I was laughing when I checked Twitter and saw that #Swedengate was trending. All this fuss because of the revelation that Swedish people don’t – as a rule – serve food to guests (particularly to other children who are playing at their houses). It’s true, but what’s more confusing to me is why that’s even a problem.
As a child growing up in Gothenburg, I remember not really caring at all that I wasn’t being fed – I just continued playing and had a nice, quiet time while the other family had their dinner. It was usually just a quick “pause”; probably because they didn’t want to mess up my family’s plans.
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.
It would be different if you were actually invited over as a proper “playdate”, like people do more commonly here in the UK, but that wasn’t usually the case. We didn’t really have the same kind of formally arranged invitations. I think in many ways, Sweden is more of a free society than the UK. Children are allowed to run around more freely there, so they would usually just knock on the door and ask if they can come in and play – and obviously, you don’t “plan” how many children would be at your house in that instance. It would be a complete surprise. The parents wouldn’t be included usually, they wouldn’t come over to your house or expect to be catered for.
If you do have a planned playdate, of course, it’s different. Or, if the children are really young, then it’s a different story and you’d have a plan for people (their parents) to come over and eat. That would work the same way as it does in Britain.
Times have changed, too – today, it’s a different story. In Sweden now, if you have one child who comes over, they would likely get food as well. It’s not so much the way it was 20, 30 or 40 years ago, when I was growing up. But even then, it really wasn’t the “big deal” people on Twitter are making it sound like it was. Everyone did it. You just continued playing with dolls (or whatever it was) while your friend ate with their mum and dad.
To keep up to speed with all the latest opinions and comment sign up to our free weekly Voices Dispatches newsletter by clicking here
I’ve been in the UK for 16 years – I am a mother and have seen the differences compared to how it was when I was growing up. I feed any kids that come over to play with my son and had almost completely forgotten about the tradition in my home country – until it popped up on Twitter.
Then I suddenly remembered what it was like: that when I was a child, kids at a much younger age ran around over to other people’s houses, knocked on the door and were then welcomed in to play. But you had a set dinner time with your own family, so you just left the house you were at and ran home to get your own food.
I spoke to my cousin who still lives in Gothenburg to see what it’s like for parents now – she has two kids aged eight and 12 and said it’s not like that at all, any more. Most of the time, everyone sits down and eats together. So maybe there’s been a big social shift. But the only people who find this strange seem to be those who aren’t from Sweden.
Linda Johansson has an Etsy shop, StorkToSwan