5 things that are wrong with Sweden

When you’ve lived in a foreign country as long as I have, you become blind to the differences that were so obvious when you first moved here. That’s a natural development I guess. Call it emersion, or integration, or adaptation, or assimilation. Or in my case, Swedification.

However, there are still some differences in Sweden that I notice on a regular basis. Things so deeply ingrained in me from my cultural background that they still feel wrong in Sweden. Here are my top 5:

1) Front doors open the wrong way. Doors open outwards, instead of inwards. That means if you are visiting someone, ring their doorbell and stand on the landing, there is a big risk that you get smacked in the face as they open the door outwards, towards you. It’s just wrong!

2) Plumbing is often on the outside of the walls. Especially in bathrooms, and around radiators, ugly pipes are not hidden behind the plaster in the wall. They run up and down and side to side along the outside of the wall, visible to everybody. So ugly, and just wrong!

3) Driving. Swedes drive on the right side of the road. It’s just wrong.

4) The ‘tunnelbana’. On the underground (tunnelbana) in Stockholm, most people don’t wait for passengers to get off the train before trying to get on. As soon as the doors open, people pile in. At the same time people are trying to get out. The resulting caffuffle in the door opening is so unnecessary and just wrong!

5) Celebrating the Eves, instead of the Days. I’ll never get used to it. Especially at Christmas. Santa coming in the afternoon on Christmas Eve instead of the night between the Eve and the Day, is just wrong!

I know what you’re thinking. How unimportant all of this is.

And you’re not wrong.

I’m happy to live in a place where the only things that seem off to me are so minor. When it comes to values, structures, systems, behaviours, lifestyle and attitudes so much about Sweden is, for me, just right.

Non-binary Swedish and English

For a while now the non-binary pronoun ‘hen’ has been used in the Swedish language. ‘Hen’ is used to refer to somebody who does not relate or feel represented by the established pronouns for he (han) and she (hon). Initially met with ridicule by some people in Sweden, the ‘hen’ pronoun is slowly starting to gain in usage amongst Swedes and in ordinary vernacular.

I have long assumed that non-binary pronouns do not exist in English apart from the neutralizing use of ‘they’. Imagine my surprise when I read an article today in the Huffington Post which proved me wrong. The article talked about the queering of language. The guide to English non-binary pronouns are presented in the table.

It’ll certainly take some getting used to to add new pronouns into the vocabulary. However, language is one of our greatest tools for celebrating diversity and increasing inclusiveness.

For that alone, I think it’s worth the effort.

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


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.


Amazing immigrants in Sweden: Part 1 Georg Klein


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.

First out is Georg Klein – Hungarian refugee and cancer researcher

Georg Klein was born 28 July 1925 in Budapest, Hungary. He died in Stockholm in December 2016. Born into a Jewish family, he survived the Haulocaust by escaping from a deportation train. In 1947, this time to escape the Soviet occupation, he arrived in Stockholm where he studied medicine at Karolinska Institute. Georg Klein arrived as a young refugee and became one of Sweden’s most important cancer researchers.

Together with his wife, Eva Klein, who also emigrated from Hungary, he built up an institute for tumor biology at Karolinska which became a world-leading research institute for over 4 decades. Georg and Eva Klein are responsible for a long row of discoveries within cancer research and lay the foundation for modern tumor immunotherapy. In addition to this, Georg Klein authored 10 books on a broad variety of subjects.

Arriving in Sweden with nothing, Georg and Eva had drive and ambition. They integrated into Swedish society, had three children and several grandchildren.

Their important contribution to cancer research has saved the lives of countless Swedes and other people all over the world.



Terror on the streets of Stockholm 

At 2.30pm yesterday, a masked man stole a delivery truck from outside of a restaurant. The delivery man tried to stop the thief by standing in front of his truck.  However, the thief pushed over the driver, picked up speed and proceeded to drive zig zag down Stockholm’s main pedestrian shopping street, ploughing into people as he went. The truck’s final destination was one of Sweden’s largest department stores, into which it smashed in a billowing cloud of smoke. 

Like everybody else I was really shaken up by this act of violence.  I, and my nearest and dearest, were all in safety and my phone rang and beeped frenetically as we contacted and reassured each other. 

Stories reached me about friends being locked into their offices or hiding out in shops and restaurants. The streets were awash with armed police, and the whole city was shut down within 20 minutes – trains, buses and the underground were all stopped and roads were cordoned off as residents and tourists were rapidly ushered out of the city center. 

In the midst of the chaos, Stockholmers reached out to each other in support. People opened their homes to provide sanctuary to each other, cafes provided food and beverages, social media was flooded with people offering to help and offering protection. In this emergency, love prevailed – which was moving and heart-warming. I myself was in a gym, and the doors were locked. The staff went straight to action providing us with support and offering food and drink and unscheduled training classes for those who wanted a distraction. 

The latest news at time of writing this blog is that 4 people and 1 dog were killed, and 15 seriously injured. The driver has been arrested.  Another person is in custody believed to have some connection to the driver. Border control has been tightened up and there are still disturbances in local traffic. 

Stockholm now joins the long line of cities such as London, Berlin, St Petersburg, Paris and Nice, who have suffered under terrorist attack. 

No matter who is responsible for this act of violence, be it an organisation or an individual, we must never give into them.  The nature of terrorism is to spread fear by using intentionally indiscriminate acts of violence. It’s its indiscriminate approach that makes it difficult to predict and we are often powerless to influence it. Therefore we should do what we do best – not bow down to it but stand up and keep going. It is by living our lives in our open, democratic societies that we win.

I sincerely hope that Stockholm does not become a fearful, suspicious, closed city. This place that I love is a target because of its freedom and that is a freedom we should protect by continuing to live our lives. 

Terror will never win. It is designed to exploit our human fear. It is the ultimate act of intimidation. We must not let it win. My heart goes out to the victims and their families. Yesterday, we showed love to each other. Let’s continue to do that. We do not need more hate. 

We must prevail. 

Swedish women fight back


In response to the hoards of ‘Vikings’ roaming Stockholm’s streets to protect their ‘women’ from ‘muslim rapists’, the women of Sweden have spoken up. In a social media campaign called ‘inteerkvinna’ – ‘not your woman’ – they are fighting back.

‘Den rasistiska lynchmobben som drog fram i Stockholm i fredags (29/1) och misshandlade barn och andra som inte är vita, påstår, likt andra rasistiska och fascistiska grupperingar, att de vill “skydda” vita/”svenska” kvinnor. De talar inte för mig. Deras “skydd” är i själva verket en önskan om att dominera, kontrollera, stänga in och äga kvinnor samtidigt som de försöker skrämma, misshandla och till och med utrota andra människor. De talar inte för mig. Internationell solidaritet är grunden för jämlikhet, rättvisa och fred. ‪#‎inteerkvinna‬

‘The racist lynch mob that rampaged through Stockholm on Friday attacking children and other non-white people, claim, like other racist and fascist groups, that they they want to protect white/Swedish women. They do not speak for me. Their ‘protection’ is in actual fact a desire to dominate, control, imprison and possess women. At the same time, they try to scare, abuse and exterminate other people. They do not speak for me. International solidarity is the basis of equality, justice and peace. I am Not Your Woman.


Segregation in Sweden – us and them

residential segregation

When I was in the UK a few weeks ago, somebody told me that he follows Swedish news and politics with interest. He talked about how he always held Sweden up to be a good example of a humane society and how it seemed like the Swedes had succeeded – especially when compared to the UK. But the rapid rise of the right, and the increasing racism in Swedish society concerned him, and the increasing segregation between people was a disappointment. He saw Sweden as a society based on equality, but it was proving to be otherwise.

A disappointment. That was the word he used. Sweden is a disappointment.

According to DN’s recent study presented today, segregation has been increasing in Sweden during the last 20 years. Rich areas get richer and more ‘Swedish’. And the less fortunate areas, often where ethnic minorities lives, get poorer.

On average, 46  percent of all immigrants in Stockholm have immigrants as their nearest 400 neighbours. This can be compared to 24 percent of Stockholmers with Swedish background who have immigrants as their nearest 400 neighbours. In other words, the so-called ‘segregration differential’ is 22 percent (46-22). In 1991, this differential was 14 percent in Stockholm, so the segregration in the capital city has almost doubled over this period.

In Sweden’s other two largest cities, Gothenburg and Malmö, the segregation differential has gone, in the same period of time, from 14 to 25 percent and 16 to 22 percent respectively.

The Southern town of Kristianstad can ‘boast’ the fastest change in segregation – since 1991, segregation has increased from 6 percent to 27 percent. ould it be a coincidence that Sweden’s right wing political party have a stronghold in this area of the country? I think not.

But is this necessarily a bad thing? Well, like everything, it depends on the perspective that you take. Looking at it negatively, with increased immigration, there is a real risk that society cannot keep up – accomodation isn’t built quickly enough, schools are not able to take in children, health systems do not have the capicity to process larger numbers. And with this lack of ability to handle increased pressure, society develops even more into a ‘haves’ and have nots’ and segregation increases.

But from a positive perspective, there are clear benefits for minority groups to live together with others who already have a  foot in Swedish society. Immigrants who are already integrated can help minimise a feeling of total isolation, can help with with work contacts, social issues, language and knowledge about Swedish culture.

This is obviously a complicated issue. And it’s an issue that’s not going away. Immigration is inevitable for a country like Sweden. Apart from the humanitarian perspective, Sweden needs new citizens to pay tax and support the social welfare systems.

It seems like the continuing challenge for Sweden isn’t immigration – it’s integration. And if we also are disappointed with the way politicians handle it, it’s up to us to act.