One Reddit post shared on Twitter last week has got Sweden under intense fire on social media, so much so that '#Swedengate' is trending on the social media platform. In the Reddit post, a person had shared his experience of a sleepover at his Swedish friend's place. While the family ate the dinner and breakfast together, the guest was asked to wait and not offered any food.
The post has changed (and even shaped) Twitteratis' perspective of seeing Swedish culture. For most of them now, Swedes are people who are rude to the guests and lack the etiquette of offering them food.
The peculiarity of the Swedish family's behaviour towards their child's friend irked almost everyone on social media. People from other cultures expressed shock and replied how feeding the guest and being hospitable to them is seen above everything else. Posted on May 26, the tweet blew out of proportion and had 54,2000 likes on June 3
The Swedish people on the other hand justified the claim saying the families plan their meals and an unannounced guest isn't taken into account. "Unless planned between the parents, it can be seen as rude to feed another persons kid here. It's rude to expect another family to feed your kid without asking first. And it's rude to feed a kid without checking in with their parents. It's a different culture. It's not wrong," a Swedish Twitter user wrote.
"As a Swede i can confirm this, i would say the second case with no breakfast is very weird but the first one is very normal and i would find it weird to feed someone elses kid if they just over to play. Sleepover for sure they get food (sic)," another one wrote.
American Taiwanese journalist Clarissa Wei termed the uproar on social media as 'overblown' and 'dumb'. "#swedengate controversy is so overblown and dumb. & actually says a lot on how bigotry goes both ways. sweden has had one of the most generous refugee programs in all of europe & dedicates 1% of their GDP to humanitarian aid (sic)," Wei said.
"No one is starving anyone, she wrote, explaining how her husband, who is a Swede, was not given food when he was a kid visiting a neighbor. "They didn't feed him b/c he was due at home for dinner (sic)," she wrote.
Is there a cultural context?
Yes, the practice of not feeding an unannounced guest in Sweden has a cultural and historical context. "We must consider that there is no tradition of having informal dinners together in Sweden," said Håkan Jönsson, senior lecturer at Department of Arts and Cultural Sciences, Lund University in Sweden.
Jönsson, while speaking to BOOM, explained that the practice is a 'reminiscent of old times' when people had to be careful and calculative with food so that the storage lasted the long off growing seasons in the cold climate. "While there have certainly not been food shortages for a long time in Sweden, this habit remains," he said.Interestingly, the word for guest used in older days was the same as the word for stranger, he said.
However, this does not mean Swedes do not socialise. "Informal socialization around a meal was (and still is) mostly centered around the "fika" concept," he said. Fika refers to light snacking.
"A cup of coffee (juice or soda for the kids) and something on the side was always possible to offer without putting someone in a sense of being in debt. The playing children will regularly be offered juice, soda, some light snack or a small sandwich as an "in between meal", it is just the dinner that is an exception in the inclusion of children from other families," he explained.
In addition to this, family meals are considered an important part in Sweden where the members sit together to eat and chat. "If the child comes home already having dinner, you will disturb the meal order of the family. So, in a way it is a way to try to be polite to the visiting child's parents, not to be impolite to the child," Jönsson added.
#Swedengate and NATO
Speculations are being made that the #Swedengate controversy is planned and an organised social media attack since Sweden has been trying get NATO membership. On May 18, Sweden, along with Finland, formally submitted papers to join NATO. A day later, Turkey took everyone by surprise after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said it was going to reject the application.
Like many others, Jonsson too said that the Twitter phenomena #Swedengate was probably orchestrated given the political turbulence in Sweden. However, he explained that this is not the first time people have acted shocked over the meal sharing culture of Sweden. "it is not the first time that I meet reactions by people from other cultures thinking that this is a very odd custom. But when you explain the rationale behind, most people get relaxed," Jonsson said.
Swedish Psychological Defence Agency, however, debunked the speculations of #Swedengate controversy being an organised attack and a smear campaign. Responding to BOOM's query on email, the agency said they did not find any such evidence. We cannot see any evidence of that, the hashtag Swedengate is not a foreign malign information influence campaign," they replied.
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