• Would you like sugar with that?

    (Photo by Laura Ockel)

    Swedes love sugar. Seriously, they’re sugar monsters. I know what you’re thinking: who isn’t? But where other nations mix the sweet stuff with other vices – be they fags, booze or deep-fried snacks – Swedes just stick to the sugar.

    Example 1: fika. It’s a cute name for extremely regular coffee breaks at which you eat super-sweet cinnamon buns, with a side of coffee.

    Example 2: Lördagsgodis. Literally, Saturday sweets, this is the weekly ritual of buying a shed load of candy every Saturday, without fail, because it’s Saturday.

    Example 3: supermarket sweets. Sweden has a supermarket dedicated entirely to sweets. Seriously, it’s called Hemmakväll. Google it.

    I rest my case.

    It’s not so trad

    Wall-to-wall sugarcoated pastry and buckets full of sweets feels like a traditional part of Swedish life. But then I went into Malmö’s brilliant Technical & Seafaring Museum and read this…

    ‘In 1850, Swedes consumed 4 kilos of sugar per person (annually). Today, they’re up to 40 kilos per person.’

    Did they just get way more into sugar? Well no, and yes. The museum went on to explain the 19th century sugar beet industry (ok, you can stop reading here, but I thought it was interesting).

    The Skåne region – Sweden’s southern breadbasket – decided to try out their first cash crop.

    Harvesting and refining sugar beet was incredibly labour intensive, which was useful since there were a lot of poor Swedes who needed a job in the 1800s. It also meant there was a lot of, well, sugar.

    And in the day’s before globalisation, the closer your market, the better. So they sold the refined stuff to those same Swedes – by the truckload – and hey presto, everyone’s sugar intake ballooned.

    So there you go. Next time I succumb to a cinnamon bun, I can blame 19th century agri-business. Ah, that feels better!

    While we’re on Swedish tastebuds, how about hot dogs with added Swedishness?

  • Swedes are Brits with good branding

    Blonde woman with large daisy flowers in her hair standing with back to camera against a flowery bush
    The darling buds of May, June, July… (Photo by Christian Widell)

    The Swedes have branding sown up. It’s like they ingest it from birth. Sweden just rings so true as an idea for the rest of the world. Happy, blonde people living fairly with each other and in harmony with nature – and no matter what the weather, doing everything well. 

    What’s so Swedish about a maypole? 

    Think Sweden. Think fish as a national dish. Think dancing around a pole in Midsummer. Think lagom – not too little, not too much. It all seems so quintessentially Swedish. But hang on…

    A British national fish dish? Fish’n’chips, anyone? Dancing around a pole. That’ll be why we call it a maypole. Brits may not have done it since before the Industrial Revolution, but we still call it a maypole. Lagom – not too little, not too much? Pure Presbyterian self-moderation. 

    Not only that, but listen to a Swedish – or indeed Danish – voiceover on TV, and you could be forgiven for thinking you’re listening to a very drunk Geordie. We’re practically national siblings. But boy, oh boy, Swedes have sold themselves so much better. 

    Maybe it’s that Industrial Revolution? Maybe it’s the Imperial twitch? Maybe Britain’s problem is that there are just too many strands to pick? A good brand needs focus, a single narrative. Is it Cool Britannia? Is it Brexit Britain? Is it Global Britain? Form an orderly queue…