Do Swedes have no heart?

Working recently in India, one question I received was ‘why don’t Swedes greet us with heart?’ This was referring to when Indians visit colleagues in Sweden, or when they start working together in new constellations.

It is an interesting perception, and maybe not a new one. The experience of Swedes as cold, unfriendly and disengaged seems common, and genuinely baffles a lot of non-Swedish people.

Firstly, I would like to say that in general this is not true. It is just a perception. Many of the Swedes I know are kind, generous and affectionate. However, I do have a few theories as to why this perception prevails.

Expressiveness – how much it is appropriate to express emotion is something that we are trained in from childhood. Some cultures train their children to use their entire bodies when they communicate, others train their children to be more reserved. Generally Swedes are trained to be emotionally inexpressive. What they mean is clearly in their words, and not so much their bodies or faces. And this can lead more physically expressive cultures to presume they are cold. So it is important to understand that lack of expression should not be confused with lack of feeling.

Importance of relationships. Swedes do have many close friendships and family ties. However, this doesn’t necessarily extend to neighbors or colleagues. While in other cultures, strong close relationships with colleagues are essential for getting the job done, in Sweden isn’t the case. Relationships help, but they are not essential for carrying out the task. This means Swedes can go to work and be friendly towards each other, but don’t necessarily need to make friends or show a great deal if interest in each others private lives. This can be frustrating for people who come from strongly relationship-oriented cultures.

Independence. Swedish culture is amongst the most individualistic cultures in the world. In Swedish society, this manifests itself in the attitude that every able-bodied person can take care of themselves. This means that the Swedish attitude is generally if you want help you will ask for it. And you usually get it. The fact that help is rarely offered was a hard lesson for me to learn when moving to ‘unhelpful’ Sweden.

The peach and the coconut. Some cultures are like peaches – soft on the outside, easy to get into, open in communication, overtly friendly. Other cultures are like coconuts – hard shelled, difficult to get into and less open to people outside the group. Typically, but not exclusively, Swedish culture is ‘coconutty’ and Indian is peachy. This can mean it’s a challenge for people from peachy cultures to break into Swedish society and easy for them to form the perception that Swedes are cold and unwelcoming. My experience tells me, however, that once you break through the shell, the friendships that you make are very close and lasting. It is easy to assume when you meet a Swede that he or she is shy or introvert. This might be the case, but not necessarily. He or she might just be a coconut.

The dark side of Sweden

Sweden is my spiritual country.

Moving here has shaped me into the person I am today. When I moved here, I fell in love immediately with this modern country in the north. I was impressed by Sweden’s strong belief in equality, democracy, human rights, acceptance and tolerance – and it moulded me. Like Sweden, I believe in an open society where everybody is of equal value and has the right to live how they want. I believe in humanity where people respect each other. I believe in a social contract where we take care of the weaker members of society when they need it, and they take care of me if I need it. For me, this is Sweden. This is what it means to be Swedish. Swedes should be so proud of this legacy.

But is this Sweden still there? 20 years ago, it clearly was. But today? Is this Sweden just a Utopia? Just a distant memory of something good? Is my open Sweden actually shutting down?

Cold winds are sweeping over Europe yet again. Sweden is no exception. The Sweden Democrats – a right wing conservative nationalistic party, dressed in sharp suits, is spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt in the minds of Sweden’s citizens. And they are gaining ground. Approximately 20% of the population now support them.

These 20% are willing to vote for a party that is openly xenophobic and clearly sexist. Members of this party have, in recent memory, stated that gays are animals, that Jews are not Swedes, that women should have their abortion rights restricted. I don’t understand why they think this is ok.

These 20% are willing to vote for a party that have a shaky understanding of Economics, whose budget lacks 30 billion Swedish crowns to cover all of their election promises and who have no policy for the environment – as it’s ‘not that important’. I don’t understand why they think this is an acceptable future for the country.

These 20% buy into the idea that this party is anti-establishment. The ‘gang of four’ men who run the party are former university students who earn salaries in the millions and furnish their homes with designer furniture. They may come from humble backgrounds, as do many Swedes, but today they are elites. I don’t understand why their supporters don’t see this.

These 20% are willing to vote for a party they do not know much about. Nobody knows what their actions will be. Many of their voters are dissatisfied with the current state of Sweden, and they want a change. This may well be justified. However, they are willing to throw everything out, and place their bets on a dark horse. They clearly don’t feel threatened. But they probably should.

Have these 20% always been there? Was the Sweden I moved to just a lie? Was the openness and tolerance just bullshit? Was it just a neat and well-orchestrated fantasy that in fact had fear of foreigners, sexism and homophobia lurking just beneath the surface? Lurking and waiting and ready to leap out. That is a frightening thought.

I don’t believe these 20% are all racists, I really don’t. But they are willing to allow nationalists to take power in Sweden. I don’t believe they’re all stupid. But they are willing to disregard glaring faults in SD’s policies. I do believe many are disenchanted. And they are willing to gamble the safety of their country and fellow citizens just to prove a point. They are willing to literally throw many people to the sharks.

After this article, I expect to be trolled. I often am. These trolls will abuse me, they will tell me to go home yet again and they will say I am a bleeding-heart liberal.

And they are so wrong.

I am already home. Sweden is my home. And my heart is not bleeding, it is breaking.

Please do not vote SD in the coming election.

Amazing immigrants in Sweden: Part 7 Mustafa Can 


Negativity. Fear. Concern. These are some of the reactions many Swedes are experiencing about the influx of immigrants to Sweden in the last couple of years. So, I became curious to learn about some of those individuals who came here as refugees or immigrants to make a better life for themselves. People with roots somewhere else who built a home here and who contributed to Swedish society in a positive way.
For the next seven days, I will celebrate these people. My hope is that we can lift our eyes from the challenges of immigration and understand what useful contributions these people can make to society if given the chance. To our society. Our Sweden

 

Part 5: Mustafa Can 

In Sweden, every summer there is a radio series called ‘Radio Talkers’ where various people get a chance to tell their stories and play music. It was in this program some years ago that I first heard of Mustafa Can. His program was very moving and focused around his mother. It was so moving that he won many radio and media prizes as a result.

Mustafa Can works as a prize-winning author, independent journalist and public speaker. His recent work focuses mostly on cultural diversity, identity and xenophobia in Sweden. He provides a controversial voice to the Swedish integration debate.

Mustafa has lived in Sweden for over 40 years. Orginally from Northern Kurdistan in Turkey, he fled with his family when he was 6 years old. He is a great example of someone who arrived in Sweden as a child, became well integrated and uses his position and his voice to try to make Swedish society a better place for everybody.

Amazing immigrants in Sweden: Part 5 Meraf Bahta Ogbagaber 


Negativity. Fear. Concern. These are some of the reactions many Swedes are experiencing about the influx of immigrants to Sweden in the last couple of years. So, I became curious to learn about some of those individuals who came here as refugees or immigrants to make a better life for themselves. People with roots somewhere else who built a home here and who contributed to Swedish society in a positive way.

For the next seven days, I will celebrate these people. My hope is that we can lift our eyes from the challenges of immigration and understand what useful contributions these people can make to society if given the chance. To our society. Our Sweden

 
Part 5: Meraf Bahta Ogbagaber 
Meraf Bahta was born in Dekishahay in Eritrea, a country with heavily criticized human rights. In 2008, at the age of 19, she escaped this one-party military state. In Eritrea, she had been conscripted to do a 5-year long military service, or punishment by imprisonment. Both her parents were imprisoned and her mother had died behind bars. So Meraf fled and found a safe haven in Sweden. In Eritrea, she is considered a deserter and her return there would mean instant death. 

As a middle distance runner, she has participated in many international competitions. Her personal best times are 4:05.11 minutes in the 1500 metres and 14:59.49 minutes in the 5000 metres – which is the Swedish national record. She is also the European champion (2014) in 5000 metres. 

Since 2014 she is a Swedish citizen and eligible to represent Sweden in international events. She did so at the recent Olympics in Rio and World Championships in London. 

Meraf has found security in Sweden and is able to pursue her athletics career without threat or military interference. Watching her on the track, it’s easy to see that she wears her yellow and blue colours with pride. 

Amazing immigrants in Sweden: Part 4 Madubuko A. Robinson Diakité

madubuko

Negativity. Fear. Concern. These are some of the reactions many Swedes are experiencing about the influx of immigrants to Sweden in the last couple of years. So, I became curious to learn about some of those individuals who came here as refugees or immigrants to make a better life for themselves. People with roots somewhere else who built a home here and who contributed to Swedish society in a positive way.

For the next seven days, I will celebrate these people. My hope is that we can lift our eyes from the challenges of immigration and understand what useful contributions these people can make to society if given the chance. To our society. Our Sweden

 

Part 4: Madubuko A. Robinson Diakité

Many people in Sweden know who Swedish rapper Timbuktu is. His many hits and TV appearances have made him a household name. However, very few know about his father – a human rights lawyer, writer and documentary filmmaker – who emigrated to Sweden in the 1960’s. – Madubuko A Robinson Diakite.

Madubuko was born in Harlem, USA and moved as a teenager to Africa after his mother married a Nigerian journalist. Inspired by his step father to work with social injustice, he returned to the USA in the 60’s and earned a degree in law. In 1968, he moved to Sweden to study film-making and continued on with a Ph.D. In 1992, he earned a Law degree at Lund University. Currently, he researches in human rights at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Lund and is active in anti-discrimination organisations in Sweden.

He has published articles on film and human rights law for several international publications, and has headed several projects on the rights of people of African descent.  he also wrote the book Not Even in Your Dreams, a semi-autobiographical work studying child abuse in Africa.

Madubuko Diakite came to Sweden as a student and has become a strong voice in the academic and human rights communities. With his own experiences and competence, he has worked to make Swedish society a more open place.

His conviction passes on through the lives he has helped and through the popular music of his successful son.

 

How I have been Swedified 


After my last blog about Swedish geography, somebody commented that it is hysterical that there is a place in Sweden called Norrbotten. 
This got me thinking. 

When first moving to Sweden and learning the language, I saw all sorts of funny words which made me giggle. Now, some two decades later, I don’t even see those funny words any more – I have been Swedified. 

  • ‘Plopp’ to me is a chocolate bar, and nothing else
  • ‘Puss’ is a kiss and not a little kitty or a body part
  • ‘Kiss’ isn’t a romantic exchange between consenting people. Kiss is urine
  • ‘Slut’ is simply the end of something
  • ‘Avfart’ on a motorway is just the exit 
  • ‘Rea’ is a sale and not an old British singer 
  • ‘Kök’ and ‘kock’ are the kitchen and the chef, not a body part
  • I don’t even see the squidginess of the ‘slutspurt’ any more. All I see is that it’s the end of the sale. 
  • I don’t titter any more when someone says ‘shit’ to describe the putty around the window or the number six is the same as ‘sex’. 
  • ‘Prick’ is a dot and not an insult 

It is with a smidgen of regret that I guess I have been integrated – at least linguistically!