So, there were 7 of us. Three Englishmen, one Scot, one American, one Canadian and one South African. But, because we all live in Sweden, we all knew actually what to do.
You see, Sweden is usually associated with reserved behaviour and pleasant manners. However, on several occasions a year, such as tonight, this myth is busted wide open.
I am referring to a traditional get-together where where little food is actually eaten but alcohol consumption is high,where drinking songs are screeched out into the night sky and where audibly slurping and slobbering your food is considered proper etiquette. What event is this? The Swedish crayfish party.
The crayfish party is, as it sounds, a party where Swedes slurp and slobber crayfish. Now, eating crayfish is quite hard work. There isn’t much meat on these crustaceans and the little blighters can be quite tricky to crack open. This small amount of food, coupled with copious amounts of beer and snaps usually leads to a rowdy and boistrous atmosphere.
Crayfish parties are generally held during August, a tradition that started because crayfish harvesting in Sweden was, for most of the 20th century, legally limited to late summer. Dining is traditionally outdoors, but in practice the party is often driven indoors by bad weather. Customary party accessories are comical paper hats, paper tablecloths, paper lanterns (often depicting the Man in the Moon), and bibs.
And believe me, those bibs are needed…..
The Swedish value of equality manifested itself recently in some interesting research.
Research released from Ohio State University has shown that in heterosexual marriages in the USA, women tend to put on a few kilos after marriage. Men, however, tend to put on weight after a divorce.
Apparently, this is not the case in Sweden. According to experts at Karolinska Institute, it isn’t only women who increase in weight after a marriage. It is both men and women. There’s equality for you!
In Swedish, these extra kilos even have a name – ‘kärlekskilo’ (love kilos) or ‘trivselkilo’ (satisfaction kilos).
So the extra weight deosn’t sound that bad then does it?
Cultural researchers say that you can understand a culture by looking at the products of that culture. For example, the way the houses look, what kind of clothes people wear or the food they eat.
One cultural product to come out of Sweden is a substance called ‘snus’. ‘Snus’ is brown, sticky and can cover your teeth in discoloured drool. Sound attractive? Then read on.
‘Snus’ is a moist tobacco powder, made in Sweden since the 19th century. ‘Snusers’ squeeze the moist substance into pellets or use pre-packed sachets that look like miniature teabags, placing them under their upper lip for up to an hour. In best case, you don’t notice that the ‘snus’ is in the user’s mouth. In worst case, the ‘snuser’ has a very swollen upper lip giving them a slightly retarded look. But where’s the kick? Well, absorbed into the bloodstream through the lip, ‘snus’ has a softer but longer nicotine buzz than cigarettes. No snoozin’ with ‘snus’ in.
Due to health reasons, within the EU, the sale of ‘snus’ is banned, which is odd since cigarettes and other forms of tobacco aren’t. However, in the rest of the world, ‘snus’ is proving a hit, with sales booming in the US and Canada. North Americans are increasingly buying ‘snus’ as a way either to quit or to beat smoking bans.
Nobody knows when the use of tobacco as a stimulant started but Europeans first came into contact with it during the 1400’s when Christopher Columbus landed on Haiti. The tobacco plant was quickly exported to Europe and put into products such as snuff, chewing tobacco and cigarettes.
It was believed at that time that tobacco cured cancer and syphilis.
But users of ‘snus’ don’t have to worry about the latter. ‘Snus’ has a pungent smell making the user’s breath very strong. The chances of catching a sexually transmitted disease are limited when nobody will even kiss you.
A few random notes from a blog by Nobel Prize Winner, Paul Krugman:
1. Stockholm isn’t perfect. Even in August, it can rain cats and dogs — which is why I’m still sitting in the lounge blogging over my coffee and herring.
2. More seriously, I wouldn’t want to live here — because I’m not Swedish! Culturally I’m very much an American, Northeast Corridor edition, and even the Swedes tell me that their society can feel a bit claustrophobic. Fundamentally, my home is in the real real America — the multicultural, multiracial, freewheeling society that is built around the American idea. Of course, the “patriots” of the right hate that America.
3. Of course the point is not that Sweden is perfect, it’s the fact that it works and thrives despite high taxes and a strong welfare state — which isn’t supposed to be possible according to conservative dogma.
An anecdote here: Robin and I were talking yesterday with an eminent American financial economist, and said something about tax levels here. He said, “Well, that’s why all the young people are leaving.” Except, you know, they aren’t. But never mind — that’s what’s supposed to be happening, and it must be happening.