It’ll be ok, because you’re not Swedish

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At the weekend I moved apartments. To help me, I employed the services of a moving company. On the day of moving, the three moving guys showed up and one of them, older and grayer, was obviously in charge. Immediately, I noticed that they were talking a foreign language to each other but I didn’t understand it, so I asked the leader where they were from.

‘I’m from Kazakstan and they’re from Azerbaijan but we speak Russian to each other. The Soviets didn’t leave us with much, but they did give us the Russian language’ he said.

Then he asked me where I was from. ‘The UK’ I said.

‘Ah’. he said ‘I thought so! When I spoke to you on the phone last week I thought you weren’t Swedish. And I said to myself this’ll be ok, ‘cos he’s also an immigrant.

This struck a chord with me. His expectation was that everything would be ok because I’m not Swedish. What kind of experiences has he had with Swedish customers that means he has formed this perception? I have heard this before from people of minority groups in Sweden. For example, a shop owner I know who negotiated his rent with the chairman of the Residents’ Board and afterwards said to me ‘Bloody Swede treated me like a damn immigrant!’ Other examples I’ve often heard are from people who accuse Swedes of being ‘arrogant’ and that people who feel ‘disrespected’ and ‘patronised’ by ethnic Swedes.

It makes me wonder if integration is even possible once negative perceptions form and, once formed, how easy are they to change? Cultural perceptions form partly from pre-conceived ideas but also from how we behave towards each other and the cultural interpretation of that behaviour. It is often this interpretation rather than intention that impacts the perception.

Imagine if we were to behave differently, and just see the individual infront of us, not the ‘category’ they belong to. See them and respect them. This would almost certainly lead to the forming of different perceptions and, maybe I’m being an idealist, but I think it would result in a better integration in Sweden.

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