Ordinary Swedish meal times – what is 'middag'?
Like in very many other countries, the Swedish system for lunch and dinner has changed, and there are still people around who stick to the older system. To avoid confusion, we only teach the modern standard usage of the words.
Today, most people eat the following main meals:
frukost is breakfast, the first meal of the day
lunch is lunch, the second meal of the day, eaten 'in the middle of the day' or at around 12:00.
middag is dinner, the largest meal of the day, normally eaten after the end of the working day.
Apart from these, we have
kvällsmat if you have a simpler evening meal after dinner, it's called kvällsmat
fika is a social institution typically involving coffee and something sweet (read more)
mellanmål is a snack
brunch is the same as in English
supé is a pretentious word for a meal after 20:00
Some Swedes may use the word 'middag' to mean 'noon' in some contexts, but don't take this for granted. An expression like 'vid middagstid' could mean 'about 12' to some, but 'around dinnertime' to somebody else. Some would say vid lunch(tid) instead, which will be understood as around 12.
There is also regional variation in usage. Especially in southern Sweden, some people regardless of age use the systems frukost-middag-kvällsmat or frukost-lunch-kvällsmat (where by kvällsmat, they mean dinner). However, the frukost-lunch-middag system is the standard system that still seems to be spreading, so for the purpose of this course, we only accept translations that conform to that. But keep in mind that those words are used in various ways both by native speakers of Swedish and that their corresponding words are used in various ways by native speakers of English. (the same phenomenon is taking place in many other languages too)
It's been ages since I was an au pair in Sweden, but my memory was that middag was the meal that was eaten in the middle of the day and that kvällsmat was the meal you ate in the evening (as one would think, given the words' literal translations). And I think using the word 'lunch' would have been considered svengelska.
Yes, in English, the evening meal is either dinner or supper depending on where you live. Although dinner can mean the main meal, it can either be a midday meal or an evening meal. Supper is always an evening meal, but it can mean a lighter meal or a full regular meal. Even though the origin of supper had to do with a lighter meal such as soup, it now means the evening meal and can be light or the main meal. Do not confuse it with the Swedish term "supé" which is eaten after 20:00. In the USA we call that the 4th meal, check Taco Bell advertisements. People here could be working a graveyard shift and eat their "lunch" or second meal during the "wee hours". For people who have breakfast lunch and dinner, calling a 4th meal supper would be pretentious, but some people eat breakfast, dinner and supper, even if their second meal was soup and half a sandwich. So, the question remains "Why not accept "supper" as an alternative translation for "middag" or "dinner" in the real world of today's definitions and not from these words' original definitions?" Unless you feel that "kvällsmat" is still the best translation of "supper", I still think that "supper" in English can be used as "dinner" when served in the evening, except in the instance of a formal sit down affair that has been planned for months. My confusion with "kvällsmat" is whether it is a third or 4th meal, because you specified a lighter meal after "middag". That kind of sounds like "supper", but ignores the fact that "supper" now has the main meaning of 3rd or evening meal and its meaning as "lighter meal" is now a secondary meaning. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/supper?show=0=1420736630
And then there is also vickning, usually 'pyttipanna' https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyttipanna , a very non-pretentious meal eaten at late night parties, around midnight or later, small pieces of potatoes, sausages, meat, i.e. leaftovers, fried in a pan. Often with egg and pickled beetroot.
I am someone who was raised in the Southern US, where "dinner" and "supper" are typically interchangeable, and "lunch" is typically the mid-day meal. The reason I say typically is because "Christmas Dinner", and other large gathering meals are consumed around mid-day.
The word choice (and shift) here, and, likely, in Sweden, have to do with when people ate what. The big meal of the day is "Dinner", and was traditionally eaten with family, guests, etc around mid-day. Occasionally, the large meal (still "Dinner") was eaten in the evenings. A light meal at mid-day is called "lunch", and a light meal in the evening is called "supper". The shift has occurred because the corporate/school standardization has caused people to not be home or with their families at mid-day, so the large gathering meal (and it's name) has shifted to the evening meal.
according to Bonniers svenska ordbok we have:
The Penguin ENGLISH DICTIONARY gives
dinner chief meal of the day
That is middag is exactly equal to dinner
The same dict. give supé sen måltid/ late meal and supper last meal of the day. What I can see they are approximately the same.
For me "supé" is something extraordinary usually with guests and you have to dress up
I think it's because of the changes in social culture, workhours, etc. In the old agricultural world, the main meal was at noon, everybody worked together and ate together. Then 'supper' was a light meal. Now the main meal at noon is substituted by a quick lunch, maybe just 30 minutes. Instead we have our main meal at night, often meeting our family.
Note that as a forreign speaker you can get by without ambiguity by using the following words: lunch: the meal around 12 kvällsmat: the meal after lunch, that is around 6 pm-8 pm
In that way, you avoid the slightly ambigious "middag". You'd still need to use it when e.g. inviting someone over for a meal in the latter half of the day. Inviting someone for "kvällsmat" typically wouldn't be a very good way to use the word.