The muffin, misunderstood

There are a lot of words that Swedes import from English and make their own. Muffin, for instance, has become a common word in the fifteen years since I first arrived here. At that time, when Swedes stopped for a cozy coffee break (also known as fika), the indulgences on hand were cinnamon buns, cardamom buns, or other classic pastries. Over the years though, a number of popular café chains sprang up (notably, not Starbucks) and latched onto the surging international latte culture (spurred on by Starbucks). Not only did this mean having a menu of build-your-own complex coffee drinks, it also meant serving muffins alongside cinnamon buns. The buns were old-fashioned. Muffins were hip. In typical import fashion, however, they were improperly interpreted from the start – the muffins were iced with garish frosting colors, technically turning them into cupcakes, but that’s another story. There was a bigger problem:

Customers ordered a muffins. Yep. One (singular) muffins (plural). I have no idea how it started, or why muffins became a concept in singular.

“Jag tar en muffins, tack”. That’s how it sounded. “I’ll have a muffins, please.”

This drove me crazy for a long time, and worse, it prevented me from ever ordering a muffin at a café, because of the horrible feeling in my body of having to say “a muffins.” I just couldn’t do it.

As the trend escalated, an older generation of Swedes began fretting about the Americanization of Swedish culture, as evident by the upswing in popularity of foods like muffins and take-away coffee. “What the hell was wrong with the cinnamon buns?” they wondered.

Fortunately, any American who is forced to order “a muffins” which, is in fact a denser sort of cupcake, can assure you that there’s nothing to fear. “A muffins” goes to show that Sweden is far from turning into the U.S. (or more accurately, far from turning into what Swedes imagine the U.S. is like). Muffins have been folded into the Swedish culture, taking on their own Swedish identity.