Twitter was recently abuzz over customs followed in Sweden, which is best known for being the world’s happiest and most equitable countries. The discussion started after a Reddit post went viral recently where someone described their experience of visiting their friend’s home in Sweden.
“What is the weirdest thing you had to do at someone else’s house because of their culture/religion?” was the title of the Reddit board. One user mentioned about being asked to wait while the friend’s family finished their dinner. Soon, the screenshots of the Reddit board made their way to Twitter, and became a talking point among non-Swedish people.
Not here to judge but I don’t understand this. How’re you going to eat without inviting your friend? pic.twitter.com/bFEgoLiuDB
— Seeker (@SamQari) May 26, 2022
As discussion gained prominence, #SwedenGate started trending on Twitter. Many points were raised, and some users tried to explain why European countries are perceived as cold and unwelcoming.
There was also a poll, which asked which asked “Will you receive food as a guest at someone’s house” along with a map of Scandinavian countries. Finland, Sweden, and Norway were marked as “Very unlikely to give you food”.
This is blowing people’s minds, so as an amateur historian and sociologist I’m going to try to explain this development/ cultural artifact. pic.twitter.com/vNF0MMpMFK
— Incompetent Beneficiary of Nepotism (@WallySierk) May 29, 2022
Indians too joined the discussion and explained how important it is to feed their guests. “That Swedish people don’t share food thread is wild. the other day I had to stop to pick up a friend (to go somewhere else) and I had to eat tea and snacks for half an hour for fear of offending their mom. India will feed you to death even if they have to pull their last rations,” a user tweeted.
Rana Safvi, a writer of culture and history, pointed out that in some South Asian cultures, people eat from the same plate. “In the Bohra Muslim community, everyone eats from one large plate. Sharing food and eating together is not only an act of closeness but also a reminder to everyone that they are all equal,” she told Vice News.
Food is the primary language of love in South Asia, the writer added.
Meanwhile in the Philippines, we feed our guests as soon as they step in, then during meal times, then give out snacks, and then finally pack more food when they go home. https://t.co/kc9cgdwciP
— Jai Cabajar (@jaicabajar) May 30, 2022
Do Swedish people really don’t want to feed their guests?
The discussion on Twitter also threw up some interesting points. One user claimed that in Nordic cultures, hospitality was the duty of people with higher status. “So, hospitality not only brought honour to the giver, it had the potential to bring shame to the recipient,” the user said.
“Nordic/Germanic/Celt ancestry here. My mother, horrified at my neighbor’s attempts to feed me, safety-pinned a note to my clothes saying “please do not feed _______, she gets enough food at home.” Their (weird) assumption was that neighbors were throwing shade,” tweeted another.
In Sweden, some 50 y ago, I think there was a silent understanding between parents that “our kids eat at home”. If you fed your neighbors children you somehow broke the rule and “sabotaged” their dinner plans. Dinner time was a bit sacred. Nowadays, nah.
— Håkan Save Hansson ???????????????? (@savehansson) May 30, 2022
The Twitter thread, launched on May 29, was also noticed by Lars-Erik Tindre, a public diplomacy counselor at the Swedish Embassy in Washington. The comments and generalisations about his culturehurt Mr Tindre.
“I believe that it has some truth to it, but what people miss in these comments is that this happened in the ’70s and ’80s. I have children, and we have other kids over for meals all the time,” the 47-year-old told Washington Post.
Richard Tellstrom, associate professor of meal science at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, told the Post that the practice had nothing to do with being cruel or inhospitable – it was a reflection of how Swedes viewed families. “Eating was something that you did at home,” he said.