You're Welcome At My Table (Why We Need Sit-Down Dinners)
I’m deliberately resisting counting down the days until we visit Sweden later this summer, a country I’ve longed to visit for far more reasons than its beautiful and strikingly simplistic Scandinavian design or their minimalistic fashion sense.
While I earnestly try to incorporate those two concepts into my home and closet, it is their culture and sense of community that truly draws me in. It is their center. It is their core. And it is what I want in my life.
Despite Sweden’s extreme contrasts of long summer days followed by even longer winter nights, they are still a country that promotes both family and community throughout the year. Swedes work an average of 1,644 hours/year (compared to Americans who work 2,444 hours/year), enjoy a 16-month paid parental leave, and continue to rank among the highest countries for gender equality.
I’ve previously shared a favorite Danish concept of mine - ‘hygge’ (here and here), but I now want to share two Swedish staples that I equally love, both which put an emphasis on surrounding yourself with others.
Fika and matlag.
The Swedish help foster their togetherness through a tradition called fika. Its basic meaning is “to have coffee”, but oftentimes it is more about socializing than about the coffee. In fact, it is much more than simply a coffee break. It is a social concept to deliberately set aside a moment for quality time with others. How often do we just get our coffee “to-go” instead of enjoying it with someone? Fika can happen anytime, morning or night, at home or at work, but it is time set aside with others, time that is deemed absolutely necessary. Sweets and pastries are always welcome too.
Matlag, much like the rest of my favorite Swedish words, is also difficult to explain. While it literally translates to “sitting”, matlag is the community created around cooking, a food club if you will. The concept itself is simple though. It is about gathering your friends, heading to the market, and choosing a meal to make together at each other’s houses. Repeat every week or so.
Matlag is great for a variety of reasons. It’s economical, with the idea that some young people may not be able to afford higher-end cuisines singularly but together the cost is shared, making a variety of food more obtainable. Plus, it saves you from having to single-handedly cook every night. But ultimately, it’s a chance to learn new techniques, slow down, and be present with good company and quality food – something that is sometimes lacking on this side of the Atlantic.
My friends and I make efforts to get together during our needlessly busy American lives, but oftentimes it is at restaurants that are too loud or too crowded. I had an encounter while in Iceland, that became a strangely pivotal moment for me to, quite literally, examine my life from the outside.
Many of the stores and restaurants in Iceland close early and sometimes unexpectedly. Each time I re-play this scene in my head, the night inevitably gets a little bit colder and the moment a little bit more magical, but it’s still special to me nonetheless. Anyways, it was dark and I was trying to find a place to eat out for dinner to no avail, and as I mentioned, it was very cold outside. I strolled across a couple streets and happened to notice a house with a very large glass window. Inside was the warmest and coziest scene. It was a group of 8 or 9 people gathered together on a week night. The lighting was warm. They were passing food around, laughing, one man was playing guitar off to the side. Standing on the outside I thought, why is it that I don’t I do this with my friends? They all seemed to be so happy and thoroughly enjoying themselves in this cozy little home. Then I had that a-ha moment. This is why a lot of establishments close early. Because they spend time together. Why was this such a foreign concept to me?
When it boils down to it, maybe this mentality is engrained in all of Scandinavia. This togetherness is the building block of a community. And I want it too. I want to safeguard my friendships and forge new ones. Join me in taking a lesson from the Swedes and making space for more quality time within our packed lives. Make room for new people at your table. It is a small change, and it may be outside your comfort zone. A home setting can be very intimate, and inviting someone into that space can be a big thing. But I believe it is that type of vulnerability that can help friendships flourish and grow. This small change can be responsible for helping a community come together – in the best of times and also in the hard times, too.
You’re always welcome to fika and matlag at my table.
Malinda Meadows is an Ohio native who was letting grief blanket her life.
She found healing through traveling and nature. She discovered changes of location led to changes in her mindset. It helped her process grief and forge a new path with greater optimism and happiness. Realizing the benefit of deliberate change, she now leads a more balanced and mindful life inspired by simple changes.
She blogs regularly at malindainthesnow.com to help others find change, however small, outside their box in order to live a happier, healthier life.