Greetings are an essential part of language — we greet each other to make contact with others, to show we’re happy to see someone again, and to stay in touch with people. There are of course many ways to greet someone in any given language, but it’s not always clear which type of greeting you should use when you’re still learning the ropes. As in English, there are many phrases you can use to say hello in Swedish — which one you use will not only depend on the context, but will also say something about your personality!
So, how do you say hello in Swedish? The easiest way is to use hej. Hej! always works, no matter who you’re greeting, where you are or what time of day it is (unless you’re greeting the King, in which case you’d be better off saying something like, “God dag ers majestät,” meaning “Good day, your majesty”). The greetings god dag (good day) and god kväll (good evening) are more formal and aren’t commonly used today, except by the older generation. God morgon (good morning), on the other hand, is still widely used between friends and colleagues to wish each other a nice start to the day. If you wake up in an especially good mood, you could declare Morsning korsning! (something like “Top o’ the mornin’!” in English) to the entire room. But be warned: this is almost exclusively said by men over 50. And a friend of mine often says morrn morrn, which has a nice regional flair to it…
Which brings us to the many creative and personal greetings that Swedes have invented as alternatives to the standard hej. Instead of hej, you can say hejsan, hej hej, hej på dig (hello to you), hej igen (hello again) or hej allihopa (hello everyone). These versions of hej work in many contexts and add a bit of variety to the language — just choose one that fits your mood. There’s also tjena!, derived from the expression “jag är eder ödmjuke tjänare” (I am your humble servant). Despite its aristocratic origin, tjena today is quite colloquial and used mostly by young people. This greeting, too, has quite a few creative variations: Tja! is often used between friends because it sounds relaxed, while you might hear tjabba!, tjenis or tjenixen said by adolescents riding around on their mopeds (so you’re probably better off not saying tjabba to your boss).
Meanwhile, Hallå is pronounced with the stress on the “å” and sounds almost like “hello,” but is not typically used as a greeting — it’s rather used as a question or an exclamation. Many Swedes answer the phone with Hallå? or shout Hallååå! to get someone’s attention. Halloj, on the other hand, is used between friends as a greeting. It sounds familiar and sometimes even comes across better when written rather than spoken. So it’s a good way to start a text message!
If you see someone you know on the street, but don’t have time to stay and chat, it’s best to say hej hej and smile with a nod before rushing off. If you were a man 50 years ago, you would’ve also tipped your hat. As for body contact when greeting someone, Swedes are somewhat reserved. When you meet someone for the first time, it’s standard to just shake their hand. Good friends hug each other when saying hello or goodbye, but kissing on the cheek, as is done in Southern Europe and elsewhere, is something most Swedes find confusing.
And how do you say “Goodbye” in Swedish? It’s pretty easy, just another hej — or, as an alternative, Hej då!
Now get to it! Choose your favorite greeting and surprise the next Swede you meet with a tjena, hej hej or halloj!