Idiom of the Week: To Slide in on a Shrimp Sandwich

By McKenna Tiegland///Senior Staff Writer

Here in America, we are all too familiar with the delicious meatballs and elegantly functional commodities of the Swedish giant, Ikea. What we are probably unfamiliar with (or I at least was), is a curious idiom straight out of snowy Sweden: Att glida in på en räkmacka, or “To slide in on a shrimp sandwich.” In this European country, this turn-of-phrase is understood to refer to an individual who did not work for what they have. In the colloquial American English tongue, we have our yuppies, and the Swedes have…. Shrimp sandwich snowboarders? Let’s dig deeper.

Let’s look at the fact that it is a shrimp sandwich, because this is rather interesting. Shrimp, like lobster, is a bottom-feeding shellfish. In American society, lobster started out as an unwanted food item that was left for the poor to consume. It has since become a pricey, upper-class delicacy.

However, in Swedish society, shrimp was regarded as an upper-class food item — hence its inclusion in this phrase where it suggests that one can be successful without the usual expected work. But, lingonberries are a delicacy in Sweden; why not “to slide in on a lingonberry salad?”

Ultimately, what this does, is bring us back to the bottom line about idioms: they’re weird. Often, they are a matter of right time, right place; maybe an editor somewhere changed the phrasing before publication, resulting in Sweden being overrun by shrimp sandwiches. It’s entirely possible that we may never fully understand the painstaking choice of semantics.

If we assume, then, that we won’t, and that we must then continue to simply accept this idiom as is, the next question becomes, “Why? Why doesn’t even matter to begin with?” And you know, in the grand scheme of things, it probably doesn’t. But, it is my belief that words are important, and it is little gems like “to slide in on a shrimp sandwich” that, when we become truly cognisant of them, actually deepen our understanding of language. Because that artificial construction is pretty weird, too.

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