Confused Twitter users—most of them American—are slamming “rude” Swedish culture in a micro-moment dubbed #Swedengate.
The conversation kicked off in a viral Reddit post that eventually made its way to Twitter, as former and current residents shared insights into Swedish hospitality, which doesn’t look very warm and welcoming to those outside the Nordic nation.
“Laughing at twitter finding out that Swedish people will not feed strangers. as a kid growing up here we knew to just go home around dinner time,” tweeted Lovette Jallow, an author who emigrated to Sweden from Gambia when she was 11 years old.
The cultural lesson quickly grew into an internet-wide venting session, with multiple people recalling childhood memories of sitting alone in a playroom while their friend sauntered down to the dining room for a plate of köttbullar without them.
Some of the stories seemed straight out of an episode of Extreme Cheapskates.
“I lived in Sweden for many years and a friend told me when he’d go stay with his aunt as a kid, she’d send the receipts for food and groceries back to his mom,” said one person.
Another wrote: ‘‘My partner’s family was Swedish and they’re literally just like this. During the pandemic we lived with her mom for a few months and at the end I got a bill of $4,400 (which included the cost of my disabled partner’s medical care). Their mom makes $120k & we make under $50k.”
#Swedengate became a trending topic by Monday afternoon, as the allegations of tactlessness continued to mount.
A large part of the criticism came from Black Twitter, which stood in collective shock that parents could let a kid play in their house and let them go hungry in a separate room.
“In our Gambian home everyone gets fed during lunch/dinner. But I even wrote about this phenomenon in my book because coming from Gambia it was a given. But what a culture shock it was for me,” added Jallow, who’s also an anti-racist advocate.
This plunge into Swedish life soon reached murkier depths, with users calling out the country’s racist past and present.
“From 1906 to 1975 Sweden undertook forced non consensual sterilisation of people courtesy of a government sponsored eugenics programme. There is a long history of unpleasantness there,” one user wrote.
The revelations stand in stark contrast to most Americans’ view of Sweden: A perceived liberal utopia where health care is guaranteed and parents get a combined 480 days of parental leave.
Some took joy in the country’s pristine image being leveled by the vox populi.
“I can’t believe Reddit and Twitter have changed the entire outlook of how people look at Sweden. Over 100 years of Sweden being seen as such as a good place to live and a screenshot has ruined them #swedengate,” said one user, referring to the aforementioned Reddit thread that kicked off the discussion.
Links to articles about the country’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade—a connection the country has pretty much successfully avoided in the modern imagination—began popping up as well.
In the U.S., where mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, have dominated the news cycle this month, it’s perhaps not too surprising that we’re now bonding over Sweden’s cultural faux pas. (Sweden does have pretty strict gun laws, which require gun owners to prove they need a weapon for hunting or target shooting.)
Swedes, for their part, defended themselves against the main charge that not feeding your guests is rude.
Writing for The Independent, Linda Johansson called the practice no “big deal”:
“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.”
“I can’t believe Reddit and Twitter have changed the entire outlook of how people look at Sweden.”
Johansson cautioned that, despite the attention the no-food practice is getting now, things have loosened up in the past few decades.
“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.”
Others fought back by citing the country’s high ratings in indices measuring everything from happiness to LGBTQ rights.
“A quick Google search says we’re the best country in the WORLD for raising children as well as 4th happiest country,” wrote a Twitter user. “Maybe y’all should follow suit.”
Even Swedish pop star Zara Larsson weighed in, responding to a screenshot of a Reddit post from a formerly hungry Swedish guest by tweeting, “Peak Swedish culture <3 :’-).”
In another post, the 24-year-old Stockholm native explained: “LISTEN this is something that only happens with kids. My family always would, a lot of families would, but it wasn’t uncommon to go play at a friends where they would leave you in your friends room or tell you ‘go home and eat you live 2 mins away’ it’s crazy but true.”