It has been capturing the internet all week – with Swedes – and other nationalities weighing in on what has now become known as #Swedengate.
It all started with a Reddit post where one user shared their experience at a Swedish friend’s house in response to a question on the “weirdest” things people have had to do at other people’s houses because of their culture or religion.
The now-removed answer that started the Twitter storm read: “I remember going to my Swedish friend’s house. And while we were playing in his room, his mom yelled that dinner was ready. And check this. He told me to WAIT in his room while they ate…”
Well – needless to say, the internet was here for this, and the conversation soon moved on from Reddit to Twitter, where people from across the globe started debating the phenomenon – with many Swedes weighing in to defend the practice.
— alina ??? (@alinaction_) May 31, 2022
Earlier this week, Linda Johansson wrote an op-ed on the issue for The Independent, explaining:
“The Swedish thinking goes like this: the other child (or the other family) may have plans for another kind of dinner, and you wouldn’t want to ruin the routine or preparations.”
“I don’t think it is anything to do with not wanting to feed the other child or because it costs money or anything like that, it’s more to do with tradition and wanting to eat with your own family.”
One Swedish person, linking the article, tweeted: “Swedes cook for the people they expect (family). Precise portions. We don’t mind guests, just tell us in advance and we’ll add one more. And in Sweden, it’s understood that you don’t eat at a friend’s house unannounced. No big deal here.”
POV: You’re over at a friends house in Sweden and it’s dinner time.
— Shehzad Ghias Shaikh (@Shehzad89) May 31, 2022
Dinner time is family time
The whole saga has been playing out across social media all week, with people from countries and cultures across the globe having their say – and many roasting Swedes for a practice called out as being cruel, stingy – and some even claiming it to be racist.
The thing is – having grown up in Norway and a very similar culture to Sweden – dinner time back in the 80s and 90s was considered a very important family gathering. In most families, both mothers and fathers worked outside the home, and so at around 5PM (office hours in Scandinavia is most often 8-4), we all sat down for dinner.
Back then (and also to an extent today) children were expected to eat dinner at home, with the idea that we all respected this, and so if my sister and I were at a friend’s house playing, it was very common for the parents there to send us home when they were sitting down for dinner – as it was generally understood that dinner would be on the way back in our own house as well, and these parents, out of respect for my parents, wanted to make sure we were home for dinner – and had not filled up on food in someone else’s house first.
The same was the case in our house. If friends had called in – which they did every day – my mum, who very much practised an open-door policy in our house when it came to friends and visits – would send them home for dinner at their own house.
In Scandinavia, children enjoy a freedom when it comes to playtime most children here in Ireland – and many other countries – do not. There are very few organised ‘playdates’ and parents don’t really plant or get involved with who their children play with at all. Instead, children play outside, run from one house to the next, looking to see who is free to come out to play at any given moment.
And usually, the informal, going rule is that while you may play out and go from one house to the next with your friends, you go back home for dinner. And for parents having shopped for and cooked and prepared food, it would be pretty annoying if the kids arrived home having already eaten in someone else’s house.
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The meaning of a meal
I think the most important thing that #Swedengate is proven, is that when it comes to culture, something that really means nothing to some people – like; I NEVER once felt offended as a child when we were being sent home for dinner – would seemingly be seen as a mortal sin to others.
“As a Swede, I wouldn’t say this is really a culture thing. It has more to do with when guests come unsuspected and there isn’t enough food for everyone. We only make enough food we think we will eat. Otherwise they eat with the family. (At least in my experience)” one Twitter user wrote.
“[P]eople from poorer countries will share the last dry biscuits they have to avoid the shame of a guest going hungry in their house while western euros are getting heart attacks at the concept of maybe making some extra food or finagling more portions out of what is available,” clapped back another.
Arguments along these lines have kept Twitter busy over the past week, and the #Swedengate controversy certainly demonstrates how cultural norms regulate behaviour and produce expectations.