It started over the weekend, and it was a refreshingly wholesome “controversy” about cultural differences. The controversy? Apparently, in Sweden, if your kid goes to play at a friend’s house, his friend’s family will not feed your child. In fact, the Swedish family will eat dinner and your child is just expected to play quietly away from everyone. This is apparently some kind of Nordic tradition, and it’s… um, considered really weird to most other cultures. Including mine! My Indian father loved feeding my friends. The number of times he would stir-fry shrimp for my friends “as a snack” is pretty remarkable. I would assume most Americans are like that too, culturally – parents have snacks for their kids’ friends, and everyone is welcome for dinner. This is not the way for Sweden. Some Swedish person wrote a column for the Independent about the controversy:
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.
Yeah, I’m probably the same age as this Swede, and back then, we didn’t have playdates either and nothing was formal. Now, do I have many memories of being fed at other people’s houses? No. Because my house was the one where kids would be fed. My parents were the ones who always had snacks and there was always enough food if a friend wanted to stay for dinner. Even more than that, friends were always invited for dinner!
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
Forget about Swedes not feeding their play date kids – what about adults having to bring their own sheets and towels when invited to spend the night? Lived there for 18 years, can confirm #swedengate
— Xtine Milrod (@XtineMilrod) May 31, 2022
This Swede food saga is just wild to me. So you don’t feed your guest, but accept food when it’s offered to you. And you ask your guests to pay you back when you feed them. You can’t convince me it’s your culture, this is wickedness. #swedengate
— Aji Fatou (@ajifatoudibba) May 30, 2022
I wish my abuela were still around. She'd be trying to airlift tamales to Sweden.
— Lynda Carter (@RealLyndaCarter) May 31, 2022
Photos of Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgard, courtesy of Avalon Red, Instar.