Learning can come from unexpected places. Padel, Sweden’s new national sports passion and fastest growing sport, offers valuable insights into Swedish culture and even more importantly, the chance to meet Swedes and practise. Padel has boomed in pandemic times whilst many other sports have been hard-hit or temporarily shut down. If you are new in Sweden or haven’t already tried padel, I warmly recommend you do. Apart from being great fun, you will learn the following:
1. Shoes off
On entering a padel hall, you will be met by a shoe line over which you may not pass with your outdoor shoes on. Good practice for entering Swedish homes, which have the same policy. Make sure you have a decent pair of socks as holes will be noticed. Investment in a new sock collection is advisable when moving to Sweden for the many occasions when they will be on display.
2. Start and finish on time
Time is not a loose concept in Sweden. Padel courts are booked by the hour and you should be on and off the court within seconds of the booked time. The same applies in business, where Swedish meetings culture means that most people will be hurrying along to their next meeting, even if you didn’t get through the whole agenda. Socially too, an agreed time in Sweden is not a suggestion.
3. Pay for yourself, preferably by Swish
Padel is a doubles game and one person usually books and pays for the court online. Just as buying rounds of drinks isn’t the norm in Sweden, you will be expected to pay your share of the cost, each time. Sweden is pretty much a cash free society and the payment app Swish is the standard way of paying money between individuals.
4. Equality rules
This most sacred of Swedish values is well represented in padel. You will meet people from all walks of life and everyone can participate and play at their own level. Padel is not run on a private membership basis but is a pay and play set-up, open to everyone.
5. Easy start-up but difficult to master
Although it’s quite easy to get a game of padel going, it’s trickier and more strategic than it first appears, requiring training to make any real headway. A little like Swedish culture or the concept of “lagom”, one of its cornerstones and an international buzzword in recent years. Whilst the concept is easy to understand, its application and knowing what is “lagom” in any given situation takes years of practice.
6. Lagom doesn’t apply in sport
Although lagom is applied to most aspects of life in Sweden, sports is a notable exception. Winner attitudes and the pursuit of excellence in sport are socially accepted and usually applauded. Completing a Swedish Classic, for example, is a common goal, especially for those celebrating milestone birthdays. The phenomenal interest in padel has been anything but lagom and padel newbies and obsessives have been keeping Swedish physiotherapists and naprapaths busy.
7. Virtue signalling
Even though padel halls have been amazingly exempt from pandemic closure, it is important to be seen to observe covid restrictions. You can spend a happy hour sweating together inside a padel cage with your partner and opposition but don’t forget the hand sanitizer when you’re finished! It’s also key to let people know that you adhered to the quarantine recommendations upon return from your padel clinic in Spain and any other essential travel.
8. Learn the lingo
A few key words go a long way. Most Swedes speak English very well so it’s possible, if not advisable, to manage without learning Swedish. Taking an interest, however, and acquiring a few choice phrases never goes amiss. The same applies in this sport. What you lack in Swedish skills you can make up for in fluent padel; “bandeja”, “vibora” and “net play” are some of the basics.
9. Get the look
Swedes are generally quite image conscious and their reputation as “the beautiful people” is not unwarranted. Although the dress code isn’t strict at padel halls, a pair of nicely toned arms and legs go well with any style of sport shorts, skirts or tops and are essential to complete the padel-look. Unlike most other countries, gyms and hairdressers have also remained open in Sweden throughout the pandemic so unfortunately, there’s really no excuse!
10. Get the trend
Trend sensitivity and levels of conformity in Swedish society are high, including areas as diverse as politics, food and sport. Padel has been the trendiest of sports in recent years. For more on this subject see Johan Esk’s weekend article in DN “I am a white, middle-aged, middle class man in Stockholm who doesn’t play padel. Do I exist?”
Do you or your international colleagues need help understanding Swedish culture?
A little cultural training goes a long way and provides the keys to successfully working and living in Sweden, including understanding the underlying values which shape society and form the basis of unwritten codes. If you would like more information please contact me at email@example.com. Whether you are new in Sweden or here a little longer and still finding yourself struggling, cultural training will help you with your transition. You may also be interested in our book Working in Sweden: The A-Z Guide or 10 lessons in Swedish Culture from the Corona Virus.