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What is weird to you is normal to another culture

Swedish family trended for not sharing food with a visitor

In Summary

• Appreciate cultural diversity instead of projecting your ways on others 


After spending a good deal of my adult life travelling and mingling with people from other countries, I have learnt a great deal about people and their cultures. The most important lesson being: respect people and their cultures!

That being said, it does not mean that other people’s cultures don’t shock us. It doesn’t mean that we don’t find faults and wrongs in other people’s way of life.

For those who are unaware, #Swedengate has been trending on Twitter for more than a week. The big ‘scandal’ started with a single post. The post itself was a screenshot from Reddit, where one person said he was at his Swedish friend’s house and when the mum yelled to the friend to go down for dinner, the friend told his guest to stay in his room while his family ate dinner. I was not surprised, I had already heard about this unfavourable Swedish culture of how the family cooks the exact amount to feed the number of people in a family.

If you find this culture weird, it is probably because you grew up in a society-centric country. I know Africa is one of the places we consider to be very community-focused, but other parts of the world have similar values, and not all of Africa is the same.

In the four years I spent in South Africa, I was never once invited to a South African home for any type of meal or gathering. Even within the small Muslim community as we met and prayed on Friday or Eid, strangers would hug one another after prayers wishing each other well. However, that was where the warmth ended. Nobody wanted to know us, nobody actually talked to us, and the hug was just a mere symbolic thing.

I was shocked at first. I couldn’t help comparing their culture to ours. Moreover, if you can imagine that was the extent of ‘friendliness’ within our small Muslim community, just picture how incredibly unfriendly it was among the other races and cultures that we interacted with. There was no way in hell an Afrikaner would invite you to their home, and to be honest, most of us would probably have refused if we were ever invited. The same can be said of my experience in Europe and the Nordic countries.

Perhaps it was my experience that makes me sceptical and unfazed by these stories, but that does not make them less bizarre. The thing with culture is that we see each other within the lenses of our own values. It becomes hard to accept what others view as the norm because we find their reasoning illogical within our own frameworks. However, it does not mean their culture is wrong! For people like us, it is morally unacceptable not to feed a child in your home. But to the Scandinavians, they might find it inappropriate to feed a child whose parents are expecting them for dinner.

I do not claim to be understanding of the Swedish and Danish cultures, but I try to respect their way of living. Think of it this way: the Swedish were doing this to each other long before global migration was a thing. All I am saying is, culture is what we make of it. If you live in Sweden, make your children understand that they will not be fed in a Swedish home. Teach them that while our ways of living are not the same, it does not make theirs a bad culture. It just makes it foreign to ours.

We have to learn to understand and respect each other’s cultures and traditions. There are many things within our own cultures that we find weird, but most of us would be up in arms if someone stepped in, preaching how wrong we are. We have to stop projecting our beliefs on others and accept each other for who we are.

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