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#AdventCalendar: The dinner that proves Sweden is anything but lagom

Each day of December up until Christmas Eve, The Local is sharing the story behind a surprising Swedish fact as part of our own Advent calendar.

#AdventCalendar: The dinner that proves Sweden is anything but lagom
Sweden's Crown Princess Victoria at the Nobel Prize Banquet. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

Come December, most of the world has already forgotten about the Nobel Prize laureates, whose names were announced in October. But in Sweden's it's only just getting started.

Always held on December 10th, the date on which inventor Alfred Nobel died in 1896, the Nobel Banquet is the event that proves that everything you knew about lagom – that hyped-up Swedish word that means 'in moderation' and is a buzzword everywhere but in Sweden – is false.

Because at the Nobel feast, nothing comes in moderation. The dinner, held after the laureates accept their prizes in Stockholm, features a 1,300-strong guest list of royalty, top politicians and academics plus international guests. Its the poshest affair in Sweden, and even comes with its own cutlery, in 24,390 parts.

It's a cause of excitement and conversation among the general population too, with around one million Swedes (that's a tenth of the country's entire population) expected to follow along from home by tuning in to the live broadcast on SVT.

Ask your Swedish friends, and at least one of them will – despite claiming not to watch or even care about the event – be able to tell you at least one Nobel anecdote. Like the time former prime minister Göran Persson answered his phone during dinner, or the time Princess Madeleine sparked a stir with a low-cut dress.

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Then-Prime Minister Göran Persson next to Crown Princess Victoria in 2003. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

It is all organized by the Nobel Foundation, and anyone who is anyone is there – including all party leaders apart from the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, who are never invited. “The party's background in right-wing extremism and the actions of their representatives in the present day show a lack of respect for the basic principle that all people have equal value and rights – regardless of skin colour, origin or religion,” states the Nobel Foundation, a privately-owned organization despite the official nature of the event.

That decision is not entirely uncontroversial, and the Nobel Foundation has been criticized for meanwhile inviting all international ambassadors in Sweden, including envoys representing dictatorships.

But let's be honest, most of the gossip tends to be preoccupied with the food and the dresses, not politics.

Swedish tabloids dedicate several column inches to which dress the Queen wore, was it better than the one she wore in 1998, let's list the best dresses the Queen has ever worn, why does media coverage of female politicians always focus on their clothes and by the way which female politician wore the prettiest dress?

So tonight, why not immerse yourself fully into the Swedish experience and watch 1,300 people eat, live on camera – think of it as mukbang the way the Swedes did it before it got popular on YouTube.

The broadcast, including award ceremony and dinner, starts at 4.25pm on SVT Play.

Each day until Christmas Eve, The Local is looking at the story behind one surprising fact about Sweden, as agreed by our readers. Find the rest of our Advent Calendar HERE and sign up below to get an email notification when there's a new article.

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US duo win Nobel for work on how heat and touch spark signals to the brain

US scientists David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian on Monday won the Nobel Medicine Prize for discoveries on receptors for temperature and touch.

US duo win Nobel for work on how heat and touch spark signals to the brain
Thomas Perlmann (right), the Secretary of the Nobel Committee, stands next to a screen showing David Julius (L) and Ardem Patapoutian, winners of the 2021 Nobel Prize for Medicine. Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP

“The groundbreaking discoveries… by this year’s Nobel Prize laureates have allowed us to understand how heat, cold and mechanical force can initiate the nerve impulses that allow us to perceive and adapt to the world,” the Nobel jury said.

The pair’s research is being used to develop treatments for a wide range of diseases and conditions, including chronic pain. Julius, who in 2019 won the $3-million Breakthrough Prize in life sciences, said he was stunned to receive the call from the Nobel committee early Monday.

“One never really expects that to happen …I thought it was a prank,” he told Swedish Radio.

The Nobel Foundation meanwhile posted a picture of Patapoutian next to his son Luca after hearing the happy news.

Our ability to sense heat, cold and touch is essential for survival, the Nobel Committee explained, and underpins our interaction with the world around us.

“In our daily lives we take these sensations for granted, but how are nerve impulses initiated so that temperature and pressure can be perceived? This question has been solved by this year’s Nobel Prize laureates.”

Prior to their discoveries, “our understanding of how the nervous system senses and interprets our environment still contained a fundamental unsolved question: how are temperature and mechanical stimuli converted into electrical impulses in the nervous system.”

Grocery store research

Julius, 65, was recognised for his research using capsaicin — a compound from chili peppers that induces a burning sensation — to identify which nerve sensors in the skin respond to heat.

He told Scientific American in 2019 that he got the idea to study chili peppers after a visit to the grocery store.  “I was looking at these shelves and shelves of basically chili peppers and extracts (hot sauce) and thinking, ‘This is such an important and such a fun problem to look at. I’ve really got to get serious about this’,” he said.

Patapoutian’s pioneering discovery was identifying the class of nerve sensors that respond to touch.

Julius, a professor at the University of California in San Francisco and the 12-year-younger Patapoutian, a professor at Scripps Research in California, will share the Nobel Prize cheque for 10 million Swedish kronor ($1.1 million, one million euros).

The pair were not among the frontrunners mentioned in the speculation ahead of the announcement.

Pioneers of messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, which paved the way for mRNA Covid vaccines, and immune system researchers had been widely tipped as favourites.

While the 2020 award was handed out in the midst of the pandemic, this is the first time the entire selection process has taken place under the shadow of Covid-19.

Last year, the award went to three virologists for the discovery of the Hepatitis C virus.

Media, Belarus opposition for Peace Prize?

The Nobel season continues on Tuesday with the award for physics and Wednesday with chemistry, followed by the much-anticipated prizes for literature on Thursday and peace on Friday before the economics prize winds things up on Monday, October 11.

For the Peace Prize on Friday, media watchdogs such as Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists have been mentioned as possible winners, as has the Belarusian opposition spearheaded by Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. Also mentioned are climate campaigners such as Sweden’s Greta Thunberg and her Fridays for Future movement.

Meanwhile, for the Literature Prize on Thursday, Stockholm’s literary circles have been buzzing with the names of dozens of usual suspects.

The Swedish Academy has only chosen laureates from Europe and North America since 2012 when China’s Mo Yan won, raising speculation that it could choose to rectify that imbalance this year. A total of 95 of 117 literature laureates have come from Europe and North America.

While the names of the Nobel laureates are kept secret until the last minute, the Nobel Foundation has already announced that the glittering prize ceremony and banquet held in Stockholm in December for the science and literature laureates will not happen this year due to the pandemic.

Like last year, laureates will receive their awards in their home countries. A decision has yet to be made about the lavish Peace Prize ceremony held in Oslo on the same day.

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