In this episode, I share stories from my trip to Sweden in June 2022
English Level: B1 🇨🇦
- How Swedes handled the pandemic (0:23)
- Immigration in Sweden (2:45)
- Transition from heavy industry to technology (6:15)
- Recap (7:55)
On June 17, 2022, I flew to Sweden with a student of mine to learn about the culture and people of this country. The first person we spoke to at the hotel was a very friendly receptionist. I was told that Swedish people are quiet and reserved, so meeting such an overtly friendly person was a bit of a surprise. She told us about how Swedish people managed the pandemic. She said, “Swedish people trust their government, so when the government asked us to stay home, we did. We have a strong sense of community, so the younger people went out and did the grocery shopping for older citizens. We didn’t have strict lockdowns like in other countries, but people voluntarily wore masks and maintained social distancing.”
When you look at the numbers, there was a 7.7% increase in deaths in Sweden in 2020 compared to the previous year. One of the lowest mortality rates across Europe in 2020. Preschool and elementary schools remained open, so there was not as much pressure on parents to manage work and their children’s education simultaneously. But, of course, this doesn’t mean that the Swedes handled the pandemic perfectly. A special commission in Sweden concluded that the government managed the pandemic correctly. Still, they should have taken clearer leadership and acted sooner regarding measures such as capacity limits and masks. They could have also prepared better for the Omicron wave. I’ll leave the links to my sources in the show notes.
On the second day, as we walked through the old part of Stockholm, we met a Swedish man in front of his clothing store. He answered our questions articulately and without the usual emotions that arise when talking about politics. People say, “don’t talk about politics or religion”, but in my humble opinion, avoiding topics that matter to people leads to superficial conversations. The key is to try to understand the other person without becoming emotional. Stefan, a Swedish man, mentioned the immigration policy of the government was failing, and this was diminishing people’s trust in the government. His reasons were that the government had not managed the integration of the refugees into society as well as it could, and not enough of them were working. I listened and took notes and before we left I asked him, “where do the immigrants live?” The next day we took a metro to Rinkeby.
As we walked out of the metro station, we found ourselves in a market plaza. There was not a single white person in sight. In a previous podcast episode, I share the immigrant story of my parents. I grew up around immigrants, so I felt comfortable in that plaza. I walked up to a group of Somali men chatting on a bench. I told them I had come to Sweden to learn about the country and its people. Sharif told me he had been living in Sweden for 20 years and was very happy there. “The media lies about the immigrants and how dangerous the situation in Rinkeby is. You can walk around this plaza at 2 am, and nothing will happen to you.” Nassar confirmed that. “The immigrants in Rinkeby co-exist in peace. This is a safe place to live.”
We left the plaza and walked around a park. We found a group of young boys playing basketball, and they invited me to play with them. The young boys, born to parents from Somalia, spoke Swedish with each other, loved the NBA as I do, and were happy to live in Sweden. After beating them in a game, we continued our walk. As we left, the boys’ mother, in full Muslim garb and hijab, waved to us from the other side of the court.
The next person we met was a Pakistani man. He admitted that his biggest challenge is dealing with Swedish winters. “Swedish people are quiet and reserved. They mostly stare and don’t say that much to me. Nevertheless, I’m happy in this country. My children speak three languages and have great educational opportunities here.”
The last person we met in Rinkeby was a Syrian man who ran a little bakery. I asked him about life in Sweden and what the situation in Syria was like at the moment. “I like Sweden. I can work and live in peace.” He gave me his phone number so we could visit him and learn more about his life.
I believe in truth, so even though my experiences in Rinkeby were 100% positive, I decided to do some more research and tell you about the challenges that exist in Sweden today. For example, in the year 2020, there were more than 360 incidents involving guns. Since 2017, 85% of those arrested for gun crime came from abroad or had a parent from another country. The challenges are real. Politicians and Swedish society are working to solve these issues.
On the 4th day in Sweden, we decided to leave Stockholm and visit the city of Norrköping. I’m sure I’m mispronouncing it, but that’s how it’s spelled. Norrköping was an industrial town in the past known for its textile factories. We met a man named Jörn at a cafe. He told us the city has transitioned from heavy industry to a university and technology town. The Swedish government has done an excellent job of transitioning toward new industries. Another man named Mats told us that when he was growing up, there weren’t a lot of jobs in his area, but now the city is doing so much better.
Sweden is home to several big technology companies that we all know. For example, Spotify and Klarna are both Swedish multinationals. Several publications rank Sweden as the second most innovative country in the world. Their education, research & development, and business ecosystem are exceptional.
I had many more conversations with people, but these are the ones I wanted to share with you. So to recap:
The first thing we can all learn from the Swedes is to support one another. Swedes enjoy great social benefits because they understand that it’s not only about rights but about responsibilities. Every Swede I spoke to said they had no problem paying high taxes. They see it as their duty to society. That’s why they came together during the pandemic and supported the old and vulnerable populations. Even without strict lockdowns, Sweden managed the crisis better than many other countries in the European Union.
The second point is more nuanced. Swedes have welcomed immigrants into their country, and even though that comes with challenges, they are doing their best to manage it. The Swedes I spoke to said that there are integration issues, but they still believe this is something that can be handled. Every immigrant I talked to said they are happy in Sweden. Their children are in school and have good opportunities. Isn’t that what every parent wants for their children? They did admit it’s not easy to come in contact with Swedish people, but they said it’s because Swedish people are more reserved, not because they’re racist. With more intercultural exchange and communication, which several organizations are trying to create, this gap between immigrants and Swedes will be reduced. For example. I met a woman who helps Afghani men with their immigration process. This is just one example of the thousands of Swedes involved in the integration of immigrants into their society.
The third thing we can learn from the Swedes is to prepare our children for the jobs of tomorrow. They’ve embraced the technological age and have been able to transition from heavy industry towards education and tech. This is why they don’t experience as much social disorder as you see in the United States or other formerly industrial regions. Income inequality in Sweden is not as great as it is in other countries. We must help people transition towards new industries and not just complain that the jobs are leaving. We can start by improving the Internet connection in Germany.
- Overtly (adv.): offen
- Voluntarily (adv.): freiwillig
- Simultaneously (adv.): gleichzeitig
- Articulately (adv.): deutlich
- To admit (verb): zugeben
- Mispronounce (verb): falsch aussprechen
- Transition (noun): Wandel
- Multinational (noun): Konzern
- Duty (noun): Aufgabe
- Vulnerable (adj.): gefährdet
- embrace (verb): etw. annehmen
Phrases to Remember
- To run (a business): to operate, to direct, to oversee, to manage (a business, a company)
Mistakes to Avoid
- Why was Jorge surprised when he met the receptionist at the hotel?
- What did the Swedes do differently during the pandemic compared to other European nations?
- What happens when we avoid topics such as politics and religion?
- What is special about Rinkeby?
- What did Sharif and Nassar tell Jorge about Rinkeby?
- (True or False) Jorge lost to the young boys in a game of basketball.
- What are some examples of Swedish technology companies?
- What does the woman Jorge met in front of the parliament do?
- What is Jorge’s suggestion for the transition toward the technological age in Germany?
Question to Consider
When was the last time you had a conversation with a stranger?
- Sweden Coronavirus Report
- Shootings in Sweden have risen
- Top 10 Swedish Tech companies
- Sweden 2nd most innovative country
- Why Germany’s Internet is so slow
- The immigrants podcast episode
- Most Common Mistakes Germans Make in English
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