Swedish Culture and Traditions at the Nordiska Museet

Stuffed swans and seven types of biscuit. Those were the days.

Nordiska Museet

I’m an anthropologist. I’ve even got a certificate to prove it.

I don’t use my anthropology officially in my day-t0-day life, but unofficially? I find it a great excuse for being nosey. I love finding out about how other people live and think, about their beliefs, culture and traditions. Learning about other cultures is one of reasons I love travel so much.

Whenever I’m in a city with a cultural museum I put it high on my list of must-see places.

Nordiska MuseetThe Nordiska Museet (Nordic Museum) in Stockholm is Sweden’s largest museum of cultural history, so of course I had to spend a few hours there.

King Gustav Vasa
This huge wooden carving of King Gustav Vasa greets visitors as they enter the museum.

It’s situated next door to Sweden’s biggest tourist attraction, Vasa, so I combined the two on the same day. They were both included in the 3 day Stockholm Pass I’d bought as well, so I didn’t have worry about separate admission costs.

Here’s the blurb from the website:

The Nordic Museum has exhibitions about life and work, trends and traditions, in Sweden from the 16th century to today. Our collections include clothes and fashion, textiles, furniture and interiors, jewellery, photography, folk art, glass and china. The Museum was founded in 1873 by Artur Hazelius.

I wasn’t sure how interesting this was going to be from the description. Clothes, jewellery and china aren’t amongst the things I find most scintillating, but as I was already in the area and it wasn’t going to cost me anything, it was worth a look.

As it happened, I found it far more interesting than I’d hoped and I ended up staying until closing time.

Here’s some of what I found.

7 types of biscuit
Seven types of biscuit

Around the turn of the last century it became more common to invite people round for coffee than for dinner. This wasn’t necesarily the easy option though, as it was expected that you would offer seven types of biscuits. And, get this, guests would be expected to try all seven types. It would be rude not to. With my love of all things fika, I’d have been in my element at one of these gatherings!

dinner partyThe upper echelons of society didn’t compeletely give up on their posh dinner parties though. Tables would glitter with gilt bronze, crystal, silver and mirrored glass. Each place setting was completed with a menu written in French (very posh) and a whole set of glasses. Each course was served with a different wine to accompany it and each wine was poured into a fresh glass. There were a lot of courses.

Dishes on a typical menu included chicken farce in broth, filled puff pastry, steamed turbot fillets, venison steak, ox-tongue farce, roasted hazel hen, goose-liver terrine, asparagus, English plum pudding, ice cream, cheese and fruit.

These weren’t choices; each dish was served as a separate course and everyone got a helping of everything. I don’t even know what half of them are, but it seems very meaty. I think I’d have stuck to the biscuits. And maybe the wine.

Dessert table

This dessert table had me salivating. I doubt I’d have been allowed to eat any of it though. Laws stated what the different classes could serve on their dessert tables. What? The poor were limited to nuts and honey-soaked fruit, whilst the rich could serve pretty much what they wanted.

Roast swanFor festive occassions the rich really went over the top. The centrepiece of this table is the roast swan that has been stuffed back into its plumage. The same plumage could be used over and again with a new roast sitting in it each time. Not sure I’d fancy that. Wouldn’t it get smelly?

The museum wasn’t all food. There were also displays on Swedish festivals which I found quite interesting. The displays on furniture, costume, and jewellery were ok, but it was the food through the ages that most caught my attention.

I did decide I wanted one of these chairs though.




Author: Anne

Join me in my journey to live a life less boring, one challenge at a time. Author of the forthcoming book 'Walking the Kungsleden: One Woman's Solo Wander Through the Swedish Arctic'.

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