Is Sweden functional but unfriendly?

Sweden is used to being at the top of most indexes relating to quality of life, equality, life experience. But not always, as the latest results from the Expat Insider 2017 survey might suggest. The survey looks at masses of elements related to the expat and relocation situation and views the world through expat eyes. The research surveys 65 countries and, in fairness, Sweden has improved from position 42 to 20 overall since 2016. Sweden scores well in travel and transport, safety and security, health and well-being.

So where does Sweden do badly? One of the elements that the survey looks at is ‘ease of settling in’. Here, Sweden doesn’t fare so well. For ‘feeling welcome’ Sweden ranks 51 out of 65 countries, for ‘friendliness’ 56, ‘language’ 15 and, wait for it, for ‘finding friends’ Sweden places 65! Last place. Interestingly Norway and Denmark are 63 and 64 respectively.

What could this tell us about Sweden? Or at least the expat’s experience of the country? Is Sweden seen as a healthy, systematic, safe but cold place? A functioning but unfriendly society?

I have to say that it is not my experience. I have found Swedes to be open and welcoming and I have a lot of great Swedish friends. Friends for life. So why does this survey suggest otherwise? What makes my experience so different from the people in this research? Does it depend on who you meet? Or on how open you are yourself? Is it different if you are single or in a couple? Are the big cities different from the smaller towns? I have no answer, but it is interesting to reflect over.

If you want to read the whole report, here it is:

https://cms-internationsgmbh.netdna-ssl.com/cdn/file/2017-09/Expat_Insider_2017_The_InterNations_Survey.pdf

Swedish malice on the underground

Travelling on the underground, I overhead a Swedish conversation between two people – one of them a spiteful 30-something woman. I say spiteful because she spent the entire journey demeaning and mocking their colleagues. It’s not often I hear such blatant malice so I became curious and listened carefully. Apparently, everyone in the office was a loser, annoying, boring and/or stupid. Nice person, I thought. However, one thing in particular triggered my curiosity.

As she spewed bile, she referred scornfully to one of their colleagues as ‘ you know Annika, she’s short, dumpy and wears office dresses’

What the hell is an ‘office dress’?!

I don’t care too much for that woman on the underground. But I do care about knowing what an ‘office dress’ is and why it’s degrading!

Can anybody can enlighten me, please do!

When Swedish men trivialise the problem

Metoo

Sweden is the country that brands itself on gender equality. So good is the Swedish PR  machine that people outside of Sweden believe it and even the Swedes have bought into themselves. It’s hardly astounding then that when the global #MeToo movement accelerated in Sweden, it exploded in society like a molotov cocktail. In all walks of life, in all professions, Swedish women are coming out with testimonies of physical abuse, mental terror, sexual misconduct, rape, harassment, assault, abuse of power – at the hands of men. And it is sending shock waves through the whole of the country.

Today, a piece of research carried out on behalf of Sweden’s largest news channel was released. Over a thousand people were asked questions in relation to the #MeToo phenomena. In answer to the question, ‘I feel that it is over-exaggerated’, 45% of the men answered ‘yes’. In other words, almost half of Swedish men (in this survey) think that the #MeToo movement is exaggerated!

What is this about? Why are there so many men who think that just because they haven’t experienced the problem, the problem doesn’t exist. Is it self preservation? Arrogance?  Have they bought in to the Swedish illusion of gender equality? Whatever it is, it would seem that these men lack the ability to empathise with any other perspective on life than their own. They cannot see the situation from another perspective – or relate to the female experience and point of view.

I think it’s a case of minimisation. In psychology, and in cultural awareness training, this is a term that we use to describe people’s behaviour when full denial isn’t an option. In the case of #MeToo, I would guess these men do not deny it. But they do question its legitimacy and frequency. Classic minimisation.

Minimisation can be defined as the downplaying of the significance of an event or emotion. It is a common strategy in dealing with feelings of guilt. Minimisation manifests itself in all sorts of ways, such as saying that a hurtful comment was only a joke or reducing somebody’s feelings by saying ‘it’s no big deal’ or ‘what’s the problem?’.

In this case, minimisation is happening on a society level. It is suggesting that there are just a few bad apples or rogues in an organization when in reality problems are widespread and systemic throughout society. Minimisation in this form is a conscious or subconscious tactic used to manipulate others, and ourselves. Perhaps for the subconscious guilt we men feel for being a part of the system.

Trivialising the experiences of the women is distasteful. I get it that it is scary when people are angry and when information that has been hidden for a long time starts to surface. But playing it down will only undermine the validity of the movement. And this movement needs to last.

A societal change is essential. And we men have an important role in it. We should stop suggesting that the #MeToo movement is over-exaggerated, or that women are using it as revenge, or it is a witch hunt against men. Instead, we should listen to the testimonies. We should be shocked by them. We should not accept it. And we should work to change attitudes towards women in Sweden.

Swedish men – get it together!

If equality is something you are proud of in Sweden – then start by believing what you hear. And be an example to men all over the world – ‘In Sweden, we don’t stand for this. In Sweden, we listen. In Sweden we will change.’

HIV in Sweden – testing and treatment is the best prevention

I belong to the so-called ‘AIDS generation’. When I was young, the AIDS epidemic broke out. Horrific images of ‘AIDS victims’ were broadcast on the tv. The words ‘plague’ and ‘terminal cancer’ were used frequently in the media. People were dying rapidly and horribly and without dignity. Sex was seen as dangerous. And HIV was a dishonour and a death sentence. In that context, it’s a wonder we ever had sex at all.

30 years later, and the the latest figures from 2016 are staggering. An estimated 36.7 million people in the world are living with HIV today. 30% of them don’t know their status. 1.8 million of them are children. Since the start of the epidemic, an estimated 78 million people have become infected with HIV and 35 million people have died of AIDS-related illnesses. In 2016, 1 million people died of AIDS-related illnesses.

These figures are baffling. Today, 1 December is World AIDS Day – a day we raise awareness, pay tribute to and remember all those people who have perished and who are living with HIV. They might be friends, family or strangers in distance lands. Today, we commemorate them.

In Sweden, the number of people in Sweden with HIV increases every year by 400-500 people. But the picture is brighter than it was 30 years ago. Today, there is treatment – treatment so effective that it can reduce virus levels to practically zero and minimise the risk of transmission.

Despite this, there is still a lot of ignorance and discrimination related to HIV. It might not be fatal in Sweden but it still is a chronic illness. Identified early, effective treatment means that patients can live full and healthy lives.

There is no vaccine or cure for HIV. There is however effective medicine today that stops the progression of the disease and prevents the destruction of the immune system if administered in time, thus also preventing the development of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).

Most people in Sweden who get HIV today do not develop AIDS. Of course, this is a different scenario in many other places around the world where treatment and finances are lacking.

Getting HIV does not mean you are a drug addict or promiscuous. It is time to stop the shaming and discrimination. Anybody sexually active can get HIV.

A test is the only way to find out if you have HIV – available in Sweden at health care centres. Legally these can be taken anonymously.

To find out more about HIV in Sweden go to http://www.hividag.se

Www.avert.org provides more information about HIV on a global scale

This evening in Maria Magdalena church on Hornsgatan in Stockholm there is an AIDS memorial organised by HIV Sverige. 18.00.

Remember testing and treatment is the best prevention!

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