It’s not what you might think – nothing icky. Not connected to anything found by policemen behind the locked door of a cellar in a deserted house. Nor anything invented by prepubescent pop stars intent on conquering the perfume market. Nor it is related to the bedrooms of teenage boys, nor to sports shoes, nor to Handkäse (an aroma that some people find strikingly similar to that of sports shoes).

The scariest smell in the world is that of Swedish meatballs – and I don’t say that because (or at least, not solely because) my ex-husband is a Swede.

If you put your nose in the air, inhale and detect a waft of Swedish köttbullar, you might at first be swept away by the spicy scent of onion-laden beef and rich creamy gravy. Ah, little one-inch balls of heaven in your immediate vicinity! The problem lies not with the heavenly balls themselves; it lies in the word ‘vicinity’.

Because if you’re within slurping distance of real authentic Swedish meatballs, then you’re either in Sweden – in this, the darkest coldest month of the year, surrounded by rosy-cheeked locals who will encourage you to drink so much schnapps that you go blind while singing really embarrassing drinking songs – or you’re at IKEA.

And if you’re lucky enough not to be in Sweden, and you find yourself outside IKEA instead, you might think you’ve got off lightly. You’ll just flit in, buy that magnetic knife rack you’ve always wanted (even though you know they’re bad for your knives) and leave quickly without ever admitting you’ve been here. (Trips to IKEA are like bodily functions: we all do them, but no one wants to talk about them.)

‘Flitting in’ and ‘leaving quickly’ is, of course, is so optimistic it’s laughable. For after you enter you won’t be seen again for many, many hours. If ever.

IKEA is the Swedish version of Dante’s nine circles of hell. You’re forced ever deeper into a maze of highly coloured children’s bunkbeds, yellow-and-blue shower curtains, and TV cabinets that appear to be made of solid oak until you brush lightly against one and see it skid ten metres across the floor.

Now and then the Grundtal Knife Rack glimmers enticingly – but as soon as you round the corner you’re back in Bathroom Appliances. There’ll be no meatballs for you! At least, not until you’ve toiled through the Great Forest: thousands of Billy Shelves, blocking the path to every exit.

By the time you stumble to the end, you’ve forgotten the sole purpose of your visit: to buy a magnetic strip you’d never get round to putting up. Somehow you’ve ended up pushing the world’s biggest trolley, loaded with vast uninformative flatpacks. (You don’t even know what’s in them, but the cashier is between you and Freedom, so you reach for your credit card.)

Outside you sniff the air. What’s that smell? Should I go back in? At this point Swedes would smile and say Smaklig måltid! The English would say Enjoy your meal, and the Swiss and Germans would wish you Guten Appetit! But I’ve already told you what that smell is: it’s the scariest smell in world. Run away, now.