Is the Swedengate hospitality controversy real? A long time ago maybe. – The Washington Post | Start Classified

Many people take pride in their families’ generosity towards guests, especially when it comes to food. And so a conversation about whether young guests in Swedish households would actually expect to be fed by their hosts roiled social media this week.

What later became known as #Swedengate began with an innocent tip-off on a Reddit board. “What’s the weirdest thing you’ve had to do at someone else’s house because of culture/religion?” one user prompted.

Since this post eight days ago, more than 16,000 people have responded, many sharing stories of taking off their shoes or offering an unfamiliar grace. But one comment in particular stood out. “I remember going to my Swedish friends’ house,” recalled one commenter. “And while we were playing in his room, his mother yelled that dinner was ready. And check this out. He told me to wait in his room while they ate.”

Others chimed in with similar or second-hand stories of guests being denied food in Swedish homes. The discussion soon shifted to Twitter, where Swedish pop star Zara Larson appeared to confirm the little-known practice. “Highest Swedish culture <3 :'-)" she wrote. She later clarified that it usually only happened to children.

Much of the reaction revolved around people’s dismay – rooted in their own family’s tendency to do the opposite – and many attributed this impetus to a larger culture with which they identify. “From the southern US…the concept of not aggressively feeding a guest is literally unthinkable,” wrote one Reddit commenter. “Mexicans here, my family would return to Mexico illegally before starving guests,” another chimed in.

Your guide to the ultimate “coastal grandmother” summer

The accumulation and the associated generalizations about his culture frustrated Lars-Erik Tindre, the adviser on public diplomacy at the Swedish embassy in Washington. He says the practice was not universal and does not exist in modern Swedish families, including his own. “I think there’s some truth to it, but what people are missing in these comments is that this happened in the ’70s and ’80s,” says Tindre, 47. “I have kids, and we all have other kids time to eat.”

When he and his friends were growing up, he and his friends had heard of families not offering food to their young guests, but he says he’s never experienced that.

Richard Tellström, a food historian and associate professor of food science at Sweden’s University of Agricultural Sciences, says that up until the 1990s it would not have been uncommon for a child not to be fed at a friend’s house, and recalls instances from his childhood . Tellstrom, 62, says the practice has nothing to do with cruelty or inhospitableness — it reflects how Swedes view families. “Eating was something you did at home,” he says. “You weren’t feeding other people’s children — that would have been seen as some sort of intrusion into another family’s life, with the caption ‘You can’t feed your children properly, so I’m going to feed them.’ ”

Tindre said he wasn’t sure of the origins, but he speculated it might have something to do with his sense that Swedish families often meet up regularly with their immediate families rather than extended ones. Tellström reiterated this, explaining that due to the consolidation of farmland from the late 17th century and urbanization, families often lived apart from their relatives. And so eating together with aunts and uncles and cousins ​​is not as common in Sweden as it is in many southern European countries. “We just don’t do that in the north,” says Tellström.

Many Swedes may have never experienced being denied food at a friend’s house, making the online debate about it murky. Johanna Kindvall is a Swedish-raised illustrator and cookbook author who divides her time between her home country and Brooklyn. “I had never heard of that,” she says. “I think that could have happened here, too,” she says, referring to the United States.

Kindvall, 55, remembers children from her village often going home in time for dinner with their own friends’ families, but says her best friend, who lived further away, often hung out at her house and with her family was fed . “Of course there was food for them,” she says.

The tradition — wherever it may have existed — has died out, Tellström says, because the way children are treated has changed. Previous generations of Swedes usually viewed children as very different from adults. “Children were considered to live almost in a parallel world,” he says. “Children were children, and parents and adults were in their own sphere.” Now those barriers have eroded; Children are engaged and participate in adult conversations around the dinner table and elsewhere, he notes.

Tindre says he can’t imagine that working today, as modern Swedish families often rely on each other for something many American parents can relate to: taking kids to a variety of activities, from violin lessons to soccer games. In Sweden, parents refer to the daily dance of pick-up and drop-off as figuring out “lives pussel” – the puzzle of life – which often involves carpooling and the kids eating together.

Tellström finds the conversations surrounding Swedish food fascinating and notes that he and his Swedish friends are suddenly discussing it on Facebook because it’s caught the world’s attention on social media. “Sometimes it takes a different perspective to see something different in your own culture,” he says. “When you live in a culture, things are obvious and understandable, and always have been – but when someone on the outside notices, you suddenly see it.”

Tindre acknowledges that the idea of ​​someone not raising a child under their roof seems odd, which makes it good fodder for social media mobs that can tarnish reputations — not just celebrities, but potentially those people of a whole country. He hopes people won’t see Swedes as unfriendly, pointing to their place at the top of the Good Country Index, which measures contributions to the common good of humanity through things like climate and food aid.

“On a societal level, it’s hard to argue that Sweden is unwelcoming and has great hospitality,” he says.

Leave a Comment