How An Odd Swedish Food Custom Blew Up On Twitter

Aside from Alexander Skarsgard, Ikea, and meatballs, one thing that may come to mind when people think of Sweden is its high happiness index — which has positioned the country as one of the best places to live multiple times. However, according to Today, this week, the Nordic nation's seemingly unproblematic reputation is coming into question as it became the subject of a debate surrounding manners and cultural traditions, culminating in the viral hashtag #SwedenGate taking over timelines.

The whole saga started after a Reddit thread from last week asked users to share "the weirdest thing [they] had to do at someone else's house because of their culture/religion." As revealed by several responses to the question, it turns out Sweden's definition of hospitality is very different from the rest of the world's.

One top reply in the thread came from a Redditor who shared a story about being asked to wait in a separate room at his Swedish friend's house while said friend and their family ate dinner without them. Fellow Swedes corroborated the user's statement by revealing it is indeed typical for families in Sweden and other Nordic countries to deny guests food, a fact that left some Redditors stunned.

It didn't take long for the conversation to move to Twitter thanks to a screenshot of the thread shared by one user, alongside the caption "Not here to judge but I don't understand this. How're you going to eat without inviting your friend?"

Swedish people not feeding their houseguests has sparked debate on social media

Although several people from Sweden confirmed on Twitter that the practice of not giving out food was no big deal, many couldn't fathom how the behavior was normalized at all. With 23,700 retweets so far, it's safe to say this is a hot topic. "Asian person here, my mom would die if someone told her not to aggressively feed a guest," wrote one user on Reddit. "How that's not just rude in any culture is beyond me," added another.

In response to the confusion, several people attempted to make sense of the reasoning behind this lack of dining etiquette. One Redditor explained it stems from Nordic countries' disdain for changing plans, even if it's adding an extra person to the table. As for not feeding kids, some claim it's considered inappropriate to feed a child that isn't their own. 

But even without the context, others felt compelled to defend Sweden's unexpected dining practices, citing  "cultural differences" as an excuse. However, many folks on Twitter aren't buying the justification. Some have suggested the insistence is reductive, using anecdotes from fellow users that the rule of denying food appeared to only apply one way. "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," wrote one user.

Sweden is seeing some backlash on social media

The heated debate surrounding Sweden's so-called crazy food etiquette has since prompted some people to examine other parts of Swedish culture and history with more scrutiny. Days after the tweet revealing the Reddit thread, the hashtag #SwedenGate began trending, with many using it to call attention to questionable things about Sweden that may have gone unacknowledged in the public eye, including its treatment of the sick throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, its colonialist past, as well as its socio-political attitudes toward immigrants and people of color.

And although there are some people who have found the negative attention coming at Sweden unfair, it seems many people believe the public reckoning is a long time coming, particularly when it comes to discussing its involvement in colonialism; a harsh reality that may have been overlooked by Americans who romanticize the country as aspirational due to its free health care and other left-leaning politics.

"While most other Swedes are scrambling to protect our image, it really just proves the issue that we have here. Everyone just brushes the racism under the rug, being more focused on appearing not racist than actually not being not racist," tweeted one user. Another agreed, writing "As a Danish person born and raised, I stand fully behind #swedengate. Swedish colonialist history and racist culture have for so long been meticulously overshadowed by a faux humanist veil. That's coming off now."