• Sweden's news in English
 

How I got immigrants and Swedes dining together

Published: 19 Jun 2014 08:05 GMT+02:00

A few months ago, a Swedish language teacher asked her Afghan student if he liked living in the southern Stockholm suburb of Norsborg, which is home to a 40 percent immigrant population.

“Norsborg… Afghanistan, it’s the same thing,” he replied.

Ebba Åkerman, then working as a substitute teacher for the Swedish teaching program for immigrants, SFI, was dismayed by this response – which got her thinking about how difficult it was for most of her students to integrate into Swedish society.

“I realized that Stockholm was a much more segregated city than I thought, and was filled with amazing people who didn't meet simply because they didn't know each other,” says Åkerman, who is Swedish herself.

Indeed, one fifth of Sweden’s population is either from abroad or born to two foreign parents.

“But what is the point of learning a language if you have no one to speak it with?”

Disheartened, she began trying to think of ways her students could socialize with Swedes. And eventually she hit on the idea of putting people together round a dinner table – especially as sharing food plays an important part in Swedish society.

“So I asked my class one day, ‘Do you like food?’ and they answered ‘yes’. Then I asked them: ‘Do you know any Swedish people?’ and most of them didn’t.

“I then told them that there was a bunch of Swedes who wanted to have them over for dinner. It’s free of charge, I said, and they could bring a friend, and it could happen any day they liked.”

Having appointed herself "Minister of Dinners" at the so-called ‘Invitationsdepartementet’ or "Department of Invitations", Åkerman started recruiting hosts among her Swedish friends for her first "Dinner with a Stranger".

Her students jumped at the opportunity to bond with Swedes – but the hosts were trickier to pin down.

“In beginning, there were some Swedes saying: ‘I can have someone over on the 17th in two months from now’”, recalls Åkerman with a laugh.

Åkerman then sent the guests the address, name, and number of the host – and the host would receive the guest’s name, number and details of any dietary requirements or allergies.

Before long, however, interest waned and she began to lose hope that the project would ever take off.

An interview on national Swedish Radio briefly raised her spirits. But after being broadcast across the nation, her appeal produced a grand total of four responses – with an additional three from journalists who simply wanted to “tag along”.

“Was it fear of not having the language skills to communicate properly – of having someone that didn’t speak Swedish at the dinner table?” she wondered.

In the end, she concluded that although the hearts of Swedes were in the right place, “many people were lazy, insecure and under the impression that they didn’t have time to cook extra meals for someone”.

Then, just as Åkerman was about to give up hope, the tide suddenly turned.

Whether it was social media or a report on national TV she says: “All of a sudden, I had an avalanche of hundreds of people wanting to invite people over for dinner. It was chaos.”

She was soon busily matching hosts and guests. That turned out to be the easy part. What she hadn’t foreseen were the various problems that ensued.

“Some guests were very shy, some arrived late, some couldn’t find follow directions, some didn’t even know that street numbers go up and down,” she recalls. This, as well as some no-shows and cancellations.

Photo: Private

On one occasion, a student arrived thinking that he was going to a restaurant with his whole SFI class. Another man showed up for a dinner two hours late, bringing with him a variety of groceries, including milk, as an apology for his tardiness.

And yet, despite such teething problems, the dinners soon became largely successful.

The hosts and guests, she says, certainly don’t have to become best friends. But she believes that the dinners really are promoting genuine understanding between cultures.

“They dine together, and if they want to, they stay in touch – they’re under no obligation to meet each other again.”

That’s not the point of her matchmaking, she says. “The point is to eat, meet and speak.”

Photo: Private

On Sunday, Åkerman organized her 42nd ‘Dinner with a Stranger’ – and she hopes a total of 10,000 will have taken place by the Swedish national elections in September.

“We all need a reminder that there are so many more things we can do than vote to create a society that we all want to live in,” she says.

“Sharing a meal is food culture at its finest – and building trust is what you need in society.”

Plus, she adds, “Having fun is never a bad thing.”

Ebba Åkerman was speaking at the’What’s Cooking’ event organized by TEDxStockholm. You can find out more here. To find out more about 'Dinner with a Stranger' visit Åkerman's website or Facebook page.  

Sophie Inge (sophie.inge@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Four protestors at Sweden anti-Islam rally
Four anti-Islam protestors turned up at the rally. Photo: TT

Four protestors at Sweden anti-Islam rally

Counter-demonstrators dramatically outnumbered anti-Islam protesters at a Pegida rally in Linköping in southern Sweden on Monday night, with reports that just four people turned up to support the right wing group, while up to 400 others rallied in support of diversity. READ  

Sweden eyes fingerprint scans to stop fraud
Sweden is seeking to boost security at its airports. Photo: Fredrik Broman/Image Bank Sweden

Sweden eyes fingerprint scans to stop fraud

Sweden needs to beef up its border security to stop passport fraud, a government inquiry has argued as the country grapples with unprecedented levels of immigration. READ  

Sweden in for 'warmer than usual' spring
Budding Magnolia trees in Lund in southern Sweden. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Sweden in for 'warmer than usual' spring

Sweden could be just the place to soak up some sun this spring, as experts predict the country will see unusually high temperatures in March. READ  

Trouble-hit Malmö school to reopen after closure
Swedish police outside the Värner Rydén School on Monday. Drago Prvulovic/TT

Trouble-hit Malmö school to reopen after closure

UPDATED: A Malmö school that closed amid concerns of violence and criminality is set to reopen to pupils on Tuesday morning, after crisis talks were held between staff and directors on Monday. READ  

Christian Democrat party leadership race heats up
Chairwoman Chatrine Pålsson Ahlgren with Jakob Forssmed, left, and Ebba Busch Thor, right, at a press conference. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

Christian Democrat party leadership race heats up

The leadership battle in Sweden’s right-wing Christian Democrat Party is heating up. On Monday the contest was narrowed down to two candidates, Ebba Busch Thor and Jakob Forssmed. READ  

Accelerated for Ice Music
Dylan guitarist makes music history in Sweden
Charlie Sexton strums an ice bango at the City of Songs Ice Music concert in Luleå on February 27th, 2015 co-founder. Photo: Luleåfotograferna

Dylan guitarist makes music history in Sweden

Bob Dylan guitarist Charlie Sexton helped write a piece of musical history in northern Sweden at the weekend with the world premiere of new compositions written expressly for ice instruments performed at the Ice Music City of Songs concerts in Luleå. READ  

Anti-racists set to swamp Pegida rally in Sweden
Counter-demonstrators at a Pegida rally in Malmö earlier this year. Photo: Drago Prvulovic/TT

Anti-racists set to swamp Pegida rally in Sweden

Counter-demonstrators are expected to outnumber anti-Islam protesters at a Pegida rally in Swedish town Linköping on Monday night. The march is set to go ahead even after the local organizers dropped out. READ  

SAS walkout halted but Norwegian strike looms
Travellers delayed in Copenhagen over the weekend. Photo: TT

SAS walkout halted but Norwegian strike looms

Staff working for Scandinavian airline SAS have said they will return to work after a four day strike, while Norwegian workers based in Sweden could strike later this week. READ  

Madonna set for debut gig in Swedish capital
Madonna performing at the Brit Awards 2015. Photo: Joel Ryan/Invision/AP

Madonna set for debut gig in Swedish capital

Madonna fans across Sweden were getting ready to party like a virgin as the superstar announced she was heading to Stockholm in November – her first solo gig in the Swedish capital. READ  

Ikea turns furniture into wireless phone chargers
Ikea's design centre in Älmhult. Photo: TT

Ikea turns furniture into wireless phone chargers

Swedish furniture giant Ikea has become the first global budget retailer to launch a set of desks, tables and lamps that will wirelessly charge phones and other devices. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
How could Swedes' passion for 'fika' help cut nerve disease?
Gallery
People-watching: February 27th - March 1st
Sponsored Article
Ten tips for succeeding as a start-up in Sweden
National
Why Copenhagen attacks led a Swedish uni to cancel artist's lecture
Sponsored Article
Tourist or lifer: what sort of expat are you?
Blog updates

27 February

Editor’s blog, February 27th (The Local Sweden) »

"Our most read story this week got picked up by global media from Al Jazeera to..." READ »

 

18 February

The mysterious -s, part 2 (The Swedish Teacher) »

"-s expressing “each other” (reciprocal verbs) You have most likely used this form of the verbs..." READ »

 
 
 
Business & Money
Ten Swedish start-ups you haven't heard of (yet)
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Super cute sloth twins charm visitors to Swedish zoo
Lifestyle
Meet Sweden's first woman chef to win a Michelin star
Lifestyle
What's on in Sweden: February 26th - March 5th
Accelerated for Ice Music
What is Bob Dylan's guitarist doing in northern Sweden?
Features
How well do you know Sweden's top celebrity couples?
Business & Money
Are company boards 'too white' in Sweden?
Gallery
People-watching: February 25th
Technology
Sweden is dubbed second most 'digital' nation in European Union
National
Why more Swedes want a sex change
National
The return of Sweden's Ace of Base
National
Why has Julian Assange's case been going on for so long?
National
'21' or 'IS'? Swedish police confuse birthday with Islamist extremism
National
Spring has sprung in Sweden
Gallery
Property of the week: Ängelholm
National
How to never miss your favourite weekly features on The Local
National
Is Sweden home to the world's oldest living cat?
Gallery
IN PICTURES: The life and career of Fredrik Reinfeldt
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Princess Estelle through the years
National
Why are Swedish Jews worried?
Gallery
People-watching: February 19th-22nd
National
'Racist' bird names banned in Sweden
Lifestyle
What's on in Sweden this week
National
Nobel prize to go under hammer
National
Swede named 'Fanny' banned from getting UK loyalty card
National
Spotlight on the Swedes that could be funding Islamists
Sponsored Article
Are you an American expat? How to face FATCA
Gallery
People-watching: February 18th
National
Is a chocolate crime wave sweeping across Sweden?
National
What we know about the Copenhagen shootings suspect
National
Danish Ambassador: 'We'll live our lives the way we always have'
National
What does this '90s pop act have to do with a former minister?
Lifestyle
How to embrace Sweden's creamy semla bun tradition
National
Did this Swedish hotel really refuse a gay couple?
National
Why are so many escalators down on Stockholm's Metro?
Gallery
Property of the week: Kungsbacka
National
Can Zlatan's tattoo stunt help end world hunger?
Gallery
People-watching: February 14th
Lars Vilks
National
Who exactly is controversial Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks?
Lifestyle
VIDEO: How to tackle Sweden's bizarre mating rituals
Sponsored Article
'Immigration is critical' for Stockholm’s future
Lifestyle
How to make traditional Swedish blackberry pie
Sponsored Article
Stockholm job fair helps immigrant entrepreneurs
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

955
jobs available
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
psdmedia.se