Changing minds, fika by fika

There are many remarkable things about Sweden, some of which are well known and others not so much. There is of course the high standard of living and the beauty of the country and the ways things around here usually just work. This week I have also found out that it is a country in which politicians, or at least one politician, can be found giving speeches in living rooms spreading a message from person to person, requiring only a donation to a charity as payment.

Oratorical shadows

Oratorical shadows

The day dawned chilly and overcast. My partner and I had returned from a party at 3 that morning and so were somewhat the worse for sleep, but nevertheless managed to rouse ourselves enough to face the cold air and head into town. Others who for whatever reason had voluntarily or involuntarily decided to be up and about at the ungodly hour of 9am on a Sunday also stumbled around the tram station, the fresh breeze waking us up as we stood around and tried not to think of our beds. My partner and I chatted to stay alert, and kept an anxious eye open for our tram, wondering what lay ahead of us at our destination. We had been invited to the event a few weeks since and though we knew the basics had no clear idea of exactly what would unfold.

The first thing, as it turned out, was a house buzzing with smiling and excited people, chatting and saying hi to everyone as they set up the rooms or just wandered around. There was also, excitingly, a wonderful spread of cakes, biscuits and snacks waiting for us to explore, behind a charity jar in which we happily paid for the generosity of our hosts.
Every minute that passed brought more and more people, many of whom swarmed the kitchen, sending us out to take seats and nibble on our treats as we waited. There was a very potent sense of anticipation in the room, though a particularly Swedish one, by which I mean that it hung unobtrusively on people’s words and in their faces, and maintained voices at a steady rumble. When the guest did arrive it was almost difficult to tell, other than a slight flurry of movement and shuffling as people found a place to sit. The crowd, numbering about 60 by this point, were soon settled and then Gudrun began to speak.

Gudrun

Gudrun

She spoke about democracy and power. Every relation concerns power, she said. Equality isn’t an opinion, but something that should flow through all parts of society. We should be united against militarism, and work against conflict.
She spoke for an hour and a half, coaxing and persuading, and filling the whiteboard with scrawls and orating to our living room of 60 as if she was speaking to us all individually. It reminded me of a scene from a film, the name of which I have forgotten, in which speakers hustle from house to house spreading illicit words and stories to rapt audiences, one step ahead of the law. The lawless darkness couldn’t be found this time, but the sense of being part of a movement and listening spellbound to a persuasive speaker most definitely was.

A politician in the living room

A politician in the living room

After the speech we all mingled, some buying books from Gudrun, who sat somewhat appropriately the Christmas tree, and others chatting and eating. My partner and I bade goodbye to friends and went out into the day, trying to articulate our feelings from the morning. The notes I took seem a mess of circles and half-Swedish, half-English sentences whose meanings have been partly lost. The impression that is clear is that while the papers and tv are full of the compromises and back-and-forth of the face of politics, in living rooms and halls around Sweden there is at least one politician who is sharing a fika and a few hours with those who ask, and then waiting as the seeds sprout.

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The masks we wear

Having lived in Sweden for just over a year now, I have begun to recognise and feel the routines and patterns of life here. Every country has it’s own pattern, woven by people going about their daily lives and more and more often I’ve been finding the threads and following them, trying to fit myself into the pattern with varied success. I have found myself questioning the process though. Do immigrants need to do this? I’ve spoken to friends about the imposition they feel from Sweden to fit in, to Learn the language, get a job, make Swedish friends, be more Swedish. And what of your own identity? The ideal should be that of lagom, not too much and not too little. Finding the middle ground or a meeting point between who you were when you stepped off the plane and who you need to be to fit into a society.

An early autumn evening

An early autumn evening

An aspect of life here that has nudged me to the outskirts, though not necessarily unwillingly, is the upcoming election. Somehow I have avoided being approached by the hordes of paper-bearing placard-wearing folk that huddle around the different political party huts. And they have actual huts by the way, some of them probably big enough for a holiday cottage, which for some reason I find very endearing.

They really like their voting

They really like their voting

I have not, however, been able to avoid sight of the posters that adorn anything that stands still for longer than 5 minutes. I walked 10 metres down a main street in town last week and passed 6 advertisements, all for different parties, hanging off lampposts, bustops and trees.
In comparison to election time in Australia, however, there have been no ads on tv that I have seen and no hint of smearing. Can you imagine an election without one party calling the other a bunch of irresponsible fanatics? I couldn’t until now, and I have to say it is quite refreshing.
The only negative responses have been a comment on an add from the Nya Modereterna (New Moderates, the leader of whom is the current PM) promising more jobs, that ‘you are not only your job’, and an add for the Svensk Demokraterna (the ‘we’re not racist but…’ party) with a swastika drawn on someones head.
Part of me does wish I could vote, if only so that I could be part of this discussion that will, after all, effect me too. The most I can do is give a thumbs up to the Feminist Initiativ folk and enjoy the lack of vitriol.

Swedifying a pie

Swedifying a pie

It often feels as though the moments when I am sitting silently and not engaging with society, that I appear the most Swedish. As I sit on the bus in the morning on the way to class, I feel a strange sense of accomplishment when I imagine that someone across the aisle could look at me and assume I am Swedish. I read my Swedish novel, wear a jacket bought in a Swedish secondhand store and the cons on my feet seem almost to be a uniform here. Of course as soon as I open my mouth the act is finished, but for a while I feel as though I fit in. Sometime in the past year this has become something to aim for, if only subconsciously. Something I would have scoffed at a year ago. The balm of anonymity. Perhaps being an immigrant is about the masks you wear, and how deep they go.