‘Vobba’ – a brand new Swedish complaint


Perspectives-taking is one of the most important skills required for working in an multicultural environment. Anybody who’s travelled abroad knows that a new perspective is often one of the main impressions we receive. This is especially true if we travel to countries that are culturally and economically different from ours. In the context of the other society, we gain perspective on our own.

Yesterday, I returned from a trip to Thailand and Cambodia and was left, as often, with a humbling feeling. Cambodia is a dirt poor country, as yet not destroyed by tourism. The countryside, the cities and the people, raped by their recent history, are warm and humane and welcome us with open arms. Homelessness is rife, unemployment and sikness prevail. There, they really have a lot to complain about, and I’m sure at times they probably do.

Transport to Sweden, Monday  morning, breakfast television. As I sat there this morning and watched the local news to catch up on latest happenings,  I learned a new Swedish word. And this Swedish word reminded me of the importance of having perspective – ‘Vobba’.

‘Vobba’ is a combination of two Swedish words – ‘Jobba’, which means to work and ‘Vabba’ which means to be at home with a sick child and therefore free from work. In Sweden, parents receive support from the government to ‘Vabba.’

This new word ‘Vobba’ refers to parents who are home with their sick child but, thanks to technology, they also do a little work while at home, such as check emails or speak on the phone.

According to the report on the news this morning, one third of parents who have to ‘vobba’ feel stressed, and invaded, by it and find it impossible to balance their home and work lives with their sick child. 

What a problem! Oh dear me! I really don’t know how they cope! Not only are they paid to be at home by the tax payer, and their child is probably asleep in bed, but it’s really hard work to check a few emails on a smart phone while they’re having a cup of coffee.

Really??? Get some perspective!  

In countries like Cambodia, where daily survival is a struggle, they would be shocked by this new Swedish stress factor.

So, I am asking all of us to get some perspective on this issue and on all those other issues and compaints that we have. In the greater scheme of things, how important are they?

Instead of focusing on what is stressful, invasive or unfair, let’s focus on the positive! Sweden is a great country where parents get to be home with their sick child and are not forced to take a day’s holiday or leave the child with an unknown baby-sitter or force the sick child to go to school. That is fantastic!

Let’s focus on that instead and remember most people around the world don’t have it anywhere near as good as we do.


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