#swedengate
June 2, 2022 6:07 AM   Subscribe

The Guardian's brief explainer: "A Reddit post said Swedes don’t feed their children’s playmates when they visit. But why – and why has it caused an uproar?" In The Conversation, Timothy Heffernan explains what #Swedengate tells us about food culture and social expectations. From Louise Callaghan on Twitter, "On #swedengate, when I was about seven I had lunch at my friend's house and my grandma called her parents and tried to pay for it." The Daily Beast covered how the #swedengate topic moved from food to racism. There are many Twitter threads and a map that purports to show which nations are willing to feed guests. Reminder: Please keep it civil.
posted by Bella Donna (138 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
Since I was a very picky eater as a child, nothing filled me with more dread while over a friend's house than the offer of a meal. One time I even pretended to feel sick and asked to be driven home in to avoid a dinner of cabbage soup.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:21 AM on June 2 [28 favorites]


The Wally Sierk Twitter thread was super informative and helped me understand the principles behind this behavior - thank you!
posted by brainwane at 6:24 AM on June 2 [2 favorites]


Hoo boy. Having adopted Sweden as my home country I have too many thoughts about this. It's worth mentioning maybe at the beginning of this thread how Sweden really is kind of an extreme country with regards to individuality and secularity. I do believe that the strong social net created by the welfare state has maybe had as an unexpected consequence a negative effect on more individual altruism and organic social cohesion.
posted by St. Oops at 6:25 AM on June 2 [10 favorites]


are people on Twitter displaying tolerance and understanding regarding the societal habits of other cultures?

A rare example of Betteridge's Law applied to the interior text of the article rather than the headline.
posted by escabeche at 6:25 AM on June 2 [5 favorites]


I think the real controversy is how Iceland snuck into the Bay of Biscay and no one seems to have noticed.

(That really threw me for a loop. Is this a normal map trick™?)
posted by Alex404 at 6:27 AM on June 2 [16 favorites]


I saw the map on reddit and some comments there suggested it is not uncommon to do that to maps of Europe.
posted by quaking fajita at 6:28 AM on June 2 [4 favorites]


I worked for a Swedish company years ago. They brought me out to Stockholm for a month to work with the main office team and train up. I wound up, through an odd chain of circumstances, visiting one of my coworker’s homes. I’d been there for several weeks already, and was consciously aware of what a rare thing it was. We did not share food, but there was some drinking. However, it was also a 3am post-clubbing kind of situation, so that might reasonably be expected in other cultures too.

For the curious, the weird situation was this: I had gone to an amazing huge goth/industrial club night, which I had been planning on as the social high point of my whole trip. While there, I happened to chat up a girl who was wearing a cute purple corset. First words out of her mouth were “Do you work for (Company)?” I was flabbergasted. Apparently she was a friend of one of my coworkers, who I’d mentioned the club night to the prior week, and she was crashing at his place that weekend. He told her “Keep an eye out for the American”. Now, this club night had like a thousand people. Multiple dance floors and DJs, it was huge. So quite a coincidence. Four thousand miles from home, in a club with a thousand people, I hit on the one girl who already knows who I am. Anyway, after close, I went and hung out with them at his apartment and it was very cool.
posted by notoriety public at 6:30 AM on June 2 [11 favorites]


I want to note that this particular practice (sending kids to play alone while the host family eats dinner) is not as dominant as it once was. Like, it's an old tradition that is no longer universal. Also, when I invite a kid to eat with my grandkids they often ask what is for dinner, hear the answer, then say no thanks. I think I did this exactly once while my kid was in grade school and it was because I knew she was supposed to go home for dinner with her family and we ate earlier than her family. Also, it is super Swedish to try to pay for everything.
posted by Bella Donna at 6:30 AM on June 2 [9 favorites]


Honest question to which I do not know the answer: How do cultures that normally offer guests food handle/negotiate food restrictions?

One of the reasons I'm glad to learn what the customs are where is that I'm, y'know, vegetarian and stuff. I'd be just as glad for things not to get awkward.
posted by humbug at 6:34 AM on June 2 [2 favorites]


Please, somebody post a link to the hilarious Lidl Instagram post that I cannot access. The headline (in Swedish, over an image of sausage on sale), says "Stroganoff for all. Even the friend in the room."
posted by Bella Donna at 6:36 AM on June 2 [11 favorites]


When I heard about this the other day I remember being genuinely confused, like wondering if it was a slow news day on the internet or something. Like are there people out there whose opinion of Sweden has been genuinely marred by this? Or is this one big joke? I'm actually confused.
posted by quaking fajita at 6:36 AM on June 2 [5 favorites]


I'm a Polish Jew, and in our culture it's inconceivable that anyone, but especially a child, would not be invited (bordering on compelled) to eat a meal when the rest of the family eats. We have a culture of hosting that goes back thousands of years - one of the worst things you could do is not offer a guest, even an uninvited guest, the best of everything you had to offer. Sending someone a bill after hosting them is a sin akin to blasphemy.

As for food restrictions, I think my grandmother would have gone back to the kitchen and cooked a new meal from scratch sooner than she'd allow a guest to go hungry.
posted by 1adam12 at 6:36 AM on June 2 [46 favorites]


Blasphemers!
posted by etc passwd at 6:40 AM on June 2 [4 favorites]


Yup, the whole blasphemy aspect of not offering guests food is why this has become a thing. That idea is literally unthinkable in many cultures. Sweden is remarkably different, as St. Oops notes above. When I was younger, I went to parties where guests brought their own booze and took whatever was leftover home with them. That is not how I grew up but that doesn't make it wrong.
posted by Bella Donna at 6:41 AM on June 2 [3 favorites]


Speaking of oops, when I meant it was super Swedish to try to pay for everything, I mean it is super Swedish to split bills exactly and pay for everything you ordered and nothing anyone else ordered. I have one Swedish buddy who usually picks up the tab because he makes lots of money and I don't. I pick it up on occasion but that's all. We are both totally cool with it, but I don't think I know any other Swede who would be okay with it.
posted by Bella Donna at 6:46 AM on June 2 [2 favorites]


"Neither a borrower nor a lender be."
posted by Navelgazer at 6:47 AM on June 2 [4 favorites]


Bella Donna: "Stroganoff for all. Even the friend in the room."

strogonoff til alla. Även kompisen på rummet

(clipped on Twitter)
posted by chavenet at 6:48 AM on June 2 [6 favorites]


Offering food to guests is one thing, but I think it's important to remember that this is in the context of little kids playing at their friends' houses, and in the generation before mobile phones. It apparently isn't really this way anymore, or at least not as uniformly as it once would have been.

It would be expected that the kid's family will expect them to be home for dinner and present.

It's a balance between hospitality to the child and respect to their parents. We talk a lot about ask versus guess culture here on Metafilter, and I could totally see feeding someone else's kid being seen as an affront (an assumption that the kid needed feeding) because of some unspoken cultural norm. Ask cultures are often similar, but guess cultures all have their own strange nuances.
posted by explosion at 6:50 AM on June 2 [9 favorites]


If you're hosting a party in Star Trek, do you deny your guests access to your replicator and require that they only consume the food that you've replicated for them?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:51 AM on June 2 [5 favorites]




The Wally Sierk Twitter thread was super informative

My guess is that if you end up at Wally Sierk's around suppertime you'll be offered a plate of beans.
posted by chavenet at 6:57 AM on June 2 [3 favorites]


It would be expected that the kid's family will expect them to be home for dinner and present.

The point here was not that kids weren't invited to dinner and sent home instead (which would not be unusual in many places), it was that they were expected to stay during dinner -- in some cases actually sit at the table! -- and not be fed. Which is definitely an extreme outlier in terms of world guest foodways.
posted by tavella at 6:58 AM on June 2 [16 favorites]


I'm a Polish Jew, and in our culture it's inconceivable that anyone, but especially a child, would not be invited (bordering on compelled) to eat a meal when the rest of the family eats. We have a culture of hosting that goes back thousands of years - one of the worst things you could do is not offer a guest, even an uninvited guest, the best of everything you had to offer.

I am too (well, an American Jew descended from people who emigrated from Poland, which I think is what you mean too?) and, well, this is not how I would describe "our culture," which I guess is just a reminder that notions of "our culture" often hide lots of individual differences, and are at best a wide interval delineating what counts as "normal" rather than a fixed set of practices. No, I wouldn't have my kid's friend sit alone in the living room while the family ate dinner. But I would 100% say "it's dinnertime, time for your friend to go home" and I would not feel even slightly less Jewish for doing so.
posted by escabeche at 6:58 AM on June 2 [12 favorites]


it is super Swedish to split bills exactly and pay for everything you ordered and nothing anyone else ordered

I'm wondering if some of these behaviors might have come across the Atlantic to Minnesota as well.
posted by gimonca at 6:59 AM on June 2 [8 favorites]


"Wow. More proof that people will believe anything on the internet.

I’m Swedish and yes, when I was a kid I sometimes sat in a friend’s room and waited for them to eat dinner with their family. Why? Because I had, before I went over there, talked to my mom and she told me to be home for dinner at 7, and my friend’s family ate at 5. That’s a fairly common thing, at least where I’m from. People in Sweden will eat as a family and you’re expected to be home for dinner no matter what you were doing before. So it’s not uncommon (but not common place either) for friends of the kids to not eat with the family they are visiting. IT IS NOT, I REPEAT, IT IS NOT BECAUSE SWEDISH PEOPLE LIKE TO STARVE CHILDREN. Or because they think they “don’t owe each other anything”. The vast majority of the time, people just know the importance of being home for dinner. If the kid is at a sleepover or they’ve decided before hand that they are not going home for dinner, OBVIOUSLY THEY WILL BE FED. I ate with my friend’s families as often as I didn’t. Maybe this is rude and creepy and barbaric to you all, but to me this was normal. I wanted to eat with my family. I know, crazy right?"

From https://eunuchorn.tumblr.com/post/685707360296189952/wow-more-proof-that-people-will-believe-anything

So they say it's not that the host family is being rude, but the kid already has a meal waiting at home and different families eat dinner at different set times. A kind of inflexibility, maybe, but not a big deal if everyone shares the same set of values.
posted by subdee at 7:04 AM on June 2 [39 favorites]


I'm wondering if some of these behaviors might have come across the Atlantic to Minnesota as well.


DEFINITELY. I lived in Minnesota for several years and some of the things I'm hearing about in this whole Swedish-food-and-sharing-culture are familiar.
posted by entropone at 7:05 AM on June 2 [5 favorites]


That's an interesting point about the cellphones @explosion.
posted by subdee at 7:11 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]


The only thing about this that seems weird is the sitting in the room thing, rather than just sending the kid home at dinner time. When I was a kid, I was expected to eat dinner with my family, and my mom would have been pissed off if I'd eaten at someone's house without clearing it with her first. So if I were playing at a neighbor kid's house and it got to be dinner time, their parents might have invited me to stay, in which case I would have had to call my mom or run home to ask, or they might have indicated that it was time for me to leave, which would be totally normal and not rude. They wouldn't have left me to play alone while they ate, but that seems like a relatively trivial cultural difference.

A related cultural difference seems to be whether you'll always offer food to someone who comes to your house. Like, do you have emergency cookies in case someone randomly shows up and you need to offer them something to eat?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:11 AM on June 2 [9 favorites]


See also this discussion on MeFi
posted by Monochrome at 7:11 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]


"When I heard about this the other day I remember being genuinely confused, like wondering if it was a slow news day on the internet or something."

It's the bicycle-shed effect... everyone eats dinner, so everyone has an opinion on this.
posted by subdee at 7:13 AM on June 2 [4 favorites]


oh, thanks for offering but I couldn't possibly eat a whole bicycle-shed.
posted by chavenet at 7:15 AM on June 2 [40 favorites]


Slavery and eugenics isn't really on the same level as "doesn't feed guests dinner" though.
posted by quaking fajita at 7:22 AM on June 2 [2 favorites]


it is super Swedish to split bills exactly and pay for everything you ordered and nothing anyone else ordered

I'm wondering if some of these behaviors might have come across the Atlantic to Minnesota as well.


US Midwesterner here. Wh...why would I pay for something you ordered at a restaurant? Presumably this is a situation where I'm not buying you a meal? Is there a non-Swedish/Minnesotan way where we're paying for other people's food? Where we split bills not-exactly?
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 7:25 AM on June 2 [13 favorites]


The internet tells me one should split bills evenly with acquaintances or close friends, with possible variations depending on exact circumstances. I don't know about that.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 7:28 AM on June 2 [3 favorites]


I've really hated this whole Sweden-food-internet thing because I really hate the internet routine of "the way YOU touch/eat/cook/wash is disgusting and barely human, while the way I touch/eat/cook/wash is normal, truly human, loving, etc, and this reflects deep truths about our families/countries/cultures, probably going back thousands of years".

Like, if everyone in a culture knows that kids eat with their families and no one is going short of food, why is it bad to wait while your friend eats? Or, if it's bad, why is it worse than forcing food and alcohol on guests who can't refuse without giving offense? (A situation I was in many times in a GUESTS MUST EAT culture - it was very, very difficult to get out of drinking high-proof alcohol and impossible to opt out of food that made me sick.)

If we're talking about who is moral and loving, surely the moral and loving thing to do is read the room, feed the hungry and let the non-hungry alone?
posted by Frowner at 7:30 AM on June 2 [35 favorites]


Splitting bills not exactly, where everyone just throws money in a pile until it comes up $50 short and then there's slitted eyes and guilt going around until the people who ordered drinks pony up more than "their share" than the people who didn't, and the people who have excess disposable income get to be large around their friends who don't, and still the total lacks even a 10% tip so it has to go around AGAIN until the kindest fuck who is usually the poorest fuck tosses another 20 in and swears to never go out with these assholes again, at least until next week -- this is very traditional in many parts of the United States. God how I hated it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:34 AM on June 2 [66 favorites]


I come from a couple of cultures that people would describe as "hospitality is important," and while I would personally never say this, and in fact would cheerfully run into traffic to avoid having guests most of the time, I...the idea of eating in front of a guest who is not eating (or has been exiled to another room!) does feel like blasphemy. Like, if the guest REALLY refused to eat anything, I think I would just go hungry until they left. If I were absolutely STARVING, I might eat a piece of fruit. People are reacting so intensely to #Swedengate because it feels wildly out-of-step to us. I genuinely can't remember the last time I heard of a cultural practice that surprised me more. And I suppose I can see the logic from its defenders, except this thing exploded on Twitter with people reminiscing over "going hungry" as a kid while their friends ate. So, like, that seems bad?

That said, in my experience women have to do the majority of host work. And it can be so much work. So maybe Swedish women are right not to put up with this stuff?

Re: offering food to unexpected guests, I guess this does depend on what you have on hand. I always offer someone a drink, but if it's a hot drink I try to rustle up some cookies to go with it (I'm hobbitish enough that I usually can find something). If I were about to eat, I would definitely invite the unexpected guest to eat with me. If they refused, I would postpone the meal until they left. Like I said, I'm really not a big hosting energy kind of girl, but the #Swedengate stuff feels really alien to me.
posted by grandiloquiet at 7:35 AM on June 2 [12 favorites]


My partner's family is Transylvanian and their model is more, "You have entered our home. Now we must feed you. No, it is not mealtime. Even so, you can at least have soup. I made this soup. It is a family recipe. Well we say "recipe" but no one measures anything. Put a little sour cream in it. It makes it heartier. You will need fresh bread with this. I will give you a half slice. It is ten inches wide. We have some chicken from last night's dinner resting in the pantry. Have just a few pieces. Potatoes, too, of course. And some cold cuts. With more bread. And yogurt. And cheese. And fruit. Don't you like fruit? Everyone likes fruit. That fruit is nice, but also try this kind. It just came into season. We got it from our neighbor. She grew it on her property. Our property grows this fruit. It's also very good. And these peppers. They are sweet, yes? Another neighbor gave us this candy as a gift. Wouldn't you like to try it? Actually this other candy is better. It is from Germany. Have some of this also. And these sweets, my cousin made. Compare these to the first two. Aren't they better? Was there something else you would rather have? We are upstairs from a market. I can get you anything you would like. Do you like cake? They have wonderful cake. Little cakes. We can get several kinds. They also make nice stuffed cabbage. I will be right back. Are you old enough to have wine? We also have brandy.'
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:36 AM on June 2 [142 favorites]


Is there a non-Swedish/Minnesotan way where we're paying for other people's food? Where we split bills not-exactly?

Here is what I see most commonly:
1. Say to the waiter that we want to split the bill and their software automatically provides bills separately.
2. Tell the waiter that we are splitting it 50/50 (yes, this often means one person is paying for a small part of the other person's order).
3. With good friends, one of us might pick up the entire bill this time, and the next time the other person pays.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:42 AM on June 2 [7 favorites]


Also, as the Sweden thing has been discussed, I've heard lots of sort of weird "feeding guests whether they want it or not is good" anecdotes that go "I was visiting [family, friends' family, host family] in a different country and in an effort to be polite I declined an offer of elaborate/expensive/midnight cookery and then my host's family was so upset that they barely spoke to me the rest of my visit, isn't that cute and Oldey Worldey".

Like, that isn't very good. It's not hospitality. "A foreigner did not conform to my norms about food so I became too angry to be a good host for the rest of their visit" is not in fact some sign of deep humanity around food. At best, it's a sign that you're easily offended and provincial. Requiring that your guests from another culture conform to your food norms does not in fact seem like good hospitality and is not the hospitality that I offer my guests.
posted by Frowner at 7:42 AM on June 2 [27 favorites]


OMG 1000% what Frowner said. I was invited to dinner once, in Sweden, by someone from another food culture and was told that as the guest, I would determine when we would eat. I could not handle that responsibility. Yikes.

Meanwhile, in Bumfuck, Sweden, there are two grandchildren and one guest kid sitting on my balcony eating. We waited a long time to hear from the guest's mom if it was okay for him to hang out here plus get a snack (it was). It is not dinner time. This kid showed up, noticed the oldest grandkid was eating yogurt and cereal and asked if he could have some. Of course!

Also, racism sucks and Sweden has plenty of it historically and currently. It is not alone in that, which does not make it okay or acceptable.
posted by Bella Donna at 7:48 AM on June 2 [5 favorites]


Anyone who is in our house at mealtime is invited to join, but there is no offense if the offer is declined.
posted by jquinby at 7:48 AM on June 2 [3 favorites]


In most of the "Oldey Worldey" cultures I have known, it's the offering that is the important ritual, not the accepting. As long as someone is polite when they decline, there is no harm, no foul. Obviously, there are exceptions and places/families where people really do take offense, but we should be careful not to generalize from that about all of the "Please eat!" cultures.

The offering is a big deal, though. If my mother-in-law comes to your house and you do not offer at least something to drink, she is 100% going to think you are rude. Offering a snack as well will sort you into a higher tier of people.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:52 AM on June 2 [7 favorites]


I don't know if it's a Swedish thing or just that my parents happened to be Swedish (I'm Australian), but they taught me it was very rude to raise your voice indoors. It's just a crude, savage and barbarian thing to do, our hearing is fine and there's no need for that. With three older brothers, if yelling occurred, unfortunately it was probably related to violence.

So I was absolutely thunderstruck when I was at a friend's house and they all started yelling at each other, from separate rooms, through the floor, through the walls - DINNERS READY! WE'RE PLAYING NINTENDO! COME DOWN RIGHT NOW! BUT MUM! IT'S SPAGHETTI! FIVE MINUTES! OKAY BUT THAT'S IT!

They were confused why I was upset, which was plain to see. I'd never experienced that before and they had to explain, that's just normal for them.

It's probably good to learn from a young age that each household/family has it their own way. And broaden that understanding to realise that sweeping generalisations like 'Swedes don't feed children' is probably bullshit.
posted by adept256 at 7:52 AM on June 2 [14 favorites]


I spent kidhood in the 1970s in a streetcar suburb of a depressed medium US city, where we could go up and down the block seeing who was playing in their yard and even! go Big Wheeling several blocks away as a group of kids without adult supervision!

And I can’t remember what the food etiquette was. I know I ate in houses with wildly different food ways but I can’t remember how the invitations worked.

There were a lot of region- and continent-immigrants and the ones I knew just explained what they expected, enormous relief, maybe the parents were doing the same about invitations.
posted by clew at 7:55 AM on June 2 [3 favorites]


As long as someone is polite when they decline, there is no harm, no foul.

As a young zamboni, when my it is impolite to refuse met it is impolite not to insist a guest eats more, I ate approximately my own weight in sour cream lime jello mold. Friends, there is not always room for jello.
posted by zamboni at 8:06 AM on June 2 [25 favorites]


I don't know how well the map circulating on twitter maps to food/hosting patterns, but I enjoyed people repurposing it to examine where in Europe the detective solving your murder will be sad.
posted by the primroses were over at 8:07 AM on June 2 [34 favorites]


I guess this just doesn't seem that odd to me.

B is over at A's house, playing as kids do. A's family eats dinner at 5:30. B has to be home for family dinner at 6:30.

A must sit down at 5:30, and there are two options: B can go home, or sit for 10 minutes (or less) as A eats, and then they can play for another half-hour or so.

We're all coming at this from the adult perspective rather than thinking of it from the kid's perspective. B's parents want them home at 6:30, ready to eat dinner. A & B want to play as much as possible. B is sitting at the table because it'd be weirder for B to be sitting alone in another room, and because B wants to continue chatting with A while A eats.
posted by explosion at 8:07 AM on June 2 [16 favorites]


US Midwesterner here. Wh...why would I pay for something you ordered at a restaurant?

Duh obviously to ensnare us in a web of mutual obligation and power dynamics wherein I, a grown ass independent person, am expected to be indebted to you and either owe you a meal (which means I can’t just walk away from this relationship at any time until I’ve paid it back) or I then admit that you are a richer / more generous / more powerful person like a little lordling of the midwest, oh you think you’re a big shot because your dad owns part of a chrysler dealership well guess what mister we do not do that here.

East Coast Friend: damn, I was just going to pick up the mozzarella sticks.

My Norwegian family: mortally insulted

West Coast friend: oblivious to the mortal insult of my family because my family doesn’t say anything.

My Norwegian family: mortally insulted that they are expected to say anything. a glance is exchanged across the Pizza Ranch with the one cousin we still speak to.
posted by Hypatia at 8:08 AM on June 2 [30 favorites]


While I have mostly seen people cheerfully accept a polite refusal, admittedly, my experience skews toward Europeans, and particularly toward Eastern Europeans.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:09 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]


I grew up in a left-wing, hippie-ish 'comunidad' in Chile. We never locked our doors, as in I never had the key to the house I grew up in because it was never locked, which is very much not how the rest of Chile works, at all.
Anywho, it wasn't uncommon for some random five-year-old neighbor to suddenly appear in my bedroom asking for a glass of water or a snack.
We would give it to them, they would thank us and leave.
Also, I'm half-jewish my wife is half-arab, so food is the main way we have of expressing feelings. We practically give my son's friends freakin' doggie bags with the food they didn't have time to eat at our house, and we're in a kind of arms race with his best-friend's mom as to who can buy the most elaborate cookies and cakes and such, regardless of who's visiting who, meaning that the friend arrives with bags of food, as well.
posted by signal at 8:11 AM on June 2 [22 favorites]


I like explosion's story and maybe B even enjoys being alone for a bit with the Lego project.

Separate, and related to someone’s question about food intolerances: I have had parent friends in US ?yuppie? neighborhoods express exhaustion about not being able to find snacks that everyone agreed on. Contradictory foodways within what’s officially the same culture, and some of the complaints seemed like parents who really didn’t trust anyone else to feed their children. The kids were late toddlers, though, I wonder how this survived tweenhood.
posted by clew at 8:15 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]


sweeping generalisations like 'Swedes don't feed children' is probably bullshit.

Hard agree. The whole twatstorm that engendered this seems deeply weird to me, and probably empowered by Anglophone xenophobia. That said, I know SFA about Sweden.

My maddest food-culture misunderstanding was when I was being hosted for dinner by a Vietnamese cousin-of-my-friend's-ex-girlfriend in Bangkok (where said host lived). Tenuous connection AF, right? They took my partner and myself out to an awesome seafood place.

As I was brought up it would be poor form, or even rude to my host, to leave more than a small bit of food on the plate (especially as, in my mind, our connection was so tenuous that already their hospitality had been overwhelming). AFAIK to their understanding it would be poor form to have a guest finish their plate. I ate ALL THE THINGS. They ordered more. I ate ALL THE THINGS. They ordered more. I ate ALL THE THINGS. They ordered more.

I ended up utterly stuffed and utterly confused, with a huge whole baked fish thing in front of me. Everyone else had finished eating. I had one bite and surrendered.

I think I did not give offence. Said host then took us all out clubbing, where I understood when to surrender the whole "may I buy you a drink" - "no you"/"no you" bit which is a bit more home-culture to me.
posted by pompomtom at 8:18 AM on June 2 [6 favorites]


Oh wow, signal, that is relatable. Two of our kid's friends (one from a Lithuanian family, another a bog standard American) show up with baked goods or sweets any time they show up for a planned activity. I think the Lithuanians are just on the same "food = manners" vibe as my Transylvanian wife, and the American family just picked up on it and is reciprocating.

His third buddy, also from a generic American family, is most definitely not from one of those families. He's a teen in a growth spurt with a ravenous appetite and a sweet tooth and I think he is amused by seeing how far he can push my wife into stuffing him silly. She won't say no, but last summer, she started buying cheaper stuff to have on hand. No name brand cookies or fancy sausages for the kid who eats six lunches a week at our house. You get ham sandwiches and Aldi hot dogs and generic cookies.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:19 AM on June 2 [5 favorites]


I saw this in The Guardian and was really confused, so thanks for posting. Is this true, Swedish people, I need to know, and I am still not certain what you mean.

Denmark is in the no food zone on that map and that is definitely not true. I can't imagine visiting someone and not being offered food and drink, and it never, ever happened when I was a child.
Arranging playdates for my own small children always included an agreement about dinner, for bigger, self-organizing children it was the classic calling home to check out where the best dinner was. Sometimes the mother would ask about our dinner and come over with a bottle of wine, and I'd do the same sometimes if I felt out of ideas and another parent had something good in store. Allergies and religious restrictions were accommodated routinely. This was in an inner city, mixed neighborhood. But when I was at my grandmother's in the country as a child, it was the same concept, and I wouldn't think it has changed to this day.
posted by mumimor at 8:21 AM on June 2 [7 favorites]


Thanks for the clarifications and updates re: the Sierk thread!

I think this is partly a bit of a trending topic because

* as subdee said -- everyone eats food and so this is a very relatable topic -- also people get to share seared-in, sometimes strongly emotional or funny memories of childhood or of caretaking
* it's a welcome break from Big Serious topics -- partly because, given Sweden's reputation as a welfare state, we are not particularly worried that any children in these anecdotes are experiencing distressing levels of starvation
* lots of (at least English-speaking) people in countries outside Northern Europe find a lot of things about Northern Europe enviable, and this is a chance to decide on something we DON'T envy about them, so it's kind of reassuring in, like, a sour grapes way
posted by brainwane at 8:29 AM on June 2 [12 favorites]


If I have one take-away from this whole thing it is "how about we not be mortally offended over food and restaurant bills and instead assume that what's important is that everyone has an enjoyable meal that they can afford".

I hang around with anarchist weirdos, mostly, and so I feel like my norms are really askew (this often happens). I'd say that meal norms are "try to provide a roughly equal meal experience for everyone, so no situations where meat eaters get a lavish roast and vegans get iceberg lettuce" and "if you don't like or don't want what is available, it's fine to bring your own or not eat".

The failure point here happens when there's moralizing about how every dish should be vegan gluten- and soy-free low FODMAP with local ingredients rather than different dishes for different people. It is customary to offer kids only what their parents want them to eat if this is known. Pressuring someone to eat would be seen as unanarchist and really rude - they might be struggling with eating problems, they might have a health condition they don't want to disclose, they might just not want to get into why they don't want to eat, etc.

But I'd say that the ideal - not what people always do, but what they'd say they should do - is to read the room and use all their knowledge to tailor their interactions appropriately. If you know that someone is shy and needs to be asked twice, you ask twice; if you know that someone really likes to be taken at their word, you take them at their word; if you're eating with people who have FEED ALL THE GUESTS food customs and you don't know them well enough to decline, you comply with those as much as you can without violating religious/moral food rules. You also trust people to be if not direct at least predictable - so you assume that no one expects to be pressed to have cake three times on Tuesday and then left strictly alone on Friday, or if they're going to be unpredictable it's on their head.
posted by Frowner at 8:40 AM on June 2 [8 favorites]


As a kid I would think it weird that you would sit at the table and not eat. That's valuable time to be spent practicing the game/video game that the host had and was better at than you. Not time to spend it starting at their mom and baby sister.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:43 AM on June 2 [6 favorites]


> Oh gosh, Hypatia, that reminds me of how eating my friend group in college, evolved into a (good-natured) race to see who could pick up the check at the end of the meal complete with trickery and subterfuge. Once the friend from a family background where it was good to pay for everyone's meal picked up the check once, then my Norwegian-American raised ass couldn't help but pay for the next meal because I needed to know I was covering my fair share, and then the friend with an actually rich family couldn't countenance a couple of relatively broke college kids covering his meal, and the English gent joined in for the sport of it, really.


It all had to be done without arguing in front of the waiter of course. That would have been universally held to be improper.
posted by Zalzidrax at 8:45 AM on June 2 [11 favorites]


pompomtom, is the acronym "SFA" short for "shit-fuck-all," the way I automatically sounded it out?
posted by Lawn Beaver at 8:45 AM on June 2 [2 favorites]


I don't like eggs. I'm not allergic to them (though sometimes I wish I was). I just don't like them. At all. If I can taste the egg in something, it triggers a gag. If someone invites me to breakfast or brunch, unless I know them really well (or they're vegan), I politely decline. If someone invites me to dinner and they're serving quiche (pretty much the only egg dish I ever encounter at dinnertime), I counter with, "I'm sorry. I'm a real man." Which if they catch the reference, gets a smile. But then I still have to follow with. "Sorry, but ...."

There is no other food that I feel this way about. Plenty that I'm not enthused about, but I can eat them if I must. But eggs ....!?!? Lucky me, they're not ubiquitous, considered by many to be the perfect food.
posted by philip-random at 9:04 AM on June 2 [2 favorites]


it was that they were expected to stay during dinner -- in some cases actually sit at the table! -- and not be fed

Yeah, this is what's creepy to me. Having the expectation that the kid goes home at dinnertime, fine. Eating in front of a guest without offering them any (in whatever permutation of asking/declining/accepting you prefer) is what seems really unkind and exclusive. There are really no contexts short of explicit prior negotiation in which I'd do that, and especially not to a child, who may not be controlling the duration of their visit and can't necessarily pop into a bodega on the way home if they're peckish.
posted by praemunire at 9:10 AM on June 2 [4 favorites]


Re: splitting the tab.

We lived in Berkeley for a year and two friends we really liked were going home to France and we wouldn't have a chance to see them again, but they were already committed to going out with another group of Swiss friends, so they invited us to tag along.
We went to a new, hip Russian restaurant. Its whole shtick was that the food was like home-cooked Russian food. So, meat and potatoes, basically. It was also super expensive.
The Swiss people were taking out a friend for their birthday, so they kept ordering expensive, meat and potatoes dishes, fancy drinks, dessert, etc. My wife and I, who were basically living at poverty level, shared the cheapest dish of meat and potatoes.
When the bill comes, the Swiss people made a big deal of telling the birthday friend that 'we're paying, it's your birthday!", and start to split the meal evenly between everybody at the table.
So I speak up, saying, "you seem nice, [which I said to be polite because they didn't] but we don't really know you, and we ate a single, kind of crappy dish because we don't have money, so we'll pay for our crappy meat and potatoes and that's it."
They were very sniffy about it, like "oh, ok, if that's how you want to do it..." You could tell they thought we were terribly gauche not to pay a couple of hundred dollars for a few potatoes and some not-very-well-prepared meat.
Did I mention the food was just meat and potatoes?
posted by signal at 9:11 AM on June 2 [11 favorites]


I think the real controversy is how Iceland snuck into the Bay of Biscay and no one seems to have noticed.

Pretty sure that's Númenor.
posted by The Tensor at 9:14 AM on June 2 [8 favorites]


is the acronym "SFA" short for "shit-fuck-all,"

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/SFA#Noun
posted by zamboni at 9:21 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]


I'd never heard of this before and it blew my mind. I come from Ashkenazi Jews (Russians and Hungarians, plus latent Sephardi roots) and the way I was brought up, of course you feed other people - and especially other peoples' kids when they're over. I get annoyed when my kid grabs a snack when his friends are around and doesn't offer the exact same snack to his friends, rather than just assuming they have the same free reign over the pantry (which they do). I even find myself offering food to workmen when they're in the apartment and I already have something out. How can you eat in front of other people and not share it? Impossible!

One thing that's interesting in the Orthodox Jewish community is how far this can extend to feeding strangers. I [used to] travel a lot for business, and I always knew that if I was in a place that didn't have a lot of kosher options, or I was sick of living out of whatever canned stuff I'd brought with me, I could always go to synagogue on Saturday and get myself invited for a meal. The trick I figured out was to sit near at least one woman who looked old enough to have teenaged kids or older. Then when they inevitably asked who I was there visiting, I could just tell the truth. I was here on business. "Where are you eating?" "Oh, I have some stuff at the hotel." "Do you want to come to us for lunch?" Anyplace that had a Jewish community (as opposed to just a Chabad house, which already served meals), I had close to a 100% track record of getting a home-cooked meal volunteered unasked. The only time I can remember it not working was at a shul in Montreal, where a woman said "Normally I'd ask you to us for lunch, but they're making a bar mitzvah here and the whole shul is invited." And she seemed really upset that she couldn't get me invited too.

And I'm still kicking myself about the time when I was shopping on a Friday and a couple of young twentysomething guys in the kosher grocery store asked me to help them figure out what would go together in a menu for shabbat, and I answered their questions and then finished shopping and went home - and THEN realized that if they were that unprepared, I should have invited them for a meal at our home. That was 12 or so years ago. And I still remember it and feel guilty.
posted by Mchelly at 9:22 AM on June 2 [27 favorites]


escabech I'm American, but I'm also an honest-to-goodness Polish person, with a passport and a recipe for zupa jagodowa z kluskami (which I make every summer, to the horror of my older daughter and my spouse) to prove it. We say Gosc w dom, Bog w dom (a guest in the home is a God in the home), and not feeding your guests is pretty well inconceivable, at least the way I learned it.
posted by 1adam12 at 9:24 AM on June 2 [10 favorites]


The only real conflict we have with guests and food is the occasional entitled American child who pronounces our food "weird" without tasting it and/or calmly specifies what they would rather have instead. If you want chicken nuggets, your mom lives three fucking blocks away, Madison. We're having beef stew.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:30 AM on June 2 [29 favorites]


I'm wondering if some of these behaviors might have come across the Atlantic to Minnesota as well.

Minnesotan checking in and yes this feels super familiar, having grown up in a small town with very Swedish roots. But there was a big difference between "neighborhood friends" and "school friends."

I did live in a rural neighborhood of huge yards and free-ranging kids and first, it was unusual for us to be playing inside each other's houses at all. Kids played outside in the yards, summer or winter. One family had like five kids and two dogs and they didn't care because the house was always chaos, but for everyone else there was a clear unspoken boundary about not coming inside, unless specifically invited by the parents. This was first for safety (you had to be able to hear your parents calling for you and not forcing them to hunt you down), and also cleanliness, no one wanted their home overrun by a sweaty pack of kids.

"It's time to eat, so send your friends home" was standard. If we were really engaged in a game, we might hang out in the yard for a little bit waiting for them to finish eating so we could resume playing, but the unspoken expectation was that we would find another yard to play in and the friend would rejoin us when they were done.

There were up to twelve of us and that was too much for any one family to feed with zero notice. But also my mom would have been MORTIFIED if I had asked for or accepted dinner while playing at a (neighborhood) friend's house. She was very worried about imposing on other people through her kids. This attitude filtered down to my brother and I so we knew not to ask, if our friends were going inside for dinner that was the silent cue to leave. We likewise were not supposed to be eating snacks at friends' houses (we have snacks at home! don't go eating all the neighbors' snacks! also you're not supposed to be eating Oreos before dinner!) or offering them snacks. For one, a parent might be ticked that Kyle ruined his appetite by eating junk food at friends' houses, but also if you gave one kid a popsicle you better be prepared for ten more to beeline to your yard asking for one and now you're out of popsicles until Mom goes to the store again. Kids still asked, but the reply was always "Of course, if your parents say it's okay" and everyone know full well their parents would never ever say it was okay.

One kid was kind of blunt and oblivious in the way kids can be, and he'd occasionally hang around asking "what are you eating? can I have some?" and we all understood this to be a big faux pas. my mom would patiently tell him to go ask his mom first. "nah she's making pork chops tonight and I don't like those, can I have some spaghetti?" nice try, go home now. It helped that everyone was reasonably sure that no one was going hungry at home.

Of course if we were specifically invited in advance to sleep over or stay for dinner, arranged through our parents, that was different. We all had "school friends" who were separate from the neighborhood pack because they were chosen, and not playmates by circumstance. Those were the friends who did sleepovers and such, usually they lived further away. Those friends were offered food and drink immediately and told to help themselves to anything.
posted by castlebravo at 9:38 AM on June 2 [12 favorites]


The last Swedish famine was in 1867-1869, and provoked a big wave of emigration to the US.

Response by local governments and elites was not generous or open-handed:
Caricature from the paper Fäderneslandet 14 December 1867, criticizing the unjust distribution of the relief help committees: the relief help are given first to county governor, and are thereafter given first to the wealthy officials and rich farmers and last, when only an handful is left, to the poor people truly in need.

The authorities were exposed to harsh criticism from the press because of how ineffectively the relief funds from the emergency committees were distributed, and on which terms. Notably the paper Fäderneslandet voiced its anger at the fact that those most in need of help were left without because of the unwillingness of the authorities to compromise the principle of help in exchange for work, a regulation the paper described as "quasi philosophical thoughts about the value of work".[1]

There was widespread criticism focused on the belief that the famine in Sweden was caused by unjust distribution.[1] This is supported by the fact that the year of 1867 was in fact a successful year for the Swedish cereal exports: the largest of the farms and estates in Sweden exported their harvests, mostly oats, to Great Britain, where it was used for horse drawn buses in London.[1]

There was also a fact that authorities had elected to impose a more strict interpretation than the Poor Care Regulation of 1847 would have allowed, thus making the famine worse than it needed to be. The 1847 law was replaced but a few years after the famine by the very strict Poor Care Regulation of 1871, which followed the strict practice of distribution made by the elite during the famine.

The great famine of 1867–68, and the distrust and discontent over the way the authorities handled the relief help to the needy, is estimated to have contributed greatly to Swedish emigration to the United States, which skyrocketed around this time.

How much this explains or is reflected in current customs I couldn’t say, but there is a resemblance.
posted by jamjam at 9:40 AM on June 2 [5 favorites]


As a young zamboni, when my "it is impolite to refuse" met "it is impolite not to insist a guest eats more", I ate approximately my own weight in sour cream lime jello mold. Friends, there is not always room for jello.
My version of this is when my midwestern "if you take food you should eat it, don't be wasteful" ran into the Chinese cultural norm of "if your guest cleans their plate that means that you were a bad host and didn't feed them enough". In some Chinese cultures they go beyond insisting and simply put the food in your bowl, and the end result was that I was never not full during my college trip to Taiwan.
posted by jomato at 9:41 AM on June 2 [4 favorites]


For a legendary dinner at our house, one of the kids' friends came along with his dad, unannounced as per normal. We were having brown lentil stew and it literally looked like shit (sorry everyone, but it did). The little boy was a notoriously picky eater, but for some reason, he just gobbled up this stew and asked for more. We were all astonished, and to this day we have no idea what happened.
But lentil stew is very cheap, and there was enough of it for everyone. I think the good part of living in a culture where you never know who will turn up is that you learn to make some good filling cheap stuff that can be reheated if you have too much of it. If you have planned very carefully with two meatballs and three potatoes pr person, unexpected guests can be a problem.

jamjam, I think an experience as recent as that makes a lot more sense as an explanation than something involving Vikings. I really don't think we have a lot of Viking culture remains in Scandinavia. There might be remains of 19th century Viking romanticism, which has absolutely nothing to do with actual Viking culture.
posted by mumimor at 9:46 AM on June 2 [5 favorites]


If you have planned very carefully with two meatballs and three potatoes pr person, unexpected guests can be a problem.

At my house the code word for this situation was "FHB," which meant "family hold back" and by golly you'd better comply.
posted by chavenet at 9:58 AM on June 2 [10 favorites]


We served papanași (Romanian donuts with cream and jam) one Easter and a visiting kid was so upset at the thought of trying them that he stress vomited all over our table linens. I mean, look at them. American kids can be so fucking weird.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:00 AM on June 2 [8 favorites]


I came to read the thread, not TFA. Because I'd already seen some of the stuff in OP and had looked at it enough to be uncomfortable but I figured "not my circus, not my monkeys" so I was going to ignore it.

I have to weigh in here because I looked at the item linked to by St. Oops and I can make neither head nor tail of it. WTF is meant by the labelling of the axes?

<pedant>
Also, @subdee, the "bicycle shed effect" is something totally different from "everybody does X so everybody has an opinion about X."
</pedant>
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 10:11 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]


We served papanași (Romanian donuts with cream and jam) one Easter and a visiting kid was so upset at the thought of trying them that he stress vomited all over our table linens. I mean, look at them. American kids can be so fucking weird.

See, that sounds like a kid who has food issues beyond the typical and that's why I don't like putting pressure on people to try stuff. The donuts look fantastic, but I also remember being really, really freaked out by cotton candy as a child - like, actually afraid of it - because I got such a strong physical sense of "having a clump of cotton in my mouth". Wooden popsicle sticks also make me intensely nauseated and I think would probably make me throw up if I were forced to bite down on them.

I don't think this is "American kids are weird"; I think this is "kids with stuff about food that is probably non-neurotypical stuff can have strong reactions to food and shouldn't have to eat things that upset them". It's nice to invite people to try things, but it also seems really important not to moralize when people don't want to.

There is nothing immoral about not wanting to eat something, there is nothing immoral about preferring a small range of bland foods, there is nothing immoral about getting full easily or really not liking the mouthfeel of eggplant or whatever. This whole thing just seems to end up putting a lot of moral weight on something that absolutely has no moral valence.

I don't understand why it's completely normal for educated Americans to say that it's weird or unloving or bad in some way to eat a limited diet of plain foods but also to say that vegans are obnoxious for pointing out the cruelty caused by animal food production. Like, it would be totally acceptable for me to connect someone's preference for chicken nuggets and fries to all kinds of right-wing moral failings, but it would be incredibly rude for me to say, "you shouldn't eat chicken nuggets, think of the chicken and the chicken plant workers".

I am not a vegan, I eat many non-bland foods and will usually try most dishes at least once, I have no chicken nuggets in this fight, but still.
posted by Frowner at 10:14 AM on June 2 [17 favorites]


@jamjam probably you have explained to me why g-g-parents-Cheeselog emigrated to America. Thanks.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 10:16 AM on June 2


I don't think this is "American kids are weird"; I think this is "kids with stuff about food that is probably non-neurotypical stuff can have strong reactions to food and shouldn't have to eat things that upset them".

Could be in that case, sure. (FWIW, we didn't bully the kid into tasting anything.) Many American kids are uniquely weird when it comes to food, though. Even outside of aversions and having a limited palate, it's a helluva thing to show up at someone's house at lunch, ask to be fed, then attempt to order something different than is being served, as though it is a diner.

I try to have a great deal of patience and as much kindness as I am able when it comes to children, but there is definitely a streak of infantilized entitlement when it comes to American kids and food. There's just this whole "I will order what I want off the children's menu at this restaurant" even though it is not a restaurant, there is not a menu, no one is choosing and we're all having the same thing. There is a world of difference between "I am a non-neurotypical child and your strange foods make me uncomfortable" and "You eat the wrong kind of hot dogs and it is gross." We know many children who have ridden this train so far, they behave the same way in their own homes. It is not unheard of for many middle-class American kids to demand their parents prepare them a second meal if they find the first unappetizing.

Children, like adults, are sometimes assholes.

Our kid, for what it's worth, has their own food aversions, but also has a modicum of manners and a basic understanding of how to be a civil guest. They might not eat what they don't find appealing, but they will try a few bites, push it around, and swear that it was good but they were already a bit full beforehand, just out of politeness.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:26 AM on June 2 [21 favorites]


it is super Swedish to split bills exactly and pay for everything you ordered and nothing anyone else ordered

I'm wondering if some of these behaviors might have come across the Atlantic to Minnesota as well.
I wish they had. I still remember going to Outhouse Steakhouse with my wife’s colleague and her husband twenty years-mumble years ago. We each ordered some small thing and water, they each ordered a giant “steak” and a couple drinks. When the bill came they offered to split it down the middle and my wife agreed (because Minnesota). I noticed they left like a dollar in change for a tip so I left enough to make up for them. Cost us $75 for two terrible small steaks.

It is amusing to see the media treat a tempest in a tweetpot as anything more than a bunch of blowhards blowing hard.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 10:31 AM on June 2 [5 favorites]


I feel like this is a derail but any kid who is so stressed out they throw up isn't an asshole in my book.
posted by quaking fajita at 10:31 AM on June 2 [10 favorites]


I didn't call that kid an asshole. I said he was weird. Not to add to a derail, but he's also one of my favorite kids, he was over again yesterday, wasn't asked to eat a thing, and no one here need worry I'm picking on him, even if he's weird about food.

The kid who is an asshole is the neighbor kid who says things like, "The food at our house is better. Don't you have money for real food?"
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:34 AM on June 2 [16 favorites]


Many American kids are uniquely weird when it comes to food, though. Even outside of aversions and having a limited palate, it's a helluva thing to show up at someone's house at lunch, ask to be fed, then attempt to order something different than is being served, as though it is a diner.

Southeast Asians that I know noticed it too, but not like because we're so adventurous as a group or anything it's just we were marvelling at how direct Americans can be in expressing how something is disgusting (just on mefi, early threads/mentions of durian). For us, the formula is to blame it on our sense of taste or education, like a common phrasing would be literally, "I'm sorry I don't think I'm intelligent enough to know how to eat this." (ETA: or "I'm sorry but my tongue doesn't know how to eat this.")

Anyway this going around twitterverse had been interesting if you're the sort to scroll through replies, like one guy commenting that this is a mostly a middle class phenomenon and sometimes it can interact unkindly when it's interclass esp with the reality of childhood poverty (journal article)
posted by cendawanita at 10:36 AM on June 2 [8 favorites]


> Like, do you have emergency cookies in case someone randomly shows up and you need to offer them something to eat?

This is why I keep a frozen supply of cheese-stuffed, bacon-wrapped shrimp ready to be breaded and fried at a moment's notice and topped with crushed garlic, chopped cilantro, and a peanut-soy drizzle.
posted by 7segment at 10:38 AM on June 2 [7 favorites]


Outhouse Steakhouse

[dying]
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:41 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]


Like, do you have emergency cookies in case someone randomly shows up and you need to offer them something to eat?

I have half a shelf in my freezer of ready-in-15 min appetizers including vegan options and cookies and crackers and a bunch of things like canned dolmas ready to go, including nut- and gluten-free options but I have issues around lack of food, so.

As I was brought up it would be poor form, or even rude to my host, to leave more than a small bit of food on the plate (especially as, in my mind, our connection was so tenuous that already their hospitality had been overwhelming). AFAIK to their understanding it would be poor form to have a guest finish their plate. I ate ALL THE THINGS. They ordered more. I ate ALL THE THINGS. They ordered more. I ate ALL THE THINGS. They ordered more.

I did this once with homemade wine. It was a memorable evening...I am told. Also the only time I've been actually hungover. Never have made that mistake again.

My husband is of Swedish descent and he is the kind of guy who hears you are coming over and arrives with $200 of groceries so I dunno.

(re: American kids) attempt to order something different than is being served, as though it is a diner.

This has actually come up in discussions among my Toronto-based Canadian parents (that our American friends do this.) I'm fine with someone asking or sharing a preference and happy to problem-solve, but I do find it jarring when a child is like "I'd like grilled cheese please?" when you've said you're having something else. But my guest code is just to make them comfortable so I do my best about it.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:47 AM on June 2 [4 favorites]


One last thing on American kids and food. I want to be clear it is only some American kids who pop in, complain about our food, and try and order something else.

Our kiddo's friends tend to be good sports, so much so, that we sometimes create funny situations inadvertently. "Why don't we ever grill mici, Dad?" "Mom, can we go to the Shop & Save and get Kubus juices and coconut Mix Max like DOT Jr's family?" Our kid's BFF's parents were caught off guard when they asked their kid what he wanted for his birthday and he said, "Black truffle and pancetta risotto."
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:05 AM on June 2 [3 favorites]


I'm always kind of surprised that the response to, "hey, these people are doing something unexpected" is so often, "it's wrong," rather than, "that's interesting." (I mean, except in ethical matters. And, maybe snarky aesthetic riffs said quietly among friends.)

I definitely grew up in a feed-everyone place. There was one family that I often spent whole days at. At some point they served me chocolate chip pancakes. They were awful. I hate pancakes. I hate bread with non-uniform bits in. It was way, way too much bad chocolate. (I wasn't a chocolate snob yet, but even then...) It was probably the worst meal I'd ever eaten. But, I was raised to be polite, and so I thanked them and celebrated it. As a result, they continued to make it as a special treat every time I spent the day at their house. After the first time, childhood-me couldn't imagine trying to explain myself. So I ate the worst pancakes on earth roughly monthly for several years.

I have the same conflict when served cake and pie today. I hate nearly all cake and pie. When I'm among friends or people I think probably see the world like I do, I explain that I really don't like cake. When I'm among strangers, I just pretend to smile and choke it down. At work events, I find an excuse to briefly leave when the cake is served. Funeral pie is the worst, but I'm pretty sure just giving up and eating it is the right thing to do in that case.

In high-school/college I first started spending time with people from a guests-receive-gifts culture. I learned that trying to decline and explaining that I really, really don't need more bananas/tea/shortbread was never going to be a winning strategy and switched to bringing them stuff when visiting instead. I still don't quite get it, but it's harmless.

People are weird and different. I wish we could all just be more explicit about it. But, I realize that's unrealistic.
posted by eotvos at 11:19 AM on June 2 [10 favorites]


When I was a kid in the ‘80s, I noticed a thing (I didn’t do it, but a number of boys around my age did) that boys between the ages of 8 and 11 did, when guests at our house, or when we and they were guests somewhere else, or sometimes in their own homes where we were guesting, which was for these aforementioned boys (cousins, family friends, whoever) to refuse to eat anything but salami. Not putting up a fight, not making a scene (I assume the scene had been made already, on a previous occasion), but no matter what was served for lunch or dinner, a boy around that age would get two slices of salami, unadorned, without bread, on a plate.
I have no idea what this was about. I assumed at the time it was a “picky eater” thing, but now I suspect it might have been something else. I just don’t know what that is.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 11:22 AM on June 2 [2 favorites]


Much later in my life, a visiting-friends tradition I picked up from one guy in our circle (from his mom, really, but we all wound up using it in our own homes, apts, etc. for a stretch), went like this:
Me: “Hey, can I get something to drink?” (We were all broke art-school kids and didn’t want to impose, so we asked)
Him: “You’ve been here more than twice; you know where the fridge is.”
posted by Mister Moofoo at 11:23 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]


I thought Swedengate had to do with the extremely racist (cw: anti-Black racist slur) name that some Swedes still call their chocolate balls and folks bringing in Sweden's complicity in the global slave trade was just something that everyone should always bring up anytime anyone decides to think Europe's just some fun, goofy place with good healthcare and prisons
posted by paimapi at 11:40 AM on June 2 [3 favorites]


One of my best friend's growing up (and to this day) was one of nine kids in his family. Nine kids in TEN years! Anyway, I was always included in dinner with the caveat that I take whatever I want on the first pass bc there was likely to not be a second pass. I would stop by and even if my friend was not there, I would be included in dinner.

Another friend's family always had spaghettis and meatballs on Wednesday (Prince spaghetti day!) and I would make it a point to have play dates with him so I could eat over.

But, if you did not feed me or sent me to another room during dinner, I would not care a lick.

When my boys were in HS, friends would come over after football practice and we would offer them a snack. Their snacks were 4000 calorie sandwiches. We would go through a gallon of milk or more a day. I would buy two pounds of 4 different deli meats, cheese, heads of lettuce, tomatoes, loaves of bread, kaiser rolls, etc. Thankfully, I could afford it, but it was expensive feeding my kids and their friends. But, I knew when they were at their friend's houses they would be fed too.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:42 AM on June 2 [2 favorites]


a visiting kid was so upset at the thought of trying them that he stress vomited all over our table linens. I mean, look at them.

Those look delicious, DirtyOldTown (admittedly, I was fully expecting vomit covered linens when clicking the link).
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 11:55 AM on June 2 [12 favorites]


eotvos I feel you on your chocolate chip pancakes thing. I was an extremely picky eater as a child -- which is kind amusing since I'm fairly well known as an omnivore these days -- but would never, ever have turned my nose up at something served to me at another family's home. When I was circa 12 years old I often stayed over at my best friend's house on Saturday night, which usually meant scrambled eggs as part of breakfast on Sunday morning. Now, I like scrambled eggs well enough. But these were so-called "French style" scrambled eggs, which is to say with almost imperceptibly small curds and so lightly cooked and wet as to be spoonable. I. did. not like. And yet dutifully choked them down with a smile on my face.

Returning to the main subject of this thread, I grew up the child of college professors in the Boston area. Our family friends were from all over, and it was not frequent but also not unusual that the family of a friend I was visiting with ate a meal without me while I was there. I especially recall it happening at the home of an English family whose habitual teatime was a good bit earlier in the day than my family's somewhat late dinnertime.
posted by slkinsey at 11:59 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]


I'm an American who lived in South Korea for 12 years. If you think not feeding a kid is weird, try Korea -- going to your friend's house is super weird! I mean, most people are self-conscious about how small their apartments are, and why stay at home when there are a bajillion nice cafes, restaurants, parks, and PC rooms all over the city?

Maybe it's different in the countryside, but getting invited to, say, your boss' house for dinner is very, very uncommon. I mean, why?
posted by cidrab at 12:19 PM on June 2 [1 favorite]


but go royal told me they ARE called chocolate balls! i feel lied to.
posted by Clowder of bats at 12:38 PM on June 2


also Schweddy Balls
posted by chavenet at 1:17 PM on June 2


Born in 1968 in the Netherlands. It was common not to have lunch at school; instead, we went home to have our bread with cheese et al. Children who lived too far away from school would generally eat lunch at one of their friends' house. All very fine. Also, we sometimes ate lunch with friends just because it was convenient or fun.

Eating lunch with another family, I took a slice of bread, spread it with butter or something similar, and started to pour chocolate sprinkles on it, as normal. The whole room fell silent. I looked up. Everyone was looking at me. No one was eating.

After what felt like a VERY long time to poor eight year old me, the mother mercifully spoke up. It turned out that this family had a rule that we didn't have, and that had not been explained to me: you were supposed to start with a savoury topping for your first slice of bread. The one(s) after that could be sweet or savoury, just what you liked. But you could not start with sweet, as I had.
Awkward.

I was allowed to eat my sweet topping first, just this time, on the condition that the next one would be savoury. I would not have dared trying otherwise.

(Why on earth does the English language not have a word for 'slice of bread'?)
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:18 PM on June 2 [7 favorites]


The Swiss people were taking out a friend for their birthday, so they kept ordering expensive, meat and potatoes dishes, fancy drinks, dessert, etc. My wife and I, who were basically living at poverty level, shared the cheapest dish of meat and potatoes.

I was trying to think through my own expectations and observations about check splitting and there’s some kind of class thing that… I don’t know if I’ve accurately pinpointed it, but I feel like among the West Coast professional class people I grew up with the standard is “let’s just split everything evenly” because we all want it to be fair, we all want it to be easy, and it’s assumed that all of us can afford it. It would be sort of obnoxious to argue about the details. If a couple people ran up a big tab on drinks maybe they voluntarily chip in extra because they know nobody else was in on that. Whereas in my s.o.’s more blue collar friend group it was regularly somebody who had recently got a raise insisting on sharing their good fortune and taking all their friends out, that sort of thing. Or some long-standing implicit recognition of who the brokest members of the group were likely to be and looking out for them.
posted by atoxyl at 1:29 PM on June 2 [2 favorites]


Kids played outside in the yards, summer or winter... "It's time to eat, so send your friends home" was standard.

I just wanted to second that no matter how ingrained having to feed guests is in our family, when the kids are all playing outside, then yeah, dinner time meant y'all go home. We'll still ask "do you want to stay?" But we'll follow it up with telling them they'll have to ask their parents and have them confirm with us. We only keep kids for food when it's established that they're at our house during a time when food is going to be eaten, and their parents know they're here. There are limits.
posted by Mchelly at 1:45 PM on June 2 [5 favorites]


I vaguely remember this happening when I was a kid (Vancouver area, Canada, late 80s/early 90s) and it was awkward AF, but the norm was to be invited to eat. One time I was invited to stay by my friend's family and they served me creamed corn and I almost threw up trying to get it down and I was very hesitant to accept food invitations from then on.

but I think it's important to remember that this is in the context of little kids playing at their friends' houses, and in the generation before mobile phones

I don't get this idea? We had telephones before cell phones. We would call home from the friend's house's land line to our own home's land line and ask permission, just like if we were asked to have an impromptu sleepover or going to be later than planned. We had phones!
posted by urbanlenny at 1:55 PM on June 2 [5 favorites]


eotvos, can I just say how touching it is that you loved that family so much that you wanted them to think that their offering of terrible pancakes was not only fine, but worth celebrating? What a great kid you must've been. Imagine them saying even now, "Oh, eotvos sure did love those pancakes." Being human is funny as hell.
posted by the liquid oxygen at 2:15 PM on June 2 [9 favorites]


I was trying to think through my own expectations and observations about check splitting
Interesting. Growing up, it was always meticulous calculate-what-you-owe. Professional class US west coast was usually split-it-evenly, even if quite unfair. The UK and commonwealth, in my limited experience, seemed to often be, "I'll pay this time, presumably you'll pay next time." The latter two only really work well among peers, but it's sure easy. That waitstaff are now so often willing to bring 8 checks is both astonishing and keeps things simple, at least for the customer. (Watch the two oldest men at the table pretend to fight over who pays is my least favorite version.)
posted by eotvos at 2:17 PM on June 2 [2 favorites]


This is a fascinating thread relevant to my interests but I am in full-on social conference mode and cannot really contribute, I'm afraid but:
I can make neither head nor tail of it. WTF is meant by the labelling of the axes?
The diagram is the Inglehart–Welzel cultural map of the world from the world values survey.
posted by St. Oops at 3:51 PM on June 2 [3 favorites]


I just remembered: it's literally a saying here in Copenhagen that if you have children, you never know if you have zero or six for dinner. I've heard it said by 80-year olds and 30-year olds, so it must be a well-established fact.
posted by mumimor at 3:53 PM on June 2 [6 favorites]


I grew up in Southeastern US and the only rule we had was that you had to ask your parents if you were invited to dinner, the first time. After that it was assumed that your folks knew that if you were at this friend's house at dinner time you were getting fed.

My mom would feed anyone and everyone who came over and if they didn't like our food, she'd even cook them something else. And then we'd talk shit about them after they left. I was also taught to eat whatever was put in front of me and not make a fuss so I ate a lot of food I really hated as a child. In fact, in third grade there was a friend who's parents cooked a lot of "hippie" foods and after the second really horrible dinner at her house, I just stopped staying for dinner. Every time they asked, I had a good excuse, "Oh, my mom is making my favorite tonight." "I have to get home and finish my homework." "It's my turn to cook tonight."

Which led to the most bizarre conversation I'd ever had with an adult. I used the "it's my turn to cook tonight" excuse and my friend's mother was incredulous. The very idea that 3rd grader was responsible for dinner blew her mind. To the point that she even accused me of lying (I was, Wednesdays were my night to cook, not Mondays). She called my mom and said "Teleri says it's her night to cook and she has to miss dinner with us. Is that true?" My mom did not miss a beat and said, "Yup. And tell her that her father is getting hungry and the hamburger is all thawed out."

My friend's mom still didn't believe that I cooked dinner until her daughter mentioned that my mom made us both cook dinner the week before. It was just spaghetti from a jar, but these folks were convinced I was some sort of Michelin chef in training after that.
posted by teleri025 at 3:54 PM on June 2 [14 favorites]


My grandmother had a project that was to convert all picky eaters into foodies and she had a hundred percent succes rate. My friends would come over for dinner or even for a sleepover with a long list of things they wouldn't eat, and she would totally oblige. But then she would make a heavenly gravy for the rest of us, and suggest that they just try one teaspoonful. And it was like witchcraft, after that one spoon they would follow her lead anywhere in the world of food.
(She was very respectful of allergies and other reasons for not eating food, she would never push anyone to do something they didn't want to, or could be sick from)
posted by mumimor at 4:08 PM on June 2 [9 favorites]


I was a picky eater as a child, but my dad grew up in a large, very poor Norwegian-American family in WI/MN and for them kids+food was Serious Business. You were required to eat some of everything at a meal and clean your plate and the whole process was scrutinized by the adults and usually one or another of my uncles would nominate themselves as the Food Police 🚔 and provide a running commentary and occasional scolding as you ate, often using another child at the table as a contrasting Good Kid to achieve maximum discomfort.

My pickiness was less "I don't like the taste of this" and more "I'm terrified that I will vomit if you force me to eat it" and so these are some of the most regularly stressful events of my childood.

As a result, to this day, fifty years later, I will do everything I possibly can to avoid eating a meal at someone else's house because the mere thought of having to navigate this interaction fills me with stomach-churning anxiety.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:08 PM on June 2 [8 favorites]


Lawn Beaver: "Sweet Fuck All", so 2/3 ain't bad...
posted by pompomtom at 4:22 PM on June 2


How do cultures that normally offer guests food handle/negotiate food restrictions?

“Would you like to stay for dinner? We’re having X.”

It’s not a negotiation, unless you’ve got a common-enough-to-work-around restriction (or you’ll settle for a sandwich). And if the answer’s no, you know that this is the point at which, depending on age, you call a taxi or your parents.

Oh, and it just shows how dependent these things are on your particular sample eh. Everyone I know in England would make room for you at the dinner table, to the point of changing their plans to make it work. We sent someone home with dinner two nights ago when they didn’t have time to stay. (Whether that was hospitality, or pushiness in the extreme, is in the eye of the beholder I suppose.)

if you have children, you never know if you have zero or six for dinner

I love this and I’m going to use it as if it’s my own.
posted by breakfast burrito at 5:56 PM on June 2 [2 favorites]


I grew up with the standard is “let’s just split everything evenly” because we all want it to be fair, we all want it to be easy, and it’s assumed that all of us can afford it.

This is one of the things that is great about 2022- that restaurants can easily split checks so those people can have their glasses of wine and desert and not inflict it on the rest of us. It used to be a real chore for a waiter to split checks based on what people ordered, so only the best could or would do it. Those people always took full advantage that it was more likely to be split evenly.
posted by The_Vegetables at 6:31 PM on June 2 [1 favorite]


I know this was ages ago, but DirtyOldTown, that really cracked me up - never heard it described so well. By the time you got to the brandy I was in stiches.
posted by doggod at 7:14 PM on June 2 [3 favorites]


One thing that's interesting in the Orthodox Jewish community is how far this can extend to feeding strangers

I've seen it the most in very established Orthodox communities like in Baltimore (my former in laws tried to feed my kids everything on Shabbat visits), but also in isolated Conservative communities in the Midwest.

One of the experiences I'll always treasure was finding myself in Fort Wayne Indiana for business, and attending Friday night services at the local Conservative shul, only to have the Rabbi ask me if I had a place to go for Shabbat dinner.

I ended up under a sukkah, with the rain pouring through the schach, then inside for a pot luck meal. It was a wonderful evening, but at the end, they joked that as this random Jew showing up out of nowhere, perhaps I was Elijah. It was embarrassing yet adorable, and as a convert, I did feel really validated and accepted. Just this magical experience out of nowhere.
posted by Flight Hardware, do not touch at 7:35 PM on June 2 [12 favorites]


IT IS NOT, I REPEAT, IT IS NOT BECAUSE SWEDISH PEOPLE LIKE TO STARVE CHILDREN. Or because they think they “don’t owe each other anything”. The vast majority of the time, people just know the importance of being home for dinner.

This comment by Subdee really hit me wrong. Where is it you live where all families have food all the time, all children can guarantee that their families will feed them and child abuse around food doesn't exist? I have several friends from wealthy families who did not experience food stability and were not guaranteed a family dinner or any meal at all due to severe abuse, parental mental health issues and more. You don't know what is going on in someone's home. Is Sweeden some sort of magical, fairy land where food is lining the streets, mental health is fab-u-lous, and children are never abused through food restriction? I'm glad you were fine - are you certain your friends and classmates were?

All children who enter my house are fed. Period. (And adults too, because it's hard out there). This is controversial because it is wrong, callous, abusive and cruel.
posted by Toddles at 9:47 PM on June 2 [2 favorites]


I'm not in Sweden, but I clearly remember times when I as a kid was playing at a friend's house, and they had dinner at an earlier time than we did at home, and they just went ahead with me sitting at the table and not eating, because I knew and they knew that I'd be given dinner later, when I got home. This was fine and not weird. If they had given me dinner, my parents would have been displeased about not being told this in advance, so they could have adjusted.

It was not wrong, callous, abusive and cruel. It's called not spoiling someone elses kid's appetite for dinner.
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:17 PM on June 2 [4 favorites]


I...the idea of eating in front of a guest who is not eating (or has been exiled to another room!) does feel like blasphemy. Like, if the guest REALLY refused to eat anything, I think I would just go hungry until they left. If I were absolutely STARVING, I might eat a piece of fruit. People are reacting so intensely to #Swedengate because it feels wildly out-of-step to us. I genuinely can't remember the last time I heard of a cultural practice that surprised me more.
...
There are really no contexts short of explicit prior negotiation in which I'd do that, and especially not to a child, who may not be controlling the duration of their visit and can't necessarily pop into a bodega on the way home if they're peckish.

I've picked a few comments that perfectly illustrate what is the root of this misunderstanding, I think. It's basically this:

Young kids are not guests. They, in a traditional old fashioned Scandi setup, roam freely about the neighbourhood, hanging out at various kids' houses. These norms are from a time before mobiles, in some cases before picking up a landline was a given, or without meaningful expense. The norms might still exist to some extent today, but they have their origins in that context.

Now, I speak from a childhood spent mostly in rural Denmark in the late 80s and early 90s, not Sweden, but they are lumped together on that stupid, racist map.

I would almost always be offered dinner round a friend's, or the parent would ask if I was eating at home. My parents would generally assume I was eating at home. So I would say as much. Oh okay, no problem, but we're having dinner now, you can go if you like or you're welcome to join us at the table if you want to hang out.

Please explain to me how that is more rude than kicking someone out of your house.

If I wasn't offered dinner this would be explicitly stated, usually in the form of an apology - sorry, I had no idea you'd be here, I'm afraid I've just put food on the table and there isn't enough for everyone. It would be ascertained that I would in fact be eating at home. I have no idea what would happen if I'd said no - that there was always a meal waiting for me at home (unless we'd decided that we wanted to eat together, and asked the host parent (who would only really ever say no if they were cooking something that comes in units - hard to make three burgers feed four people for example) and run back to the visiting friend's parents (or phoned) to clear it with them as well.

This approach recognises the reality of a fairly large degree of autonomy on the part of the kids, while recognising that they are not independent, and others are responsible for their care. It is annoying to cook for someone only to not have them show up to eat. So unless arrangements were made (and they absolutely could be made on the fly, if you got ahead of the cooking and nobody had special dinners planned) everything operates on those premises - kids move around freely, but are expected to be home at dinner time.

And sitting at the table at dinner time in most families in Denmark is, in my experience, fun and hyggeligt, not the stilted, awkward silence is those same scenes in anglophone media. In the rare family where that wasn't the case, you didn't stay through (their) dinner time.

Oh and finally, it would generally have been considered incredibly rude if I'd accepted dinner somewhere and it then came out that I also had dinner waiting for me at home (or already eaten at home).
posted by Dysk at 11:30 PM on June 2 [10 favorites]


Is Sweeden some sort of magical, fairy land where food is lining the streets, mental health is fab-u-lous, and children are never abused through food restriction?

Probably not, no, but it is an awful lot closer closer than a lot of the rest of the world. Norms around food are just like any other norms - they're a generalisation, a default which fits with the default state of everything else, not a straitjacket. If someone is clearly not being fed properly at home and they're conspicuously often around at dinnertime, my experience is that many families just build them eating with you in as an expectation.

Norms are not based on aberrant behaviour, and do not take it into account. You diverge from your norms when other norms are violated. And the stuff you're describing very much is aberrant in a functioning welfare state.
posted by Dysk at 11:35 PM on June 2 [5 favorites]


I'm not Swedish, but this is a thing that happened in my childhood in the 80s in Germany. Generally, it was understood that play dates ended before dinner time, as dinner was considered "family time" (same reason there were usually no play dates scheduled on Sundays). On the rare occasion that my mum was late in picking me up, I waited in my friends' room or joined them at the table while they ate. Just sending me home wasn't an option at that age, but yes, later on that happened all the time.

That does not mean that I wasn't fed - there were usually fruit and snacks offered while we were playing. It just wasn't a thing to be included in dinner unless previously agreed to.
posted by Skybly at 11:45 PM on June 2 [2 favorites]


It is true: Sweden is not “a magical fairy land where food is lining the streets, mental health is fab-u-lous, and children are never abused.” In my experience, this country is much better than the US in general when it comes to poverty and hunger; not so much when it comes to mental health. I have been thinking about doing a post on the horrific underbelly of Sweden, actually. This is not that post nor that thread.
posted by Bella Donna at 11:49 PM on June 2


How long did/do people spend eating dinner?

20 minutes? 45 minutes? Longer?

I know there are genuine differences for this among countries, cultures, and probably even families and this might shed some light on the differences in some responses.
posted by FJT at 12:02 AM on June 3


Varies fairly widely in my experience, but staying at the table was generally only mandatory for the first ten-twenty minutes even in families where you'd most often (willingly!) just sit and chat at the table for ages after everyone is done eating more usually.

(All of this based on being a preteen kid in Denmark in the 80s/90s, and the secondhand experiences of my now-teenage siblings when they were that age, again in Denmark.)
posted by Dysk at 12:15 AM on June 3


I grew up in England, with Scottish parents. We always offered food and drink to everyone, and would happily have as many friends to stay as possible. We lived in a smallish village, but most of the children knew their own phone numbers, so they could call home to check the situation. The exception was if we were having something with individual, high effort portions (Dad’s Cordon Bleu chicken, for instance) or a special family meal, but then we would have planned in advance not to have anyone over.

For a wonderful six months or so I hit a sweet spot around 18 where I had a car and friend whose family also wanted to feed everyone, and ate earlier than we did, and we would regularly both have two dinners. It was an excellent time.

Now, we always cook an excess amount, and my daughters friends (or our adult friends) are welcome to stay. She did have one friend who ended up staying for dinner at least three nights a week which started to feel a bit odd, especially as she crossed a different food boundary I had growing up - no-one have seconds till everyone has finished their first helping!

I also have an adult friend who doesn’t have this, and also eats very fast, and that makes dinner feel much more stressful…
posted by fizban at 12:21 AM on June 3 [2 favorites]


it's literally a saying here in Copenhagen that if you have children, you never know if you have zero or six for dinner

Children: you never can eat just one
posted by acb at 1:18 AM on June 3 [11 favorites]


They, in a traditional old fashioned Scandi setup, roam freely about the neighbourhood, hanging out at various kids' houses. These norms are from a time before mobiles, in some cases before picking up a landline was a given, or without meaningful expense. The norms might still exist to some extent today, but they have their origins in that context.

My childhood upbringing was roughly similar, though within a building rather than a neighborhood. I don't see the relevance.

Please explain to me how that is more rude than kicking someone out of your house.

Everyone knows you go home for dinner, just like you might go home to bed. No one has to be "kicked out." No problem. But if you're staying for whatever reason, you're being fed.

usually in the form of an apology - sorry, I had no idea you'd be here, I'm afraid I've just put food on the table and there isn't enough for everyone.

This is what it boils down to. In most cultures, in most (not all) contexts, it would just be unacceptable to tell a guest that you wanted your food only for yourself and would not share. There is always enough for a guest even if there isn't enough for you. And I'm not even from one of the ethnicities where feeding is a form of aggression practiced against family and friends alike.
posted by praemunire at 7:43 AM on June 3 [3 favorites]


generally have been considered incredibly rude if I'd accepted dinner somewhere and it then came out that I also had dinner waiting for me at home

My double-dinner eating cat disagrees. You would be considered crafty.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:06 AM on June 3 [8 favorites]


I feel like the way this kind of conversation is always set up has a bad unconscious framing of "in DEVIANT country, everyone secretly hates the set-up except those who benefit from it, also everyone adheres very strictly to it and it is always weaponized; in NORMAL country, everyone loves the set-up and benefits equally, everyone is flexible and it is never weaponized".

So it's basically comparing the worst possible version of DEVIANT country with the best possible version of NORMAL country, as if your average Swede would cruelly withhold food from a child they knew to be hungry at home purely to adhere to a social rule, and as if your average American/Argentinian/etc would never, ever use food as a tool of control or abuse. WE the feeding people are good and kind and in touch with "natural" human behavior, they the DEVIANTS are cold, rule-bound, withholding, happy to ignore abuse, not in touch with "natural" behavior, etc.

People who withhold food from hungry guests who are unlikely to be fed otherwise are bad people, but it's entirely possible to be complicit in abuse while following the sacred duties of hospitality a l'Americaine and it is entirely possible to live a good, communal, happy life in the manner of mid-century Swedes.
posted by Frowner at 8:15 AM on June 3 [7 favorites]


Frowner: "it is entirely possible to live a good, communal, happy life in the manner of mid-century Swedes"

I fully agree with you, but if we switch out 'manner' for 'furniture', my agreement goes to like 300%.
posted by signal at 9:41 AM on June 3 [5 favorites]


Everyone knows you go home for dinner, just like you might go home to bed.

Which works if everyone eats at the same time. Dinnertime can be anything from 4pm (farmers, less so these days) to 9 or 10pm (late shift factory workers). Parents might not be home yet for the late eating kid hanging around at your early dinner time, is an expectation that they leave possibly for an empty house necessarily better? (In my case, this could easily have meant a half hour bike ride each way.) Is robbing that kid's parents of family dinner time because of their later dinner time requiring circumstances (or preferences) necessarily better?
posted by Dysk at 10:53 AM on June 3


This is what it boils down to. In most cultures, in most (not all) contexts, it would just be unacceptable to tell a guest that you wanted your food only for yourself and would not share. There is always enough for a guest even if there isn't enough for you.

Bear in mind that there is a kind of an expectation that by default I'd decline the offer anyway, as I'd be eating at home with my parents. It's just an acknowledgement of reality where in many other cultures there would be a performative ritual of offer and refusal.

And really, is it better for one family to go hungry for a night if there is plenty enough food for everyone, just because a kid happens to be present for two dinners? As an autistic person, I am so fucking glad that isn't another thing to feel crippling guilt about after realising in retrospect. It also strikes the utilitarian in me as very suboptimal.

It was also rare. 99% of the time there would be an offer (usually before starting to cook) and it would be genuine, even if everyone involved knew I would probably decline.

One of my sister's friends has been eating with my family most days a week for a few years now. My family eat earlier than hers, and her family don't eat particularly well. They don't go hungry, like, it's just not a hot, home cooked meal every day like it is in my parents' home (and my dad is a great and passionate cook). My parents have never had an issue with this, except that they were embarrassed about the situation until they'd talked to the friend's mum and cleared that it was all cool, nobody was feeling like anyone else was creating an expectation (or seething at a lack of reciprocity) or making anyone feel lesser or like people were lording some privilege over them. My parents were embarrassed that they might be making the friend's parents uncomfortable, basically.

(My sister has always had loads of friends round for dinner fairly regularly, as my dad is as mentioned a very good cook, and fifteen years in Hong Kong has given him a rather more varied repertoire than is typical for minor-city Jylland.)
posted by Dysk at 11:11 AM on June 3 [3 favorites]


Parents might not be home yet for the late eating kid hanging around at your early dinner time, is an expectation that they leave possibly for an empty house necessarily better?

Yes, because you are not sitting around enjoying something in front of a guest in your home that you are not at least offering to share. If you don't see the problem with that, you don't, but I think the general furor shows that most non-Swedish people do. Especially when it comes to guests who may not have the means to arrange their own meal if they're hungry.

Is robbing that kid's parents of family dinner time because of their later dinner time

What? There's nothing stopping a kid from sitting with their parents and siblings, maybe having a few bites of something while talking about their day. That was what happened in my house if for whatever reason (e.g., after-school pizza party) you'd already eaten by dinnertime. And we were at the table for a good half an hour, if not more.
posted by praemunire at 11:39 AM on June 3 [1 favorite]


Well, I'll leave your insistence on a hostile judgey attitude to you, then.
posted by Dysk at 12:49 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


It seems to me that much of this is just a convenient way of talking shit about the Swedes, who seem to have not all but many things worked out pretty nicely. The collective internet needs a scapegoat sometimes, and apparently it's fun to get all worked up about the relatively happy, relatively healthy and relatively rich Swedes. There just HAS to be something bad about a people like that! Smug bastards, with their tasteful design and sensible childcare policies.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:17 AM on June 4 [6 favorites]


We can all pretend we're plushy, comfy, tolerance bears but deep inside we're shit-slinging chimps just aching to tell some fuckers to fuck-off, in particular.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:46 PM on June 4 [3 favorites]




Boomer here. We called splitting the check (seemed universal at the time in the US, I traveled a lot) going Dutch. I guess there was a reason for it.
posted by evilDoug at 11:29 AM on June 5


evildoug: Yes, the reason is that the English and Dutch had a political, economic, and naval rivalry in the 17th century, which led to a whole bunch of derisive phrases in English using the word "Dutch". Not just "Dutch treat" (which later morphed into ""going Dutch"), but "Dutch courage", "Dutch uncle", "Dutch widow", etc. The enmity faded, but many of the phrases stuck.
posted by skoosh at 1:46 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


"My version of this is when my midwestern "if you take food you should eat it, don't be wasteful" ran into the Chinese cultural norm of "if your guest cleans their plate that means that you were a bad host and didn't feed them enough"."

As long as you're throwing out your paper plate upsidedown so nobody sees that you didn't like their baked beans ...
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:02 PM on June 5 [4 favorites]


I would almost always be offered dinner round a friend's, or the parent would ask if I was eating at home. My parents would generally assume I was eating at home. So I would say as much. Oh okay, no problem, but we're having dinner now, you can go if you like or you're welcome to join us at the table if you want to hang out.

Not the first to say this but I think the thing that particularly struck some people about this was that some of these anecdotes involved waiting in another room - by specific request, even - while the host family ate. That's the part that feels really weird, but also maybe not really that common.
posted by atoxyl at 11:47 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


I think the thing that particularly struck some people about this was that some of these anecdotes involved waiting in another room - by specific request, even - while the host family ate. That's the part that feels really weird

There've been a lot of people arguing that it's the enjoying something in front of them, so it seems you can't win on this front - people think it's "weird" if you have them in the room, and if you don't.


What irks me about this thread is, those of us from this kind of culture, we're expected to understand, accept, and just get with cultures that do shit very differently when we encounter them. Apparently, when the people and cultures we are having to accommodate on the regular discover us, though...
posted by Dysk at 10:38 PM on June 6 [4 favorites]


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