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Over on Norwegian's Facebook page, they send a friendly jibe to SAS with this simple image and comment: "Fortunately, no one can take from us the cheese slicer". If there is something Norwegians are oddly proud of, apart from their elaborate bunad worn on the 17th of May and special holidays, it's the cheese slicer. Which is identical to the Swedish cheese slicer, which is identical to a Finnish cheese slicer. And Finns aren't even Scandinavians! But they were included in the original SAS advert, suggesting that the advert used the American meaning of the word. It's only the Danes that often use a different weird cheese slicer that has this odd string and slices super-thick and really is an abomination we should figure out a way to kick them out of Scandinavia for that, but I digress.
The original SAS "what is Scandinavian? Nothing" advert was removed from the internet only 15 hours later after backlash. SAS put out a statement suggesting that the youtube downvotes were some sort of coordinated attack.
When we look at the pattern and the number of reactions to our film, there is reason to suspect an attack and that our campaign has been kidnapped. We do not want to risk becoming a platform for someone else's values, which we do not stand for.
The controversial commercial is now back on the SAS official page, but they still don't allow comments. Meanwhile, Danish newspapers are diving headlong into the question "what is actually Danish?" In that article, Mette Byriel-Thygesen, Museum Inspector at the National Museum and Bettina Buhl, Museum Inspector responsible for Food and Meal Culture History at the Green Museum categorically refute the idea that rugbrød is Turkish, and hit the nail on the head why this ad was so poorly received:
But why is it that it really hurts our national pride if our favorite bread or iconic cargo bike was not just invented in Denmark?
- The SAS advertisement goes in and punishes the myth of Scandinavia as something special, because it says that everything we stand for has been copied from elsewhere, says Mette Byriel-Thygesen. And it goes against our self-esteem, she says.
- We like the story that we are something special.
Not only that. The myths propagated by the ad, like Swedish meatballs are from Turkey, seem to revel in the idea of crediting others for the fusions that only Scandinavia made. Forget that Scandinavia had Anders Celsius, Alfred Nobel, Niels Bohr and Aage Bohr. Carl von Linné, Søren Kierkegaard, Henrik Ibsen and many more whose work inspired the world far beyond our borders - in most of the world you'll still check your temperature in Celcius. The point of the ad was to show that travel inspires, but the tone seemed more self-hating than self-deprecating.
So is the Danish classic of smørrebrød really a Dutch thing?
Although sandwiches are almost the unofficial national food of the Danes, the basic idea of the open sandwich is actually Dutch, says Mette Byriel-Thygesen from the National Museum.
- But the Danish version is the one you associate with the sandwich bread today. And it's different from the Dutch version, she says.
- What is typical of Danish sandwiches is that all kinds of special Danish ingredients have been used as potatoes. I know you don't use the same way in the Netherlands.
Museum Inspector Bettina Buhl of the Green Museum agrees.
- You could say that the Danish people have always been inspired. And because we have had a distinctive manor culture, we have traveled to cultural centers around Europe. And there they have taken inspiration home.
Which was the point the SAS ad tried to make, and failed.
According to the two museum inspectors, food and things 'Danishness' is not exclusively about where something has just been invented.
It is just as much about what culture is built around the food or tradition.
- I don't think you have to make it about who came first. It's about in what culture it has a larger meaning, is more important, says Bettina Buhl.
Right. Italians weren't the first to make pasta, the Chinese had already done that. But we wouldn't say that pasta isn't Italian. In an era where national borders no longer mean that you show your passport and travelling through Europe can sometimes feel like a long sea of same, national pride is more important than brands might expect. We've often discussed the phenomena on Coca Cola trying to break into the Swedish Christmas market, and failing. It's because some national quirks are so loved, they can never go away.
National pride is one such quirk.