• 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?

  • Being nude isn’t rude

    Ribersborg kallbadhus in Malmö Sweden
    Swimwear, denied

    I went to the kallbadhus the other day. It’s a Swedish thing. A municipal sauna and sea bathing spot at the end of a jetty. They are dotted along Malmö beachfront. A sign in the saunas advises the visitor that swimwear is not allowed. 

    Sharp intake of breath

    They say nothing helps you see your own culture like going abroad. Removing your clothes in public is just something the English don’t do. I’d never particularly considered this fact until confronted with an alternative. 

    Last summer in Ibiza, I went naked on a beach. At first, I was terrified I would shock or insult someone with my naked manhood. The same sense of contravening a taboo lingered on the air at the kallbadhus. 

    A good Swedish slap

    It’s what made the whole experience – including six invigorating immersions in the Oresund – so pleasurable. The utter, languid, Saturday morning casualness of the whole affair. 

    You leave your shoes at the front door. You leave your clothes and bags on the benches in the locker room (of a municipal changing rooms – what, no theft?!). You take one pocket-sized towel to place your bottom upon in the sauna. 

    You step into the sauna to discover not only men enjoying a moment’s calm sweating, but women, too. The sexes mixing naked – have you ever heard of the like? And doing so with nonchalant indifference. 

    Dinosaurs love underpants

    It’s the name of my son’s favourite book. It’s funny. And so English. With accompanying audiobook read by Rik Mayall. 

    “It all began when cavemen felt embarrassed in the nude, so someone dreamt up underpants to stop them looking rude”

    Dinosaurs Love Underpants by Claire Freedman & Ben Cort

    That’s a line I love, and find difficult to explain to a four-year-old. Is this a caveman trait? If so, why doesn’t it affect the Swedes? 

    It must be the pent up English Christian issue. All that shame and sin. But then, the Swedes do Lutheranism better than anyone. 

    Just where does the naughtiness of nudity come from for the English? Who knows, but it’s been called out for me at the kallbadhus. 

    Up for another dip? Read about The Baltic Cure For Fear

  • Hot dogs, with added Swedishness

    A Danish hot dog in a bun with pickles and sauce held in a woman's hand
    Korv, blimey! (Photo by Mark Solarski)

    In Sweden, a hot dog is not simply a hot dog. It must have mustard, ketchup, gurkajonäs (chopped pickles and mayo), prawn mayo, hell, even mashed potato. In short, it has cultural legitimacy

    In the UK, eating a hot dog is imbued with no cultural significance whatsoever. It’s cheap processed meat, pure and simple. It even looks and feels like Piglet from Winnie the Pooh. You’re a glutton and a piglet slayer. 

    But in Sweden, you can be sure that any stretch of forested highway will soon be interrupted by the neon light of a kiosk of hot dogs. They are a Swedish institution – just as fridge-cold Ginster’s pies are to Britons. 

    A good hot dog

    Being offered a hot dog in Sweden is a liberation. You aren’t simply eating a hot dog, you are having a ‘cultural experience’ – and as all good tourists know, cultural experiences cancel out calories. 

    It means that when you eat a hot dog in Sweden – which you call a korv, naturally – it has so much cultural legitimacy that it’s essentially zero air miles, carbon neutral, plant-based goodness. Amazing!

    The same goes for meatballs – that other mighty Swedish culinary edifice. It’s processed meat made happy for the Scandinavian socialist utopia. It has the same guilt-free X-factor that deep-fried fish has in Britain. 

    The icon halo

    This halo effect is fantastic, but we all know it’s ultimately a con. That’s why IKEA has taken to offering a veggie dog to its customers. It can’t get rid of the hot dog – that would cause a riot – but it can offer a clean alternative. 

    Swedes are super-hot on being super-environmentalists. They’re world famous. But hey, even zeitgeists need downtime with a hot dog every now and then.  

    Talking of how we eat, Fancy A Dinner Share?