Are you a love refugee?

Every week, we ask a regular panel of readers to discuss a particular aspect of life in Sweden. This week: moving to Sweden for love.

Are you a love refugee?

Athanassia Fourla

Athanassia Fourla

Yes, that’s me: one of the many victims of the Swedish conspiracy of sending cute Swedes around the globe to fool foreign men and women to fall in love with them and move here.

I had thought before about moving to another country but not for love and not to Sweden. However, life works in mysterious ways, so here I am. To me it is impossible to compare a relationship here with a relationship back home since it is all about people and everyone is unique.

Maybe I could talk about some more specific things about relationships here, always at the risk of generalising when I shouldn’t. Let’s take for instance the fact that couples here do not really share: there is “mine” and “yours” a lot more than in other countries.

On the plus side, people in relationships are much freer here to have lives of their own. Then there is all this very amusing relationship-defining terminology like “sambo” [literally: co-habitant], “särbo” [couples living apart] etc. which makes no sense at all in other cultures.

But again one can never compare relationships with each other, not even in the same country. Of course the cultural differences give a different spice to it but still we are talking about men and women and the basic trends are universal – for better or for worse.

Graeme Newcomb

Graeme Newcomb

Yes, I am a “love refugee”, although my sambo was willing to compromise for the first six years of our relationship and we both ended up settling on the UK as a suitable “middle ground” before moving to Sweden.

I think that the biggest difference between Swedish women and their South African counterparts is that Swedish women are a lot more independent and self-confident. In contrast, many English-speaking South African women seem quite happy to revel in old fashioned gender stereotypes.

I also find that Swedish women seem to be significantly less focussed on shallow materialistic issues than English-speaking South African women, who largely seem to be inordinately obsessed about living in the “right” suburb, ensuring that their kids go to the “right school” and how much money their partner makes.

Emma Chataway

Emma Chataway

Along with many other people, it seems I too am indeed a love refugee. Which sounds a lot nicer than an immigrant for some reason. At the beginning anyway, a big difference between a relationship here and a relationship back home back home was being faced with all the unfamiliar, lost and disorientated feelings that hit you like a brick on arrival.

It isn’t so much the relationship that changes, but how as a couple you are able to cope with it all. When I feel like I’m not getting anywhere here, my Swede is quick to reassure me that, if I don’t like it, we can simply go back to Australia. This is nice to hear; it’s good to know that if this doesn’t work out, it doesn’t mean that we don’t either. However, I’m stubborn and determined to build something up here. Nonetheless, it does take the pressure off.

It’s wonderful and scary to take this step for someone you love. To move to another country and try to set up a life together. It also feels nice to have a good moan about his country too, the way he did in mine. I finally get to say, “Well in Australia…”

It’s also an intriguing journey to inhabit your loved one’s environment. To see firsthand why they are who they are, through learning their language (or trying to anyway), traditions, finally meeting their parents, friends and seeing embarrassing photos of them when they were young.

It gives you this bigger perspective of them, like stepping back and seeing the whole picture. I’ve had many, “Ahh…so that’s why” moments, especially over the dinner table, like grappling with the passion my man has for cream sauce, potatoes and herring. Overall though, just being exposed, reflecting and discussing our small and large cultural differences is refreshing I think for any sort of relationship.

Igor Trisic

Igor Trisic

I have never been even close to becoming that, so I don’t have much experience on that matter. However, since I come from outside the EU, the situation for me is different than for some other folks on this panel.

The first thing that comes to mind is the issue of asymmetry and dependence on the partner. If a relationship breaks down you are forced to come back to your old country, and naturally anyone who moves to Sweden is likely to sell their house or apartment in order to contribute to the joint pot.

The other thing that put me off is that the Migration Boards has to learn all sorts of details about the relationship before you get the green light. Not to mention the fact that it can take up to six months before you can even come to Sweden.

If I ever entered in this kind relationship I would have to be certain that it will work and that’s hard. I would prefer to move to Sweden, establish myself there and meet someone then.

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith

I am not quite sure that I am a “love refugee” but I did move to Sweden because the woman I love lives here. Being in a relationship here is different only if you want it to be.

Language, people, traditions and having new friends are some things that may be different, but in the end, isn’t it the same no matter where you are? It’s all about being home and being with the one you love. I am home and I am with the one I love.

Swedish panelists: Are you harbouring a love refugee?

Daniel Nyström

Daniel Nyström

I’m happy living in Sweden with my wife, but if she were to move to another country I would most definitely follow and try to make a new life for us there. I know she would do the same for me.

It would be pretty hard leaving the things that you have worked for and accomplished, but human values are more important and I probably wouldn’t even hesitate.

Katarina Johnsson

Katarina Johnsson

I assume I fit in the category of harbouring a love refugee. One of the more obvious quirks is the different areas of interest when it comes to sport. I have grown to appreciate rugby over the years, but I still struggle with the notion of watching a cricket game for five days.

Another quirk would be the different views on weather. During the winter I get to witness my partner’s fascination and joy with snow, ice and freezing cold temperatures. This is great as I mostly find the winter an inconvenient period just to get through.

On the other hand, in the summer, when my spirit returns, I have to fight his reluctance to spend all our time outside and watch him avoiding the sun by any means possible.


IN PICTURES: 7 of the French government’s sexiest public health adverts

An advertising campaign aimed at convincing young people to get the Covid vaccine has attracted international attention, but it’s not the first time that French authorities have sexed up their public health messaging.

IN PICTURES: 7 of the French government's sexiest public health adverts
Image: AIDES.

It’s an international cliché that France is the land of l’amour – or at least the land of le sexe – and that reputation does seem to be justified, given how often French public health bodies have turned to sex in an attempt to get their message across.

From the suggestive to the downright scandalous, here are seven examples of health campaigns which relied on that oh so French fondness for romance.

Get vaccinated, get laid

The Covid campaign in question was created by regional health authorities in the southern Provence-Alpes-Côtes d’Azur region.

The poster which has got people hot under the collar features two very attractive and very French-looking people kissing, seemingly in the back of a cab after a night on the town. “Yes, the vaccine can have desirable effects,” it says.

The campaign has proved so popular that it will soon be expanded.

Promoting road safety

Earlier this year, the French Road Safety Delegation released a video ahead of Valentine’s Day, which showed a couple sharing an intimate moment in the bedroom.

The full 30-second video featured the slogan, “Life is better than one last drink for the road”.

Another image of two people kissing, seemingly without clothes, included the line, “Life, love. On the road, don’t forget what truly matters.”

Fight against HIV/AIDS

While the link between road safety and sex isn’t immediately obvious, less surprising are the references to intimacy in the health ministry’s HIV awareness campaign from 2016.

Each of the different posters shows two men embracing. Straplines include, “With a lover, with a friend, with a stranger. Situations vary, and so do the protective measures.”

The posters shocked conservative sensibilities, and several right-wing mayors asked for them to be taken down in their towns. 

HIV awareness campaign

Just a few days after the controversy over the ministry’s posters ignited, the non-profit AIDES launched its own campaign, and it didn’t hold back.

The posters showed scuba instructors, piano teachers and parachutists, all of them naked alongside their students. The slogan: “People undergoing treatment for HIV have a lot of things to pass onto us. But the AIDS virus isn’t one.”

“Even if we’ve been spreading this information since 2008, we realise that a lot of people don’t know that antiviral treatments prevent spreading,” head of AIDES Aurélien Beaucamp told France Info.

“People are still afraid of those who are HIV-positive.” 

Government-mandated pornography

It’s common for sexualised advertising campaigns to be labelled pornographic by critics, but in 1998, the French government went a step further and created actual pornography.

READ ALSO Language of love – 15 of the best romantic French phrases

The health ministry commissioned TV station Canal Plus to create five short erotic films to encourage the use of condoms and prevent the spread of HIV. The campaign featured up-and-coming directors such as Cedric Klapisch and Gaspar Noé.

“The only possible way to look at, to get people to protect themselves, is to show, show everything, show simply and without creating an obsession of the sexual act and the act of wearing a condom,” Klapisch said, according to an Associated Press story published at the time. 

You didn’t really think we’d include images of this one, did you? (OK, here’s a link for those who are curious).

A controversial anti-smoking campaign

It’s time to forget what we said about romance, because there is nothing romantic about this 2010 campaign from the Droits des Non-Fumeurs (Non-smokers’ rights) association and the BDDP & Fils communications agency.

The campaign featured several images of young people with a cigarette in their mouths, looking up at an adult man who rested his hand on their heads. The cigarette appeared to be coming out of the man’s trousers.

The slogan said, “Smoking means being a slave to tobacco”. The association said the sexual imagery was meant to get the attention of young people who were desensitised to traditional anti-smoking messages, but the posters caused outrage, with members of the government publicly criticising the choice of imagery.

Celebrating LGBTQ+ love

On the other end of the spectrum is this very romantic video from the national health agency Santé Publique France. It was released on May 17th 2021, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, and was part of a campaign against anti-LGBT discrimination and violence. It is set to Jean-Claude Pascal’s Nous les amoureux

Showing a diverse range of couples kissing, holding hands, and healing each other’s wounds, the video ends on the word play: “In the face of intolerance, it’s up to us to make the difference.”