It’s a Scandi scandal! Why has social media turned on Sweden?


Name: #Swedengate.

Age: As a custom, deeply embedded; as a scandal, brand-new.

Appearance: Hungry.

Are people going hungry in Sweden? That is a scandal! Not all people. Just children.

What? Aren’t the Swedes feeding their children? They are – just not each other’s children.

Is this something to do with the new series of Borgen? Borgen is set in Denmark.

Well, I’m mystified. You’re not alone. The scandal recently emerged on a Reddit forum, after a user revealed that when he was a child playing at a Swedish friend’s house, he was left alone while the family ate dinner.

Did others pile in to decry this episode as an unrepresentative one-off? No, they confirmed it was commonplace. In Sweden, visiting playmates don’t get fed.

So the hashtag #Swedengate began to trend on social media? Correct. “Over 100 years of Sweden being seen as such as a good place to live and a screenshot has ruined them,” read one tweet.

Their darkest secret revealed! A map of Europe also began to make the rounds, illustrating the likelihood of being fed as a guest at someone’s house in different countries. Sweden was coloured red for “very unlikely”.

I hope the Swedes were suitably ashamed. Actually, they mostly offered a robust defence of the practice.

What defence? First, Swedish families eat together. Second, visiting kids aren’t fed out of respect for the dinner routine of the child’s own family. Finally, nobody minds. “I remember not really caring at all that I wasn’t being fed,” wrote Linda Johannson in the Independent. “I just continued playing and had a nice, quiet time while the other family had their dinner.”

Are non-Swedes buying this defence? Do you mean: are people on Twitter displaying tolerance and understanding regarding the societal habits of other cultures?

Sorry, silly me. For the most part, when people aren’t criticising Swedish mealtime practices, they are extolling the prandial generosity of their own culture.

I guess these hospitality customs run pretty deep. Yes, the meaning of shared meals and, in particular, the cultural mechanism of hospitality is an extremely complex issue.

They have simplified things pretty well in Sweden, though. Yes, although things have changed in the last 20 years or so, and visiting children are more likely to be fed.

That would suggest the Swedes knew it was weird all along. If they didn’t then, they do now.

Do say: “Don’t worry, Lars. Your little friend will be back to play with you just as soon as his birthday party is over.”

Don’t say: “Would you like to stay for dinner? Here’s the menu – the prices are on the back.”





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