Dating in Stockholm

dating in sweden

It’s official: chivalry is dead. Well, at least in Stockholm it appears to be that way.

Case in point: when my American ex-boyfriend came to visit me last year from Geneva, we met two of my girlfriends (one Swedish and one Finnish) for drinks at Story Hotel.

When they had separately stood up to use the bathroom, I noticed how my ex, without speaking, also stood up. After my girlfriends realized what he had just done, one of them gasped and blurted out, “I’ve never actually seen a Swedish man do that!” Both of them were stupefied, for lack of a better word, by his politeness.

My ex, looking slightly sheepish, could only shrug in response. “I guess it’s just how I was raised?”

(Our relationship sadly didn’t last, but his manners, I imagine, would have.)

Defined as “courteous and gallant, esp. toward women,” I realized this word chivalrous is – dare I say? – obsolete nowadays, and hardly ever used as an adjective to describe a guy we’re dating.

Imagine, for a moment, that your Swedish friend calls you up on the phone to talk about her weekend. She’s going on and on about some guy she met at Sturehof and after describing his toned physique and playful demeanor, she then adds, “Oh! And the best part is that he’s very chivalrous.”

Can you honestly recall the last time you heard someone describe her potential love interest as such? Having now adjusted to Swedish culture, I would find it very odd if my friend would describe her new guy to me in such a way. In fact, I’d probably ask, “Seriously? Did he say he grew up somewhere else besides Sweden?”

I think this is because I’ve had my fair share of dating Swedish men and while they, of course, possess many positive attributes (think great bone structure, effortless style and can pull off a Baby Björn like no one else), they seem to be lacking that gentlemanly gene.

Dating in Stockholm

Maybe I’m alone in this thought that I’m about to share, but here in Stockholm, I sometimes miss feeling like a woman. I don’t mean that I want to be put on a pedestal and forced to abandon my career, only to wear an apron and make kanelbullar every day.

No, what I’m more referring to are those seemingly little gestures – where the door gets held open for you or he lets you walk ahead of him when you’re walking into a restaurant together. To me, these little things do matter and are often, what I find, unfortunately missing from the average Swedish male’s dating repertoire.

I think my first brush with this cultural propensity was right after I had first moved to Stockholm and had been casually dating Klaus*. He kept raving about the brunch at Scandic Anglais and so one Saturday morning, after a particularly boozy night, we hopped into a taxi together, both of us hungover and famished.

Just as we pulled up outside the hotel, I remembered him paying by card and then the next minute I looked to see that he had up and disappeared, having already booked it inside, not bothering to wait the maybe one minute it would have taken for me to join him. I realized later that if anyone else had been walking by at that very moment, they might have thought we were complete strangers, not casually dating each other.

We ate our frukost in relative silence but I remembered asking him, “Why did you rush inside so fast? It was kind of rude.” (I have no problem calling someone out on their behavior – maybe that’s the American in me.)

“I was hungry,” he said simply, then shoved yet another piece of hart bröd that he had smothered with butter, egg and caviar, into his mouth.

At first I chalked up his impoliteness to a personality flaw but after a few weeks and months of living in Stockholm, where I noticed how most people don’t give up their seat on the metro to pregnant women or the elderly, I realized that perhaps this is simply part of Swedish culture. And, as a foreigner willingly living and working here, maybe I just have to accept that this is the case.

So how, you may ask, have I now applied this acceptance into my current dating life? I suppose the only thing I’ve learned how to do is keep my expectations low (and I mean exceedingly low) when it comes to chivalrous behavior. That way if a Swedish guy does go out of his way to do something nice for me, I’m pleasantly surprised when it happens and not at all disappointed when he doesn’t do it again.

writer // Elisabeth Carlsson