The controversy began on the popular Reddit forum r/AskReddit when u/sebastian25525 asked the question: “What is the weirdest thing you had to do at someone else’s house because of their culture/religion?”
One Reddit user’s response gained particular attention from the internet: “I remember going to my Swedish friend’s house. And while we were playing in his room, his mom yelled that dinner was ready. And check this. He told me to WAIT in his room while they ate.”
From there, the Reddit post spread like wildfire across social media, with the hashtag #Swedengate trending on Twitter. Before long, thousands of users were sharing their own experiences of not being served food in a Swedish household. Many Swedes defended the practice, while non-Swedes began criticising the country for its dining practices.
Do Swedish people not serve food to their guests?
While the majority of the internet was shocked to learn that Swedes are unlikely to feed guests in their home, the practice is actually the norm throughout Sweden.
As a rule, Swedish people don’t serve food to guests (particularly to other children who are playing at their house) so as to not mess up any dinner plans their family might have instead.
Linda Johansson wrote an op-ed on the issue for The Independent: “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.”
Across the internet, many other Swedes confirmed this long-standing tradition.
“Swedes cook for the people they expect (family). Precise portions,” tweeted one user. “We don’t mind guests, just tell us in advance and we’ll add one more. And in Sweden, it’s understood, you don’t eat at a friends house unannounced. No big deal here.”
Another person explained that the tradition was “out of respect” for the visiting child’s parents “who may have planned dinner” which would then get wasted. “Also, sitting down to dinner as a family was an important part of the day, so you shouldn’t mess with another family’s meal time,” they said.
Swedes cook for the people they expect (family). Precise portions. We don't mind guests, just tell us in advance and we'll add one more. And in Sweden, it's understood, you don't eat at a friends house unannounced. No big deal here.
— micael (@alfabaz) May 30, 2022
I grew up like this, and it was out of respect for the visiting child's parents who may have planned dinner which would then get wasted. Also, sitting down to dinner as a family was an important part of the day, so you shouldn't mess with anothers family's meal time.
— Damptant (@Tyckmyckna) May 28, 2022
Even Swedish pop singer Zara Larsson weighed in on the controversy, tweeting: “Peak Swedish culture
Why is there outrage?
As the discussion surrounding the Swedish cultural practice gained traction, many users were somewhat offended by the country’s tendency to not serve their guests. Some people believed that children – even if they are guests – should still be fed in case they haven’t eaten all day.
“But why are you inviting children for a playdate without the thought that you NEED to feed them, kids get tired and hungry after playing,” said one Twitter user.
Another person, who was raised in Stockholm to Persian parents, claimed that their Swedish neighbour left them alone and “hungry” in her bedroom while she ate dinner with her family. “I had a good friendship with my Swedish neighbor FOR SEVERAL YEARS & every time I was at her house during dinner-time she would leave me ALONE in her bedroom NOT SAYING A WORD TO ME, left me alone for about 20-30 minutes while I sit upstairs with a hungry stomach,” they said.
But why are you inviting children for a playdate without the thought that you NEED to feed them, kids get tired and hungry after playing
— Temitope (@tabitemi_) May 30, 2022
i had a good friendship with my swedish neighbor FOR SEVERAL YEARS & every time i was at her house during dinner-time she would leave me ALONE in her bedroom NOT SAYING A WORD TO ME, left me alone for about 20-30 minutes while i sit upstairs with a hungry stomach… #Swedengate
— D ◡̈ (@goingheum) May 30, 2022
Others cited their own cultures as reasons to never leave a guest hungry in their own home. In fact, Instagram account @LoverofGeography created a map in the wake of #Swedengate that highlights which European countries are more likely than others to feed their guests. Scandinavian countries such as Norway, Sweden, and Finland were highlighted in red, meaning “very unlikely to give you food”. Mediterranean countries such as Italy, Spain, and Greece were deemed “almost always” likely to serve food to their guests.
This is blowing people’s minds, so as an amateur historian and sociologist I’m going to try to explain this development/ cultural artifact. pic.twitter.com/vNF0MMpMFK
— Incompent Beneficiary of Nepotism (@WallySierk) May 29, 2022
“Meanwhile in Indonesia, we cook extra food daily in case some friends, family, and neighbours coming during lunch/dinner time,” one person tweeted, while someone else said: “This doesn’t happen in Asian families. If anything, the host won’t eat so they can give more to the guest.”
Another person wrote: “Just so you know, Black people look down on people who do this. Not feeding a child when they come over to play but everybody else ate, is a guaranteed way to make sure that child will never come through your door again. We feed everybody. Even when we don’t have enough.”
Meanwhile in Indonesia, we cook extra food daily in case some friends, family, and neighbours coming during lunch/dinner time.
After all 10 varieties of food being served on the table, we let the guests eat while saying:
"Maaf ya cuma seadanya aja ☺️" https://t.co/sEtp0OnvHf
— txtfromdianonno (@DianOnno) May 29, 2022
This doesn't happen in Asian families. If anything, the host won't eat so they can give more to the guest. I ate dinner at a friend's house & the mom made it clear I would be sharing my friend's food & nothing more. I made sure I hardly ate anything. My mother was furious. https://t.co/BIAxsEOGJc
— Jae-Ha Kim 김재하 (@GoAwayWithJae) May 29, 2022
Just so you know, Black people look down on people who do this. Not feeding a child when they come over to play but everybody else ate, is a guaranteed way to make sure that child will never come through your door again. We feed everybody. Even when we don't have enough. https://t.co/VBfmsxBBJ2
— GooglerInChief (@R0zzyB0wden) May 28, 2022
After days of debating Sweden’s cultural practices, it’s safe to say that #Swedengate won’t change much about the country’s unspoken rule to not feed their house guests. While the tradition is typical to Sweden, it seems that the only people who find it strange are those who aren’t from Sweden. If anything, the online discourse helped shed a light on the world’s differing cultures — even if they cause quite a stir.