25 January, 2018 11:37
I recently had an interesting conversation with a an american man that lives in Sweden and works at Arbetsförmedlingen (labor office). We can call him Mike. I asked him to write down his thoughts on Sweden, compared to USA. An interesting comparison he makes is the one between swedish people and animals in a zoo. They are fed and taken care of by the state. No dangers and no adventures – and a safe, but boring life. Government is a big part of everyones lives and has a big reach throughout society. But what happens when the state no longer can provide all the caretaking? What happens when other cultures, with other takes on society, enter in huge numbers? What happens when the rules are changed? I guess much of this is now what we can see is happening in Sweden.
“First off, I would like to say that when I answer questions and talk about my experiences, I will be referencing groups of people. I may say something like, “Swedish people are this” or “Americans are that”. Please do not interpret these phrases like I believe all americans, swedes or any other people are a certain way. I’m going to speak in generalities. If I describe swedes or others in a certain way, that means I believe a majority are a certain way, not all. I don’t believe all Americans are fat and dumb, but, unfortunately, many are.
I grew up in Los Angeles and have friends whom have origins from around the world. Asian, African, European, South American etc. I moved to Sweden in 2010 after living in France for a while with my wife, who is born and raised swedish. I believe my view on Sweden is somewhat unique, as I have gotten to know swedish culture intimately, through my wife and her family but I definitely have far more in common with people not originating from Sweden. I believe this is because Sweden, and maybe more appropriately, Scandinavia, is a very unique part of the world, due to the way society and government works here.
The Swedish social welfare system is a very generous, humanitarian one. The medical system, educational system, daycare etc and unemployment welfare are all very generous. Lightyears more generous than that of the U.S. Comparing it to the U.S., daycare, medical services and education are usually quite expensive, especially if you want good quality. In the U.S., the more important things in life, health care, education etc are expensive. Less important, recreational things like going out to eat, movies, clothing, etc are cheap. In Sweden, the opposite it true.
Sweden for the most part is clean, safe, with kind and honest people. Law-abiding, rule-following. I would guess that the percentage of people that have easy access health care, food, shelter and the basics to live a comfortable life is very high. I know many may argue that Sweden is not safe, or at least not as safe as it used to be. I know about and have seen “no-go zones” and while these such areas may be new and considered unsafe to Sweden, they are nothing compared to dangerous areas in the U.S. Sweden is the way it is because of the role and system the government has established. Government is a big part of everyones lives and has a big reach throughout society. From Arbetsförmedlingen, Försäkringskassan, Pensionsmyndigheten, Skatteverket and even the government monopoly of alcohol, Swedish society and the livelihoods of Swedish people are very dependent on the government. In the U.S., this is not the case. Most of the services in the U.S. are private rather than public, and the welfare system, as previously mentioned, is not very generous. People in the U.S. are mostly on there own. We are responsible for our own livelihoods and do not have a government “safety net” that sweden does. Because of this, unfortunately, there is much more crime, poverty, hunger, and people who don’t have access to health care.
From afar, and on paper, this Swedish system seems ideal. Why doesn’t every country have a system like this? I believe the answer to this is that the Swedish system, while it has very strong upsides, has a less noticeable, very big downside as well. The first major difference I noticed in Swedish culture is how the vast majority of people act. Very shy and to themselves with a child-like naiveness that almost knows no bounds. After living in Sweden for a few years, I think this is due to the welfare system. To explain what I mean, I would like to first repeat what another swedish/american told me. Unlike me she grew up in Sweden. “Swedish people are like the animals living in the zoo. They have a clean, safe environment free from predators, food everyday, other animals like them and mostly a quiet peaceful life. However, they are caged in and everything is given to them. The animals live in their own little bubble, free of most stresses, and since they have almost nothing to worry about and nothing much happens in life, they become boring, quiet, have a low motivation to do much and lose their “edge”. There are no external factors to keep them on their toes. They never have to hustle or work really hard to lead a comfortable life. In the U.S. and I would venture to say most other countries in the world, the people are like the animals in the wild. We hustle and are motivated to work hard everyday because while we can have comfortable lives, we have to earn it ourselves and bad decisions can lead to it all disappearing very quickly. We have street smarts, have to deal with many different forms of stress (due to money, crime and countless others) and grow as people because of this. Scandinavia believes rules are meant to be followed, the rest of the world believes rules are meant to be broken”. I personally believe that the naiveness, quietness and poor life-decision qualities of Swedes is due to the fact that most don’t deal with 90% of the stresses that other people of the world have to deal with. I believe thats why you see so many single mothers in Sweden. Women know if they have a one-night stand and get pregnant, the government will take care of them. I believe very few Swedes develop as much psychologically compared with people outside of Scandinavia due to the fact life here is, in a nutshell, easy and they have the government to rely on. Government says, people listen.
I view Swedish people as the older children that never left home, and the government are their parents. Just look at the culture of Sweden, like midsummer. People dancing around poles singing kids songs. All music is the same, food is bland and boring like the people. They are children inside adult bodies. Swedes also tend to believe being “normal” is good and want to follow the pack, for example, one person wears a New York Yankee hat, others follow suit and do the same. (Many don’t even know they are wearing a New York Yankee hat, they just do it to follow the trends) In the U.S., being normal is looked down upon. We strive to be trend-setters, not trend followers. This is why I believe so many people support the way the government works.
That leads me to whats happening today in Sweden. Immigration. Before I discuss Sweden, I believe immigration is a good thing, and can be beneficial to any country if it is handled the right way. The U.S. was a country built by immigrants. However, I also think immigration can be very bad. Firstly, whether immigration will be successful or not depends less on the people who immigrate and more on how the country deals with it. Do they have the resources and space to deal with the influx? Will they take all at once, or take the immigrants in waves, where they accept a small amount of immigrants, have them assimilate, then take in more? I believe the Swedish government failed in this case. Immigration can work, but not with mass immigration all at once. Its like saying, “apples are healthy so I’m going to eat it all at once” but instead of taking small bites, you swallow it whole, choke and die. Not to mention, very little vetting was done. The Swedish system and society was not prepared for such a large, all-at-once immigration.
I work within etablering at AF and speak with immigrants all day long. I have also heard the Swedish prime minister say “we are all human” when debated on what type of immigrants are coming to Swedish (again, the childlike naiveness I was referring to earlier). The immigrants coming to Sweden are vastly different people then Swedes. These immigrants are coming from a “rules-are-meant-to-be-broken society”. They are usually very religious, outgoing, many uneducated, and they come from a culture where you have to stay on your toes, cut corners and hustle everyday because the government will not take care of you. This same thing has been told to be by countless people not from Sweden. These immigrants are much more like people from the U.S. than they are Swedish. To simply say they will come to Sweden and in two years time (the length of the etablering plan) they will speak Swedish and become a part of Swedish society is absurdly naive. Even five years is a stretch. Many immigrants have told me they hate life in Sweden and dislike the culture and weather and are only here out of necessity. Many people leave AF after 2-3 years of etablering speaking little to no Swedish. Many are far too old and/or have disabilities and will never learn Swedish or work. Many find a way out of SFI and other educations and still get money sent to them every month. Many also do learn Swedish, but do not become a part of Swedish culture (they don’t have true Swedish friends and only interact with other immigrants. Not all their fault). Some etablering money has also been sent back to their homelands and even to ISIS. Many want to work and many don’t want to work. (This was told to our team by our boss and by the police to him). In terms of immigration, Sweden simply took on more than they could handle. What we now have is 2 societies sharing one land. Swedes and non-swedes. Some immigrants manage to make the leap and become a part of swedish society full on. Some have a place in both societies. Unfortunately, most will never become a part of Swedish society.
I don’t believe the government was totally naive to what the outcome of this mass immigration would be. I do believe they had some form of an agenda. In the U.S. there is also an immigration debate. Democrats are pro-immigration and Republicans want it to be more controlled. Many accuse the Democrats of wanting more Democrats to increase their support base. In other words, for power. Whether or not this was an agenda by the Swedish government, I have no idea. Was it just to make Sweden multi-cultural? Coincidence the government wanted to make Sweden multi-cultural after war in the middle east broke out? Good timing if so, but I tend to think thats a cop-out. Maybe the government is and was desperately naive and just wanted to lend and helping hand and assume everything would work out. Or maybe they just realized in 30 years, after this generation is old, immigration won’t be an issue. and everyone will have been born in Sweden. Ultimately, the government knows that it has a society that listens to it, follows their rule and trusts it. If they choose immigration, many will accept it. After all, the people rely on their government from when they are born.
Last but not least, I want to touch on what Swedes consider racism. It seems like the government has labeled anti-immigration stances to be rasist and people seem to believe it. It is not so black-and-white. What if someone was pro immigration for 100,000 people but not 1,000,000 people? Are they rasist then? What if certain people believe the country can’t take care of everyone coming in? What if people believe Sweden should help rebuild other countries instead of just taking in a handful of select people? Are they rasist then? Rasism is defined as “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.” Unfortunately, most Swedes think immigration stance determines if one is rasist. I think this is because Swedish people are too easily influenced by the government, again, based on the system.
In the end, there are many great things about Sweden and many terrible things. This goes the same for the U.S. and probably every other country. I try to get the best out of both places. I go back to the U.S. every summer because I feel like life is just too boring here. I also, personally, find it difficult to connect with Swedish people. All of my friends in Sweden, like me, are immigrants. I have friends here from Africa, the Middle East, South America, and no matter how different we are, we all agree, Sweden is a strange, clean, safe, boring country with shy, naive, kind, honest people and terrible weather.
Mike, born and raised in Los Angeles, now living in Sweden and working at Arbetsförmedlingen, and enough “swedish” to not wanting speak out under his real name
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