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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

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OPINION & ANALYSIS

Baby, it’s mörv outside: Sweden’s 13th month is here

The cold snap is over and now the month of mörv is back: darker, wetter, windier, and with even more work that you haven’t done, says David Crouch.

Baby, it’s mörv outside: Sweden’s 13th month is here

It is a fact little known outside Scandinavia that the year consists not of twelve months, but thirteen. The thirteenth month is sandwiched between November and December, and is known as mörv. (No capital letter for the months in Sweden.)

Mörv expresses the feeling that November is bleak, dark, and seems to go on and on forever. Suddenly there is no daylight. That hour we lost at the end of October seems to have plunged us all into permanent night. What sunlight there is is weak, grey and miserable. You go to work in the dark, you go for lunch in the twilight, and you come home in the pitch black. Your Scandi outdoor life is over – unless you’re a masochist, or perhaps a duck. Every surface is permanently damp and will remain so for the next six months.

This year’s first mörv moment for me came a couple of weeks ago when we took our daughter to a popular playground. Because my wife and child took so long to get ready we underestimated how early it gets dark these days, we arrived with daylight fading fast. The other kids had gone home already, so everything was silent but for the splashing of Poppy’s boots in the mud. The wooden playthings were covered in a treacherous layer of slime. Ugh. Mörv.

Mörv is a word originally coined by Jan Berglin, cartoonist for Svenska Dagbladet. Mörv arrives when the nice part of autumn is over but proper winter is still somewhere in the distant future. Living in a country that has four well-defined seasons is a pleasure, but during mörv the joys of the old season are gone while those of the new have not yet begun.

No more can you harvest berries and mushrooms in forests burnished red and gold – it’s all turned to muck underfoot and the trees are bare. But nor can you go sledging or skiing, enjoy the crunch of snow and the crisp, sparkling air. “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes,” goes the Swedish adage. Warning – this does not apply in mörv. You could dress from head to toe in sealskin but you still wouldn’t want to go outside.

Denmark has something similar, but there the month of November just repeats itself like groundhog day. A Danish poet summed it up very well. You haven’t read much Danish poetry? I have so you don’t have to. In a verse entitled “The year has 16 months”, Henrik Nordbrandt wrote:

“Året har 16 måneder: November
december, januar, februar, marts, april
maj, juni, juli, august, september
oktober, november, november, november, november.”

You get the picture. But in Swedish one word will do. Mörv.

This is the month of ghastly and unspecified viruses that flourish until the frost arrives to kill them off. It is the month of working like a dog to get everything done before Christmas. And to help you with this, in November there are no “röda dagar”, bank holidays or long weekends. In fact, Sweden moved the only national holiday – Alla helgons dag, or All Hallows Day – to a Saturday, just so you can work a full week either side.

Mörv is also the month when you can’t put off dull but necessary things any longer. That dental appointment you postponed because the weather was too nice. That itchy mole on your back that really should be seen by a doctor. That bit of DIY you never got around to. You are so busy with mörv that friends go unseen and your social life disintegrates.

This year, the weather tricked us by bringing southern Sweden a taste of winter a few weeks earlier than usual. For a fleeting moment the temperature dropped and we experienced that wonderful icy stillness that comes with a fresh snowfall after dark.

But even that sub-zero blast caught us unawares in the depth of our mörv-induced paralysis. Had you put winter wheels on the car? Of course not, it never freezes in November. Had you replenished your supply of grit and salt for the entrance to your home? Nej. Could you cope? Ingen chans. Knowing this, the kindly Stockholm authorities suggested we all stay at home and sit it out.

They knew it wouldn’t last. The deceitful cold snap is over and now mörv is back, darker, wetter, windier, and with even more work that you haven’t done. Between now and Lucia, mörv. Between now and saffron and candles and fairylights and glögg, only mörv. (With maybe a little Advent baking if you like that kind of thing.)

Cheer up, it won’t last forever. And it could be worse: it could be February. Now that is a truly horrible month.

David Crouch is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It. He is a freelance journalist and a lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.

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