SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Is Swedengate worthy of its scandalous name, or is it more of a tempest in a tekanna?
RICHARD TELLSTROM: You have found something that is very Swedish and a very Swedish cultural way of thinking and having relationships with each other.
SIMON: That’s Richard Tellstrom, historian and researcher of food culture at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. We called him because strangers on the internet have found something new again to rile their indignation, and this time it’s about Swedish food culture. It’s not about surstromming, that odiferous fermented herring that’s considered a delicacy there. It’s the Swedish habit of not feeding other family’s children when they’re over to play when mealtime strikes. Someone on the discussion site Reddit mentioned having experienced it. You can guess the rest. From Twitter to TikTok, hashtags flew, and voices were heard.
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ZARA LARSSON: Growing up as a child, it would be really common to go and play at your friend’s house, and then they will be like, oh, I’m just going to go and have dinner. I’ll be back in 30. And they would just leave you in their room.
SIMON: That’s Swedish pop star Zara Larsson in a TikTok addressing Swedengate. Professor Tellstrom also remembers the practice from his own childhood.
TELLSTROM: It was quite common, and I have been waiting in many rooms for my friends to finish their meal.
SIMON: We asked him why a country that tops the rankings for happiness and family friendliness might seem so stingy in their hospitality. He pointed us to Sweden’s noted egalitarianism.
TELLSTROM: If your kids come home and eat with me a lot, then suddenly I have provided them more than you do for my kids. So there is this sort of inequality, and this equality thought is very important up here in Sweden. So I help you by saying that, no, your kid has to go home and eat because then you don’t owe me.
SIMON: And he says, to be sure, the practice is far less common than it used to be.
TELLSTROM: Since food has become a new symbol in society, we have open kitchens. We like to dine and show off. Kids are watching “MasterChef.” So food has a totally different meaning today compared with what it had 40, 50 or 60 years ago.
SIMON: Richard Tellstrom also pointed to a small benefit to waiting in a room for your friend to scarf down lunch.
TELLSTROM: You could look at the things. You could look at a magazine. You could, well, see how they were living in this room. So it was quite interesting to spend your time there for seven or eight or nine minutes or what it took to eat.
SIMON: Or you could listen to BJ Leiderman, who writes our theme music. And maybe that’s eight or nine minutes that your friend spent staring down a plate of surstromming that you don’t have to eat.
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