So, my international friends, let’s talk a bit about #Swedengate.
First, what you need to understand is that in the international country, Sweden is very much a little backwards countryside community where we just discovered the internets.
We’re pretty well off now, which makes us think that we’re a bit better than most other communities, but we used to be poor not long ago. The secret is that we have some natural resources that others wanted (and we also managed to stay out of the big war, so when others needed to rebuild, we were happy to sell them building materials.
We used to be known for our almost socialist welfare system, but that was like 50-60 years ago. Around the same time, we were also known for our generous and welcoming attitude, because back then we needed people to come here and work. So we took in people from exotic places such as Italy, Finland and Yugoslavia, and some political refugees from Latin America. After a while, we kind of stopped doing that, but we kept and cultivated the self-image anyway.
This was also around the same time we figured it was time to change the name of our institute for racial biology, and maybe stop forcefully sterilize poor people with mental health issues.
I say we used to be that way, a society where we took care of each other on an institutional level, where most of us were kind of (at least seemingly) on the same level. Now, however, our rich are getting richer and our poor are getting poorer at a pace more rapid than most other places.
We also make money selling guns to the bigger cities and we don’t really see a problem with that, because it’s a good thing to make money, right? That’s what you’re supposed to do and it’s what all the other kids are doing when they grow up.
So we used to have this cultural thing where families ate together and if other kids were visiting they were expected to eat with their own families later, so instead of giving them food they had to sit in the room and read comics or whatever. No one thought much about it because everyone did it like that, except the immigrant kids who weren’t used to it because they had perspectives and experiences that were a bit bigger than what we had in our backwards little town.
This was around the same time when our view of culture was also a bit backwards. It was frowned upon to listen to weird music like hip hop or techno, it was kind of frowned upon to read anything that wasn’t detective stories and you didn’t watch anything other than the most mainstream of Hollywood movies. While the rest of the world knew us for Ingemar Bergman, we viewed (and still kind of do) people who watched Bergman movies as stuck-up snobs who thought they were better than the rest of us.
And when something bad happened we tended to blame the out-of-towners.
We were visited once by a foreigner, a Chinese musician (I know I may have talked about this before, but it’s such a telling story) who was interviewed in one of our morning TV shows. When she got the question about how excited she was to have made music for such a big movie, she was kind of embarrased (not for herself so much as for the interviewer) because she had been doing huge concerts for years and that movie was just one job, and not the reason she was here. It’s quite possible that the interviewer, being kind of a journalist* in this small backwards countryside village, didn’t mean it as a belittling kind of racist comment. It’s more likely that he had just discovered that they actually make movies in China and (if he had even seen it himself) he was probably mightily impressed, and which one is China again, it’s the one with the samurais, right (whatever that means)? He probably wasn’t even aware that he maybe should have made a little more research before the interview because why would he need to know more than that she’d made music for one of the few Chinese movies that were good enough to be shown in Sweden (ok, kind of racist, but in a way he may not have been aware of)?
Also, and I think this is important: the imagined audience for that morning TV show were ”normal Swedes”, i.e boomers who just recently heard of the internet (if they even heard about it at all), and who were a bit racist/ignorant, and you mustn’t scare them off by acting as if the world is bigger than their living room. I still get more or less that feeling when I watch morning TV, even now, 20 years later.
And when bad things happen, we still, embarrassingly, tend to blame the out-of-towners.
So that’s some of the context. It should be noted that not everyone did the ”let the kid’s friend wait in the room while we eat” thing, but enough did that it was a pretty common occurence. It would make more sense if it was a class thing (and maybe it was, originally?), but it seems to have been more widespread than that. It seems to have been more common in some areas than others, but it was pretty standard all over the country. It was, however, still possible to grow up without experiencing it, depending on what (more or less random) circles you grew up in. And it seems to have more or less stopped since the turn of the millennium, so the current international astonishment over this whole thing is about 20-30 years too late to be meaningful…
Edit: I was just made aware that Sweden is one of two(!)** countries that offers free lunch for school kids, so I guess the joke’s kind of on the rest of the world.
How to cook a You can go sit in the room while we eat family dinner:
Portions: exactly 1 family
Put 1 Dinner is the only real family time we have between work and TV (God probably told us that, back when we all believed in Him), just after he taught us the virtue of wage labor,
1 It’s your parents’ responsibility to feed you
and 1 You can read comics while you wait or similar flavour
into a bowl and stir until you get a Dinner’s ready (not for you)!
Boil in a bowl of Food is expensive until you feel that you’re Acting the proper Swedish way.
Season with some Let’s just pretend this is normal until it is, a spoonful of If you don’t feed my kids I’m not feeding yours, a bit of It’s just kids, they have no feelings anyway, remember when we used them in the mines and a pinch of If I feed your kid you may feel that you owe me and I wouldn’t want that to happen to me so I won’t subject you to it either.
You know that it’s almost ready when it smells like That’s simply how we do things here and you’re a weird foreigner for questioning it.
Let it simmer for approx. 20-30 years for an added taste of Who’d’ve thought this would ever come up and bite us in the ass?
Serve as an embarrasing Social media event.
* I should add that of course I can’t know the actual vews of this interviewer, and I’ve embellished/speculated a bit, so don’t take it as a critique of that individual but rather as a representation of the general sentiment in the Swedish mainstream. The movie in question was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon…
**The other one is Finland.