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Six totally Swedish things that actually aren't

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Totally Swedish. Or...? Photo: Nicho Södling/imagebank.sweden.se/Jonas Ekströmer/Kungahuset/AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
07:55 CET+01:00
Ikea, Volvo and meatballs. What could be more Swedish than that? Quite a lot, it turns out. The Local investigates six super 'Swedish' things that actually came from abroad.

1. Fika and kaffe

The way Swedes gulp down coffee (on average three cups per person and day) you would almost believe they invented the stuff. But after the first coffee houses opened in Syria in the 16th century, the brown stuff only made it to Sweden in 1685 via Turkey and continental Europe – and was even banned on several occasions after it apparently became so popular it de-stabilized the market. Meanwhile, fika (a coffee-and-cake break) is backslang for kaffi (an older Swedish word for 'kaffe' or coffee), which itself stems from the Arabic word qahwa.


A Swede having coffee and thinking about Turkey. Photo: Nicho Södling/imagebank.sweden.se

2. Kåldolmar (stuffed cabbage rolls)

The Local's readers told us how much you loved this recipe for Swedish 'kåldolmar', traditional Swedish comfort food which consists of minced meat wrapped in cabbage. But they were actually first introduced to Sweden in the early 18th century after king Karl XII temporarily went into exile in Turkey and brought vine leaves back. Essentially, they are the Swedish twist on Middle Eastern meat dolma, with the vine leaves replaced with cabbage ('kål').


Swedish (or are they?!) stuffed cabbage rolls. Photo: Jurek Holzer/SvD/SCANPIX

3. Midsummer's Eve

If you're friends with Swedes, you have probably been invited to their summer house for Midsummer's Eve celebrations (if not, start nagging them now for a June invitation) – the most Swedish holiday of all. But it's more multicultural than you would have guessed: the famous maypole came from Germany in the 14th or 15th century, the popular brined herring ('matjesill') is actually Dutch ('maatjesharing') and the modern strawberry was first grown in France.

Even the children's song where the Swedes pretend to be little frogs and make you dance around the maypole is originally a French Revolution military march ('La Chanson de l'Oignon'). Voilà!

4. Swedish meatballs

It's round, tasty and very Swedish. Or, not. Just like coffee and 'kåldolmar', this very popular ball of meat was brought back to the Nordics by Swedish soldiers fighting alongside Karl XII in Turkey in the 1700s. It's still very yummy, so here's a great recipe by food writer John Duxbury for you.


(Sarcastic quote) Swedish (unquote) meatballs. Photo: Heiko Junge/NTB scanpix/SCANPIX

5. The Royal Family

The Swedish royal family is part of the Bernadotte line, which was literally imported from France in the 18th century after the Swedish king died and officials went to the continent to find a replacement, Jean Bernadotte, who was then part of Napoleon Bonaparte's army. Looking at the modern-day royal family, King Carl XVI Gustaf's mother was Sibylla of Germany's Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha, while his wife Queen Silvia is of German-Brazilian descent. Not to mention Princess Madeleine and her husband Chris O'Neill, who both live in London.

Story continues below…


The Swedish/German/French/Brazilian Royal Family. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/Kungahuset

6. Ikea, Volvo and Skype

While Ikea's founder, Ingvar Kamprad, was born in rural parts of the southern Småland region, his world-famous furniture company (which did not invent Swedish meatballs, see above) is actually owned by a foundation based in the Netherlands. Likewise, car manufacturer Volvo is owned by the Zhejiang Geely Holding Group and Saab is owned by Chinese Nevs. Even Skype (co-created by Swede Niklas Zennström) is now owned by American Microsoft. At least fashion retail giant H&M is still Swedish.


Ikea did not invent Swedish meatballs. Photo: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

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