Something Smells Fishy

, , , , | Friendly | June 17, 2020

When I am a naive student in the UK, I hear on TV that in Sweden they eat rotten fish, called “surströmming”. The show’s host, Stephen Fry, holds up a tin, but says he isn’t allowed to open it in case the audience passed out.

I am intrigued. I want to try some, but I can’t find it anywhere— not locally and not online at any price. I phone a friend in Sweden.

Me: “Hey, I want to try some of this surströmming. Do you know where I can get some?”

Friend: “Really? It’s absolutely rank. We only eat it outside at BBQs and things.”

Me: “Yes, really.”

Friend: “And you can’t find it locally?”

Me: “Nowhere. I’ve checked for hours.”

Friend: “Strange. They sell it everywhere in Sweden. It’s easy to make; you just catch some herring and then put it in a barrel. It ferments for six months. Or nine months if you’re totally nuts.”

Me: “Can you send me some?”

Friend: “Sure. I can get 1kg for about 300 krona, but I don’t have Paypal. You’ll need to send me cash in the post.”

Me: “I’ll do it tomorrow.”

Friend: “I hope this isn’t part of some prank? Also, we normally eat it with a bread called tunnbröd. I’ll send you that, too.”

I convert pound sterling to SEK300. I put it in an envelope and send it to Sweden. Two weeks later, a package arrives. It only has the tunnbröd. The surströmming is missing from the package.

Me: “Hey, I didn’t get any fish.”

Friend: “You mean it didn’t arrive?”

Me: “No… it arrived, but there’s no surströmming.”

Friend: “Oh, crap. I know what’s happened.”

After a quick check on Google, I learn that couriers really do NOT like rotten fish. I phone the courier to ask them about it. They put me through to the freight airline they used. The employee is clearly Swedish and understands what happened.

Me: “I was expecting a package of surströmming, but it seems to have been removed from the package.”

Employee: “How was it packaged?”

Me: “In a tin, in a cardboard box.”

Employee: “Tinned surströmming… You know the way it’s already rotten when it is made?”

Me: “Yes?”

Employee: “That’s an ongoing process. It continues to ferment in the tin and it makes more gas.”

Me: “In a sealed container?”

Employee: “In a sealed container, in a confined space, with low air pressure, and many other goods. We have no way of knowing when that tin will go pop.”

Me: “…and send rotten fish everywhere?” 

Employee: “Exactly. In the interests of air safety, we X-ray everything and remove surströmming tins. Sorry about your fish; you won’t get it back.”

Me: “Thanks for the thorough explanation. They really should think about the packaging.”

My Swedish friend and I split our small loss and went on our way. I have yet to taste surströmming, but I am organising another batch of it. I’ll try surface shipping.

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