Food is fascinating in many ways. Of course, eating it – I am a huge fan of this activity, but also as a manifestation of culture. Everyone who has been homesick must know how much the food of the place you call home means. And what efforts you will go through to re-create a dish from a far-away place you live.
Not to mention how wrong seemingly familiar foodstuffs can turn out to be. The milk tastes different in a new country, and the colour of yoghurt is too bright. Bread is too sweet or too dense, fruit is not as fresh, chicken not as big, watermelons too small and mushy. And what unhealthy habits the locals have!
Healthy food is an infected topic
I would like to point out to any potential expert readers that I am not a professional nutritionist, nor do I aim to be. This is not an attempt to prescribe correct eating, only a mere, completely unscientific, observation of food habits in the places where I live. Needless to say, there are trends propagating for low-fat, high-fat, proteins, raw. Again, I am no nutritional expert and sustain no interest in these questions. I generalise, I will generalise.
Re-heated rice is fine, in my opinion
I lived in Scotland for almost a decade, and I was constantly fascinated with the fact that what is considered healthy, unhealthy, or dangerous, is so culturally biased.
I was told not to heat up rice, not to consume anything after 6 pm, and that cheese in the evenings would give me nightmares.
All of this sounds like nonsense to a Swede, where eating after 6pm is a necessity for survival, I’ve re-heated and eaten tons of rice during my life-time, and nothing is as good for a kvällsmacka as a slice of cheese on some crisp-rolls. In the UK, coffee is supposed to be bad for you. For most Swedes (apart from the ones who will object to this article), there is no such thing. Coffee in Sweden is a social thing, necessary for many occasion.
Having sandwiches for lunch is a no-no in Sweden
This is a more Atlantic habit, the UK, Norway, Iceland, the US. Unimaginable for a Stockholmer. For the last 100 years or so, we have enjoyed a cooked lunch, real food [riktig mat] for lunch. If that is too much, a salad, or some protein-rich vegetable-ish food-stuff. Nuts, cottage cheese, almond butter, sprouts, beans, avocado.
This is the meal where most people (regardless of nationality) are unwilling to go outside their comfort zone.
My French husband loves pastries in the morning, if there are no croissants around, a kanelbulle will do. Or why not take the idea of pain au chocolat literally, and put a piece of milk chocolate on a slice of bread? This is directly sinful to a Swede.
Breakfast, we believe should be a wholesome sandwich, rye bread, cheese, or preferably liver paté (for the iron), vegetables. (That is, slices of cucumber or pepper.) This could be combined with porridge, yoghurt, grains, fruit maybe, but never anything that could qualify as fika. (Enjoying a slice of kardemummalängd a few hours later at a weekly meeting is considered perfectly acceptable though.)
My French husband is also shocked and somewhat disgusted, by the concept of lördagsgodis (saturday candy). The idea of eating sugar because of the non-fact that you are allowed to, is nothing but stupid to him. Although I am a grown-up and rarely enjoy a weekly bag of sweets, the logic of lördagsgodis makes sense to me. This must be the same syndrome as the binge drinking many Swedes partake in, perhaps Lutheran in origin.
The Swedish disbelief in pills
Go to the doctor in Sweden, and they will send you home to drink water, sleep and take long walks. Of course, if you suffer from something serious, they will give you the appropriate medication, but for common infections, the consensus is not to interfere with added chemicals, but recommend fresh air and exercise. On the plus side, Sweden can brag about not prescribing antibiotics for as many ‘unnecessary’ cases as elsewhere.
The reason, we strongly believe in the ‘natural’. Forest walks, ocean air, vegetables from the garden, will cure the physical and mental ailments.
Artificially produced goods are regarded with suspicion. The body and the soul are strengthened as protected from civilisation, not as part of it.
Exercise is mandatory
What perhaps is the most intriguing about Swedish society, is how health is always on the top of our minds. Personally, I am completely off the agenda. I have two small children and I run a company, and I have always preferred consuming sugar to burning fat. Exercise of any form is a no-no for me. I am constantly met with disbelief when being completely open about my unhealthy, immoral, lethal lifestyle. My international friends seem not to care so much.
The concept of fika is internationally renowned. But does it exist beyond the clichés? Read more on my blogpost on this topic here.
Written by Sofi Tegsveden Devaux
After many years of international experience, Sofi now runs her own company, Bee Swedish, specialising in Swedish language, culture and communication. She believes that Swedish culture is much more complex than most newbies, oldies – and especially Swedes themselves, realize. Her work aims to create mutual understanding and bridges for collaboration through curiosity, a critical mind-set and a sense of humour. She hopes that her blog posts can provide some useful insights into the particularities of the Swedish mind.