I have to emphasise that following text does not pretend to be either a sociological nor a scientific work, nor it is free from generalisations. I have written it straight from my heart, following my personal observations, feelings, and the experiences of others who are in the same situation as myself.
I have to admit that before I came to Sweden my knowledge about this far away country was rudimentary. In school we read August Strindberg's novels and heard about the Nobel Prize, but that was all. I loved to watch Pipi Langstrump on television and later on, Ingmar Bergman's films and I drooled over the women singers in the ABBA pop band. I was also watching on television Bjorn Borg winning Wimbledon five times and Ingmar Stenmark skiing down the slopes like a magician, winning all possible competitions.
When I was a teenager I saw Swedish tourists on the Adriatic coast and I noticed that the majority of them were blond. They laughed and joked and I thought they were such lovely people. Unfortunately, at that time I did not know that the Swedes on holiday behaved differently when they were back in Sweden.
We arrived by ferry at the Swedish port of Ystad in June 1993. The war in Bosnia was still going on and we were happy because we had escaped a hell which would continue for a further three years. My first impression was the cold wind blowing through my thin t-shirt. The flags' ropes hit against the metal posts repeatedly. Such a cold wind I had never experienced in my homeland, not even in winter. Here it was a sunny day, but one needed a thick jacket.
I noticed perfectly clean streets; not a single sweet wrapper. But they were empty, cars went by and occasionally a cyclist, his head hidden inside the collar of his jacket. For a second, I felt I was back in my hometown whose streets were also empty now, because of fear.
I went into a supermarket and was overwhelmed with the abundance of goods there. I had not eaten properly for months and I bought a bar of chocolate which I had not tasted since the beginning of the war. The chocolate did not taste as chocolate at all; there was too much cocoa butter. Later, I would learn that all Swedish chocolates taste the same. One can eat half of kilo of it and still one feels one has not eaten chocolate at all!
Soon I would learn that Swedish traditional food is also tasteless. The only spices the Swedes used in the past were salt and pepper and only in the last thirty years had they started to use spices from other countries like curry and garam masala. Once I spoke to an immigrant who came here over thirty years ago and he explained to me with horror how when he ate a bean soup it was sugary and when he tasted bread, it was made with sugar too. However, when one has just escaped the war one does not care so much about trifles like food and cakes. One has just been born again and forgets the possible difficulties that may await him in the future.
After my experiences I can say that in the life of many refugees and immigrants who come to Sweden we can discern three phases:
1. Excitement with the new country.
A refugee is so overjoyed that she or he does not want to hear anything bad/negative about the problems that they can expect in a society where people are not as open as in the other places. They do not believe the immigrants who have not succeeded. They do not want to hear there are walls in the society which are impossible to surmount.
2. Encounter with the reality
After a few years a refugee has learnt Swedish fluently, he receives a good education and all the degrees demanded of him. He is well motivated and wants to show the Swedes he can work as hard as they can, and that he is better educated than they are, but, when he calls the employers, they treat him with disrespect; he is never called for an interview. Someone advices him to change his name for a Swedish one!
3. Deep disappointment
Years have passed, too many years. Our refugee is a broken down person. Nothing can make him happy any longer. He does not feel as a human being, rather as a soulless thing that nobody wants. He has sent hundreds of applications and never received an answer. The only job they offer him is as a taxi or a bus driver. His friends and family members who moved to other countries have already been working for years. They have bought houses, made money and travel to far away countries on holiday, while he goes every month to the job centre where an official looks at him as if he had rabies and sipping coffee from the cup tells him, "Unfortunately, we have nothing for you this month!"
Finally, if he ever gets the job he has been yearning for, for years, he has lost his joy for life. He remembers the people he has met in the past and only now he understands they have told him the truth.
Indeed, there is something wrong with this place!
To be continued...
Your observations are very interesting and revealing. . . I have a Spanish relative who moved to Sweden from Spain. . . he was most unhappy. . . needless to say he returned to his homeland.