SHARE
COPY LINK

RACISM

OPINION: The countryside has the best possibilities for creating a new life in Sweden

Life in rural Sweden may have its drawbacks, but the countryside is more welcoming towards immigrants than many people think, writes Ariz Kader in this opinion piece.

OPINION: The countryside has the best possibilities for creating a new life in Sweden
Life in the Swedish countryside is starkly different to life in the city, writes Ariz Kader. Photo: Private

On July 27th, I wrote a short Twitter thread documenting my experiences as an immigrant to Sweden. The thread contrasted my experiences growing up in an immigrant-heavy suburb of Stockholm with my current life in the Swedish countryside and included my thoughts on what this could mean for integration into either community. As the thread seemed to gain a lot of traction online and was widely discussed, the staff at The Local have been kind enough to ask me to write a version of the thread for their publication. Some of the text has been altered for clarity’s sake.

I lived in Stockholm for about 14 years in my childhood and teenage years, and in retrospect, I can’t think of a more segregated experience. Echoing a lot of my friends of the same generation (first generation of immigrants) – to a certain extent – it feels as if the generation that were born here in the suburbs speak Swedish less fluently than we did. To me, this seems natural as it reflects the concentration of non-native speakers creating their own dialect, rather than learning established ones from native speakers.

Schools in these areas also suffered growing up. Many teachers preferred not to be assigned there and kids from troubled backgrounds made teaching difficult for everyone. This was the case in my school as well.

In Sweden, there is a pedagogical culture of parent involvement in teaching with parents being involved heavily in school meetings, collaborating with teachers, and actively participating in other activities. With few Swedes around, teachers who worked in our schools later told me that immigrant parents simply didn’t pick up these cultural habits.

Shops in these areas also reflected both the kinds of communities that exist with immigrant food shops, cafes, and clothing shops mirroring the diverse background of residents, but you typically also got fewer general stores because those businesses didn’t think it was worth the investment to set up shop. This resulted in immigrant suburbs with a good variety of ethnic foods and clothes, but generally not much else, and so limiting the ability of people to have access to jobs locally.

All in all, these areas have a pretty heavy “us vs them” mentality, with immigrants believing the state isn’t doing enough to promote good services and investment, while businesses and services refuse to invest because of a real or perceived unsafe environment.

As a kid growing up there, there was an extreme sense of hopelessness. Society was perceived as being against immigrants in general. My first clear memory/experience of speaking to a Swede my age from a non-immigrant background is from when I was 12.

The stark cultural differences between Swedish families and immigrant families also created huge hurdles for understanding and feeling welcome. In my family, if we had unexpected guests, we would simply cook more food. In many Swedish families, though of course not all, you were expected to go home to eat or even stay in your friend’s room while the family had dinner.

Many Swedish cities are heavily segregated. Photo: Bertil Ericson/TT

Moving back to Sweden after spending a decade abroad, I settled down in the countryside, and it genuinely felt like I had moved to another country entirely to the one I remember from my childhood years. When we moved in, every single neighbour came to welcome us. We were invited to dinner at everyone’s house.

I get questions and comments about my background that may be perceived as a bit naive or even offensive without context, but when you get to know my neighbours, you understand it comes from a genuine desire to know more about where I come from; it’s never a wish to offend.

In the city, I often feel prejudices seem to be held to oneself with the effect being obvious segregation with people in affluent suburbs being “anti-racist” while never setting foot in an immigrant-heavy area. In the country, prejudices are there, but are open to change with a conversation.

‘In northern Sweden we lock our door to shut out the friendly people’

There are drawbacks, of course. There is little to no access to my traditional foods, nor is there a community of immigrants that might speak my language. My kids will also have a harder time learning my language despite my effort to teach them. But since we live in this country, and since it is their home, I consider that a small price to pay for them growing up as an equal and appreciated part of their community, and not some outsider who will never truly fit in.

This probably boils down to the larger question of what becoming a part of a new country really means. How much do we keep of where we came from if we want to successfully live where we have decided to settle down?

But, in case you really do want to live and be part of the place you decide to call home, I honestly believe the countryside has the best possibilities for creating that new life, and not turning you into a third, fourth, or even fifth generation “immigrant”.

Ariz Kader is a research assistant at Uppsala University’s Peace and Conflict Research Institute. Follow him on Twitter HERE.

Ariz Kader. Photo: Private

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

OPINION & ANALYSIS

‘Chemical crayfish’: Why does the Swedish media love killjoy festive news?

It's time for this year's "kräftskivor", Swedish crayfish-eating parties! A cause for celebration? Not if the Swedish media has its way.

'Chemical crayfish': Why does the Swedish media love killjoy festive news?

Sweden’s main newswire this week ran a story warning that an analysis of the eight brands of Swedish crayfish available in the country’s supermarkets contained elevated levels of PFAS, a persistent pollutant which can damage your liver and kidneys, disrupt your hormones, and even cause cancer. 

But don’t worry. If you weigh 70kg or more, you can still safely eat as many as six of the outsized prawn-like crustaceans a week without being in the risk zone. 

While I’m sure the news story, which was covered by pretty much every paper, is accurate, it is also part of a grand Swedish media tradition: running miserable, killjoy news stories whenever there’s a sign that people might be planning to have a bit of festive fun. 

The two public service broadcasters, Swedish Radio (SR) and Swedish Television (SVT) are by far the worst offenders, their reporters unusually skilled at finding a downbeat, depressing angle for every public celebration. 

To give readers a sense of the genre, we’ve spent half an hour or so searching through the archives. 

‘This is how dangerous your Christmas tree is’ (and other yuletide cheer)

Source: Screenshot/SR

Christmas is a time for good food, drinking a little too much, and cheery decorations to ward away the winter darkness. But have you considered the risks?

SR has.

In “This is how dangerous your Christmas tree is”, a local reporter in Kronoberg looked into the possibility that your tree might have been sprayed with pesticide, or if not, might be covered in pests you will then bring into your house. 

By far the most common recurring Christmas story reflects Sweden’s guilt-loaded relationship with alcohol. 

You might enjoy a few drinks at Christmas, but what about the trauma you are inflicting on your children?

In this typically festive report from SVT in Uppsala, a doctor asks, ‘why wait for the New Year to give up alcohol? Why not start before Christmas?’, while the reporter notes that according to the children’s rights charity BRIS, one in five children in Sweden has a parent with an alcohol problem, with many finding drunk adults both “alarming and unpleasant”. 

God Jul! 

The Swedish media finds ways to make you feel guilty about the food you eat at Christmas too. You might enjoy a slap-up Christmas dinner, but what about those who suffer from an eating disorder? SVT asked in this important, but less than cheery, story published in the run-up to the big day. “This is the worst time of the year,” Johanna Ahlsten, who suffered from an eating disorder for ten years, told the reporter. 

Don’t you just love a cosy Christmas fire? Well, perhaps you shouldn’t. A seasonal favourite in Sweden’s media is to run warnings from the local fire services on the risk of Christmas house fires. Here’s some advice from SVT in Blekinge on how to avoid burning your house down. 
 
Those Christmas lights. So mysigt. But have you ever added up how much those decorations might be adding to your electricity bill? SVT has. Read about it all here
 
Finally, isn’t it wonderful that people in Sweden get the chance to go and visit their relatives and loved ones over Christmas.
 
Well, it’s wonderful if you’re a burglar! Here’s SVT Jämtland on the risk of house break-ins over the Christmas period. 
 
Eat cheese to protect your teeth! and other Easter advice 
 
 
“Eat cheese after soda”. Good advice from Swedish Radio. Photo: Screenshot/Richard Orange
 
For the Swedish media, Easter is a fantastic opportunity to roll out all the same stories about the risks of open fires and alcohol abuse, and that they do. But the Easter celebration has an additional thing to be worried about: excess consumption of chocolate and sweets. 
 
Here’s Swedish Radio, with a helpful piece of advice to protect your teeth from all that sugary ‘påskmust’, Sweden’s Easter soft drink. “Eat cheese!”. 
 
Yes, you and your children might enjoy eating all those pick-and-mix sweets packed into a decorated cardboard egg, but have you thought who else has had their grubby hands on them? SVT has. In this less than joyous Easter article  a reporter gives viewers the lowdown on “how hygienic are pick-and-mix sweets?” (According to the doctor they interview, sugar acts as an antibacterial agent, so they are in fact less dangerous than the newsroom probably hoped). 
 
Perhaps though, it’s better to avoid those unhealthy sweets altogether, and instead cram your mouth with healthy raw food alternatives, as SVT advises in this Easter report
 
Aren’t daffodils lovely? Well they’re not if you’re a dog. They’re deadly, according to this Easter report from Swedish Radio on all the “dangers lurking for pets over Easter“.
 
Glad Påsk!
 
Midsommar drowning  
 
Midsommar, again, has all the same possibilities for worried articles about excess drinking etc, but in the summer there’s the added risk of drowning. 
 
From Midsummer until the start of August, the temp reporters who take over Sweden’s newsrooms as everyone else goes on their summer holidays churn out a steady stream of drowning stories, all of them with a slightly censorious tone. After all, most of these accidents are really about excess drinking.
 
Here’s SVT Västmanland tallying up the Midsummer weekend’s death toll in a typical story of Midsommar misery. 
 
So, what is the reason for the Swedish media’s taste for removing as much mirth from festivities as possible?
 
It’s partly because Sweden’s media, unlike that of many other countries, sees its public information role as at least as important as entertaining or interesting readers, so an editor is likely to choose a potentially useful story over a heart-warming one. 
 
This is the aspect of the Swedish media beautifully captured by the singer Lou Reed when talking about how he’s more scared in Sweden than in New York in the film Blue in the Face
 
“You turn on the TV, there’s an ear operation. These things scare me. New York, no.” 
 
But it is also reflects the puritanical streak that runs straight through Swedish society, leading to a powerful temperance movement, which meant that by 1908, a staggering 85 percent of Socialist parliamentarians in Sweden were teetotallers.
Sweden is now a liberal country where you can get good food and drink, and enjoy a decent nightlife, but sometimes that old puritanism bubbles up.
SHOW COMMENTS