Swedes like to mix their hospitality with strict rules. Official dinners, such as one that we were lucky to attend recently, can be a good example of this. On arrival, we were treated to a lovely welcome drink, then left to queue for an eternity to be ticked off the appropriate guest list. This set the whole meal back by an hour, but rules are rules. Then came the dinner: herring and boiled potatoes. This is a meal that is served all year round at every possible occasion – another example of where enjoyable meets compulsory. Along with the herring comes snaps (neat, chilled aquavit), every sip of which is accompanied by a snaps song, a short ditty about – you guessed it – snaps. You must drink. Rules.

Through a mix-up, my husband got allocated a seat away from me, but when we enquired about moving, we were met by blank stares. You sit where you are told to! Luckily, husband ended up wedged between two women who were very good at explaining all the rules, though he did cause a stir with his inability to remember which table companion to eyeball the most intently after the snaps (don’t get me started on that one, I still have no idea).

Then came one final moment of rule-induced chaos. In Sweden, it is typical to bring indoor shoes to a party, leaving your outdoor shoes in the hall. Naturally, you buy your shoes according to the rules, in this case fashion rules. Picture a throng of 400 tanked-up guests, scrabbling to find their footwear in a gigantic pile of identical shoes. “Madness!” husband mused, opening a beer, which was swiftly removed by staff. Because you would not want to get drunk out of the strict, official get-drunk-hours, would you?

TEXT: MARIA SMEDSTAD

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