regular occurrence on a Friday night or at least for your colleagues’ birthdays, leaving parties and other notable occasions. While there have been a couple of afterwork events during my time here, they tend to take place in the office after hours – with some people going back to the grindstone after stopping for a drink or two or taking a beer to their desk to keep working. I know that drinking out in pubs and bars is more expensive here, but c’mon people. Live a little.

Maybe next week I’ll succeed in putting together a delegation to the pub to mark the end of my praktik. Watch this space!


That’s all from me for now – if you have any burning questions about working life in the UK, why not leave a comment? Otherwise, until next time…