Stockholm Syndrome: Carpets and wood

Last Saturday I was sitting outside a café in my quarter of Södermalm pondering how romantic it feels to live in a 'quarter' of a city rather than simply an area. I had positioned myself so that my field of vision consisted only of charming old buildings, cobbles, gently reddening leaves and blue sky.

The list of adjectives I was supposed to be memorizing (tedious, useful, soporific) as part of a renewed attempt to conquer Swedish lay unread on the table before me. Crockery clinked like wind chimes and I breathed in the best of Stockholm.

But not for long. Behind me, by the entrance to the cafe, a conversation had become an argument in the space of a couple of seconds.

I edged around to see what all the fuss was about. A woman with two small children, one of whom was in a pushchair, was arguing with the café owner.

It took me a moment to realise that it was Linda, a Rumanian woman (taciturn, short, unpredictable) from my Swedish class. She doesn’t normally say much but the week before she had distinguished herself in one of our regular ‘What’s the difference between Swedes and people from your home country?’ conversations.

While the rest of us were muttering quietly to each other, Linda stood up and declared:

“In Bucharest we have carpets in our apartments. In Stockholm they have wood. That is the difference.”

We all laughed and then, when we realised she was being completely serious, congratulated her on her wisdom.

Now, though, there was no evidence of that economy of words. She fired round after round of Rumanian invective at the owner who apparently didn’t want to let her in.

Then one of her children started crying (loud, snotty, irritating). I remembered her saying during our break that she had problems with her son. He had ADHD and, as well as being in trouble at school, he was disrupting their home life.

The family had been forced to move from their last apartment after all the neighbours had complained about the noise the boy made. Apparently it was no better in their new place.

Anyway, back in the café I probably should have shown some solidarity with my immigrant sister. But I just sat at my table (cowardly, selfish, embarrassed) and hoped the moment would pass.

Eventually it did and, shepherding the children before her, Linda plonked herself at the table beside mine.

“Hej!” she said, as if nothing had happened.

I feigned surprise as well as I could and moved my chair to give her some room for the pushchair. It was the least I could do.

In our overlapping broken Swedish she communicated to me that she had just wanted to have a coffee and give her boy some cake and they wouldn’t let her in but if she was Swedish they would have done and it’s discrimination and…

I assured her that this wasn’t the case, and that more and more Stockholm cafés had a no-pushchair rule these days. I pointed out that the café owner himself didn’t exactly sound Swedish.

“Then that is even worse,” she said.

Her son was quiet now, holding onto his mother’s leg and looking up at me with big brown eyes.

“How’s it going with the apartment?” I asked.

She took a letter from her bag and handed it to me. It was from the chairman of the board of her block and in just two lines explained the situation: neighbours were complaining about the noise and if it didn’t stop the family would be asked to leave.

“What do they expect,” she said loudly, “with all these wooden floors? If they had carpets in this country there wouldn’t be a problem.”

I nodded and glanced back at my list of adjectives.

Proud, defiant, hopeless.

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Sweden considers expanding mother tongue education

More students should study their mother tongue in Swedish schools, according to a proposal delivered to the government.

Sweden considers expanding mother tongue education
File photo: Drago Prvulovic/TT
Students in Swedish schools who have a parent or legal guardian whose native language is something other than Swedish are offered courses to help them strengthen their skills in the other language. 
Roughly 280,000 students are eligible for this education but only approximately 170,000 are actively participating in the courses. 
According to Nihad Bunar, a professor of youth studies at Stockholm University who has been appointed by the government to address this issue, part of the reason the participation is so low is that the mother tongue courses are often held at the conclusion of the regular school day. 
“The consequences of this are obvious: tired students who have competing free-time activities. There is also a general perception that the subject is not as important as other school subjects,” Bunar said. 
Additionally, schools are not required to offer mother tongue classes if there are fewer than five students who would participate in the classes. 


A commission report that has been submitted to the government calls for making mother tongue education a more integrated part of the school day and offering it to smaller groups. The report also suggests offering the classes via remote learning, as a lack of qualified teachers in other languages is also a significant problem. 
The report points out that students who are given the opportunity to develop their mother tongue also tend to develop better Swedish language skills and perform better in school all-around. 
Education Minister Gustav Fridolin welcomed the report’s recommendations. 
“Studying one’s mother tongue can strengthen learning in all students. Therefore, more students should receive mother tongue education and the quality of the education and the curriculum should be strengthened,” he said in a government press release. 
The largest languages in mother tongue education in Sweden are Arabic, Somali, English, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, Persian, Kurdish, Spanish, Finnish, Albanian and Polish.
The Local would like to hear from parents whose children are involved in a mother tongue programme at their local school. Please get in touch with us at [email protected] if you’d like to participate in a follow-up article. 
The recommendations on mother tongue education come just a few months after a report carried out by OECD at the request of the Swedish government, suggested that Sweden can and must do much more to help immigrant children perform better at school
That study noted that 61 percent of first-generation immigrant students do “not attain baseline academic proficiency”. The number decreases to 43 percent for second-generation immigrant students and that 19 percent differential is well above the OECD average of 11 percents.