#SwedenGate erupted at the start of June with a Reddit post about how families
in Sweden don’t feed children visiting their households at mealtimes.
Text: Heather Storgaard
The reactions ranged from an agreement that this was normal from countries including the Netherlands and Denmark to opposition from many in Africa and Southern Europe. A clear cultural divide in how guests are treated was identified.
Part of the discussion has centred around the glorification of Scandinavia in international media. This made #SwedenGate particularly shocking to people who see the country or region as a utopia without knowing much about the culture, values and way of life.
What’s traditional in Denmark?
As I didn’t live in Denmark as a child, I can’t comment upon the accuracy of #SwedenGate for children in my corner of Jutland. However, I have had my fair share of cultural clashes regarding food and meal times. Food and eating are an integral part of a culture, but one that is easily overlooked. Although our neighbours across the water got hit with most of the bad #SwedenGate press, Danes and expats in Denmark soon corroborated the story with their own experiences.
One cultural difference I have experienced is that Danes like to spend time exclusively with their close family, perhaps explaining #SwedenGate and the wish to eat dinner with only your children. Coming from a large Catholic family, I am used to a more-the-merrier attitude to family events, dinners and trips to the pub. On the rare occasions I go to family events on my own, the lack of my husband or even close childhood friends is bemoaned loudly by my mum. In my Danish family, however, spending quality time with those closest to me is more highly valued.
So, if you fancy eating with Danes this summer, how should you deal with the food and money issue?
During my second summer in Denmark, two friends from the UK visited my husband and me for a long weekend. A Danish friend invited all four of us for dinner in Aarhus. We knew he was feeding a lot of us, so we turned up to his flat armed with a fancy dessert and bottle of wine, as I would in Scotland. The following day my husband received an angry text asking if we thought his friend was made of money? After I scolded my bad-at-being-Danish husband for not preventing a cultural faux pas, we discovered we had been expected to pay for our meal by Mobilepay. Again, a pragmatic solution, albeit not suited to those of us who are uncomfortable talking too much about money.
"Food and eating are an integral part of a culture, but one that is easily overlooked."
Potluck dinners or picnics are my favourite way to eat with a group and helpfully prevent the host from having to cook too much or bring out receipts to calculate MobilePay transfers. They are also a fantastic way to try authentic local food, share your cuisine and start conversations about cultures in an international setting.
I loved making rødgrød med fløde for potluck dinners during my first few years in Denmark. As well as tasting brilliant with summer berries, rødgrød is probably the most famous Danish tongue twister. I was very proud I had learnt to pronounce it and keen to say and eat as much of it as possible!
If hashing out terms of eating together sounds too awkward, dining out is there to save you. Although the Danish weather isn’t the most reliable in the world, the summer months give beautiful long nights you can spend socialising on terraces over food and drink. My other article in this month’s summer issue mentions some lovely eating spots of the international variety in Jutland that you could stop by, ensuring both adults and children are fed without any cultural misunderstandings and supporting your fellow internationals!