Observing Sweden – Swedes Are Talking

 

Excerpt from: The Telegraph.

 By  Richare Orange        6:58PM GMT 16 Jan 2016

Suddenly, the Swedes are talking about their refugee problem.

The country’s media, politicians and police have stopped shying away from discussing sexual harassment by young refugees.

I first noticed them last summer: groups of boys in their late teens, looking wildly out of place with bad teeth and Bollywood hairstyles, causing a very un‑Swedish kerfuffle. There was a short delay on the bus as their minders tried to teach them how to use the Malmö transport card, the sound of laughter as they goofed around in the local museum – and lots of joshing in the queue for the ice rink.

“I had been warned that Sweden’s consensus culture means that public opinion can undergo sudden and dramatic shifts.”

Malmö, more than anywhere, is the place to observe the “so-called refugee youths, predominantly from Afghanistan” whom Stockholm police blamed for a campaign of sexual harassment at a festival last August. (That was in a hushed-up report that was leaked and which then dominated the news agenda last week.) In Sweden, “unaccompanied refugee children” are the responsibility of the first town they arrive in, so, as the first stop over the bridge from Denmark, Malmö has handled thousands of mainly Afghan boys.

I’d never want to diminish the trauma of those who have been sexually harassed; but having lived in India at a time when “Eve-teasing” – the public sexual harassment of women by groups of men – was still seen as a trifling affair, it comes as no surprise that letting young men like those loose at a festival jam-packed with drunken Swedish girls ended badly.

What does surprise me is the way Sweden’s media, politicians and police handled the furor. Instead of shying away from discussing ethnicity, it’s now the big story. A neighbor who works for the local paper says that a few months ago this kind of reporting would have been impossible.

I had been warned that Sweden’s consensus culture means that public opinion can undergo sudden and dramatic shifts. After the country’s about-turn on asylum in November, when Sweden announced a drastic tightening of its asylum and border regime, reimposing border controls, it looks like that shift is happening.

*          *          *

Everything in Sweden has a board, with a chairman, a secretary, minutes meticulously kept. It’s how the country is run. Last Tuesday, at the board meeting of the block in which I live, we were discussing renting out one of the flats. The owner, like many people in my part of town a bit of a Lefty, had been planning to let it to a family of paperless refugees from Iraq.

To the palpable relief of the board, she chickened out, deciding it would be too complicated, too risky, and was instead renting it out to a family of Swedes. “I really feel terrible. I feel like I’ve betrayed my ideals,” she said. “I mean if even we won’t rent out to refugees, who will?”

*          *          *

The best thing about living in a city where two in five people have a foreign background – apart from cheap garages and tasty falafel – is enjoying the small talk with strangers that Swedes see as unnecessary.

“So much in Sweden seems designed to prevent human contact: the little machines that mean you never have to take change from a shop assistant’s hand; the number slips that spare you having to jostle next to anyone in a queue.”

That has created a country where one in four people die in hospital without friends or relatives by their side, the film argues. It’s beautifully made, darkly comic and thoroughly depressing, and the film’s Italian-Swedish director Erik Gandini has been predictably vilified.

So much in Sweden seems designed to prevent human contact: the little machines that mean you never have to take change from a shop assistant’s hand; the number slips that spare you having to jostle next to anyone in a queue. Could the renowned welfare state be just another way of allowing people to be alone?

Gandini hopes cheery immigrants might be the antidote – that the tens of thousands of Syrians who streamed into the country last year might teach the Swedes more convivial ways. I hope he’s right.

My own opinion:

I have no idea how many Swedes die alone, but I doubt it’s one in four. Swedes have tighter family groups than anything I’ve witnessed in the States, and it seems no one stays out of touch for more than fifteen minutes on their cell phones – every Swede has one. As for getting change from machines, seems like a germ free, good idea to me, and a queue is a queue, with out without number slips. It’s true Swedes are less than chatty with people they don’t know, but they will happily respond if strangers start the conversation.

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About Bruce Louis Dodson

Bruce Louis Dodson is an American expat now living in Borlänge, Sweden with his wife, cat and dog. He is an artist and world traveler who writes fiction and poetry and practices photography in his less than copious free time. His work has appeared in: Barely South Review - Boundaries Issue, Blue Collar Review, Pulsar Poetry (UK), Foliate Oak, Breadline Press West Coast Anthology . The E-buffet, Qarrtsiluni, Struggle Magazine, Pearl Literary Magazine, Contemporary Literature Review: India, 3rd Wednesday, Sleeping Cat Books - Trip of a Lifetime Anthology, Northern Liberties Review, Authors Abroad - Foreign & and Far Away Anthology, The Path, Page & Spine, The Crucible, Sleeping Cat Books -Trips of a Lifetime, Vine Leaves, Pirene's Fountain,Tic Toc Anthology - Kind of a Hurricane Press, Cordite Poetry Review, Buffalo Almanac and mgv2.
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2 Responses to Observing Sweden – Swedes Are Talking

  1. Tolerance has its limits; even the most generous
    and patient do run out of it

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