Food culture

Even though Swedish culture is very similar to Dutch, the small little differences are often the most interesting ones. For me, moving abroad has given me a lot more insight into a different culture than I would have ever had by just being a tourist. Sometimes small differences make me think. Not only about Sweden or the Netherlands, but I get curious how things work in other countries. One small difference between the Netherlands and Sweden is food. Obviously every country has their own typical dishes, but I also find it interesting to see what kind of role food plays within a culture.

As some of you might know, the Netherlands doesn’t really have a food culture. There aren’t many world famous dishes, apart from the cheese we make. And you will probably have a hard time finding a Dutch restaurant outside of the Netherlands (apart from some places on the Spanish Costa Brava and Costa del Sol, where a lot of Dutch tourist spend their holidays). Dutch food is only appreciated by Dutch people and is in general not that healthy either. A large part of the Dutch “kitchen” consists of deep fried meat (like bitterballen, kroketten and frikandellen) and french fries with mayonnaise. You can get this type of food in restaurants (mostly targeted to kids there) or at so called snack bars, but it’s never regarded as good or high class food.

Next to no national dishes, we Dutch people don’t really have a food culture. Food isn’t a big part of festivities and parties. There isn’t a typical dish we serve for christmas or easter for example. If something is typical for a festivity, it’s mostly candy or pastry. During the Sinterklaas celebration kids get a lot of specific candy like pepernoten, chocolate letters and marzipan. And for New Years Eve, we bake oliebollen. But that’s about as far as it goes.

Sweden on the other hand has true national dishes, of which the meatballs (köttbullar) is probably the most well known (made famous by IKEA). In most cities there are restaurants that serve husmanskost or food that you’d make at home. These dishes often contain some meat (balls, bacon, schnitzel, etc), lingonberry jam and potatoes. Also, food is a big part of festivities. Every christmas a julbord is served. This is most of the times a buffet with all sorts of food like meat balls, herring, salmon, ham, etc. The contents of the buffet tend to define if it was a good julbord or not. Forgotten dishes like Janssons Frestelse or the creative addition of  previously unknown dishes will render a julbord mediocre.

Christmas isn’t the only celebration that includes food. Typical Easter food (or påskmat) is egg, Janssons Frestelse, herring and ham, mostly served as (surprise, surprise) a buffet. It’s actually pretty close to a julbord, but with a bit more focus on eggs. For midsummer it’s typical to eat fresh cooked potatoes with soused herring and strawberries with whipped cream for desert. For Saint Lucy’s Day Swedes eat saffron buns and for Fettisdagen they eat semla, a pastry mostly filled with whipped cream. In general Swedes tend to be very religious about their food in combination with festivities. No christmas without julbord, no Fettisdagen without semla, no Easter without påskmat. Something the Dutch don’t really care about. As long as there is food on the table.

Next up: drinking culture!



Swedes can’t drive!

Before I moved to Sweden, I had the perception that Swedes were good and safe drivers. Cars like Volvo and Saab are (or have been) world famous for their safety and most of the highways have a 110 km/h speed limit. Almost everybody wears a helmet on their bike, generally people drive defensively, slowly approach pedestrian crossings and they maintain a lot of distance between the car in front of them on highways.

But after being here for a while, I get more and more frustrated with the way that Swedes drive. The first thing I find really annoying is the fact that Swedes hardly ever use their indicators. They just turn and switch lanes without indicating. This is especially annoying on roundabouts. The general rule in most (European countries) is that you indicate which way you go before getting on the roundabout and again when you leave the roundabout. Swedes don’t do this and obviously don’t care. Many times I’ve been waiting to get onto a busy roundabout, but couldn’t, because people didn’t indicate.

Another thing is that, even though the rule is that you yield if there is traffic from the right (unless you have explicit priority), Swedes tend to use a different (unwritten) system. The bigger road wins. A problem here is that it’s often not clear what the bigger road is. In general, as soon as you make a turn, you have to wait (which becomes a problem if more than one car wants to turn). And the rest of the decisions is made based on a gut feel. I often feel the urge to educate my fellow countrymen by deliberately yielding when someone comes from the right. I tend to confuse people by doing so, but it results in very nice gestures, because people think I stop just because I’m a nice guy. I’m trying to build a reputation of “that nice guy that always lets people pass” in my neighborhood. And to take educating the driving vikings to the next level, I’m thinking of putting a big sign in my car that says “HÖGERREGEL!” (the rule that says that traffic from the right has the right of way) that I can hold up whenever I yield someone from the right or when I take the right of way and cause confusion.

My two biggest annoyances have become even more apparent since I started biking in the great city of Stockholm. Apart from being used to really nice and slick bicycle paths everywhere in the Netherlands, I really have to pay a lot of attention to others on the street. Since people bike everywhere in the Netherlands, you automatically take them into account. Whenever you cross a street as a pedestrian, you don’t only look for cars, but you do so for bikes as well. During the last 3 months, I managed to avoid many accidents here in Sweden. People simply don’t look for bikes. Neither pedestrians, nor people driving cars. Makes the hole helmet thing much more understandable.