Interacting with locals in Gothenburg

Gothenburgers are lovely people. But, like anywhere else, they have their “ways”. Save yourself some frustration and embarrassment, and know – don’t bother trying to understand – the Gothenburger psyche.

Gothenburg Nej Men Hej meeting

Regrettable bumping into each other

I genuinely believe Gothenburgers are disappointed to bump into people they know. Something probably to do with having so much space around them, unintended meetings just shouldn’t happen. It has reulted in “Nej men hej” meaning “No but hello” becoming a very popular Gothenburg greeting for friends and acquaintances.

Let’s briefly consider the mind of a Gothenburger who’s making this statement; beginning with the instinctive “No” (Damn it, I know her. She knows I know her.) “but” (Is there an excuse that gets me out of this? Think, think! No.) “Hey” (Bollocks to it, we’ll talk). Unless your blood related, always expect a “No but hello” greeting. But don’t take it personally. They probably do like you, just some warning would've been appreciated.

What did you say?

Also listen out for…

Va sa du? (I said, “also listen out for” – apologies, terrible joke). Meaning, “what did you say?” the phrase “va sa du” pops up everywhere. I mean literally, in every conversation you’ll ever take a sound bite from; I’m thinking Swedes might be the most distracted people ever. Daydreamers, all of them. This is a trait that, conveniently for Gothenburgers, also gets them out of making eye contact on the street. They gaze around thoughtfully, appreciating their beautiful city. If you do ever manage to make eye contact with a stranger: enjoy the embarrassed, muddled and sometimes guilty readjustment to daydreaming, and smile back.


Stay out of the fuckin bike lane!

Gothenburg is a city for cyclists. Bike lanes are everywhere, and I recommend getting some wheels while you’re here. But bike lanes are for bikes. It took some time for me to accept this fact; I remember responding to a stressed Swedish friend, “it’s a bloody pavement, I can walk where I like on it”. Just don’t. Firstly, your days will be filled with aggressive bike ringing (well, as aggressive as it’s possible for a bicycle bell to sound). Secondly, you’ll be so UN-Gothenburg because you’ve showed disregard to a system. Seriously, here, you never disregard a system.

You follow the system!


Systems, systems everywhere. There’s the biggest system of all, the mass of government systems. Truth is, most Swedes aren’t too keen on dealing with these systems either. But they do comply and you should too – it’s the law. So just batten down the hatches and get the hell out of there – asap. 

There’s also the “take a number before you queue system”, because you don’t really queue in Gothenburg, you mill around a bit. Which is a good system, I’ve got to say… when you remember it! The “laundry booking system” – cracking system, fair’s fair. Taking shoes off indoors – great hygiene. Simply put, Swedes clearly get turned on by systems. They are the most acquiescent people on Earth. Absolutely love a good rule.

The no.1 one excuse

You might not want to read this one. I mention it last as I hesitate to ruin your naïve innocence. It deals with rejection. And laundry. Because if, after you invite someone out, they say they’re “doing their laundry that night”, truth is: they just don’t want to see you. It’s the classic excuse. And a good one, because Swedes understand that no self-respecting, Thor, Ulrik or Harry would ever cancel a pre-booked wash time. It's too important... systems, remember?

Laundry (apparently) comes first

Laundry (apparently) comes first

Well, I guess they might cancel – if you were really worth it. But unfortunately, you’re a “nej men hej” friend. We all are.


This Is Gothenburg [2019]