It was a full house for a change. I was sitting with Bobby and Manuela. Bobby is from Cuba, has tattooed arms the size of my thighs and is very cagey indeed about why he moved to Sweden. And, for that matter, about why he is called Bobby.
Manuela, on the other hand, is not cagey about anything. She moved to Sweden from Chile ten years ago and, having finally packed off her kids to school, decided it was about time she got some qualifications.
Manuela will happily tell anyone with ears about her plans. She will pass her exam at SFI (Svenska för idioter, as she puts it), push on to Komvux where she will study Swedish, English, Maths and various other subjects, and then she will go to teaching college.
She will tell you that her family back in Viña del Mar are all teachers, and that a cousin is already a lecturer in France so nobody back home will be impressed about one of the family teaching abroad.
Manuela will no doubt make a good teacher and she has latched onto Stefan as her ‘career champion’. Stefan will help her get through her exam, he can advise her about teaching in Sweden and help her get into Komvux.
Normally her mentor bounces into the room and within seconds the class is underway. But this time there was a certain drift about Stefan, a certain lack of enthusiasm.
Bobby, Manuela and I were discussing Santiago, the Chilean capital. Manuela declared that Chile and Cuba were like brother and sister because they both have a city called Santiago on exactly the same longitude. From that she drew the conclusion that she and Bobby were like long-lost siblings and attempted to hug him.
But Bobby pulled away and said she was wrong; Santiago in Chile is on the same longitude as Santiago in the Dominican Republic. Santiago in Cuba is further west. Manuela was most offended.
This was turning into one of the more unexpected of the things I’d learned at my Swedish class when Stefan said that he had an announcement to make.
There was an immediate sense of apprehension in the room.
He would not be teaching us any more, he said. He had been promoted into a more administrative role, which meant that after five years he would finally get his evenings back. He was unable to suppress a smile.
For a moment, nobody spoke. Then Manuela spoke.
“Va?” she said. It was the least I’d ever heard her say in one go but her face conveyed the disappointment she felt.
Only Garry, a PhD student from Minneapolis, had the presence of mind to say the right thing, albeit in the wrong language.
“That’s cool, man, congratulations.”
A few others murmured a ‘grattis’ here and a ‘vad bra’ there. But it was without feeling.
That’s understandable, and it’s not just because Stefan is a great teacher. For many of my classmates, he is their main connection to Sweden. He has introduced them to Swedish customs, Swedish food, Swedish culture – and some have become dependent upon him.
There are people in the class, people in their thirties and forties and fifties, who live in predominantly immigrant suburbs and have no daily contact with ‘real Swedes’. No husbands or wives to explain how things work here, no work buddies to have lunch with, no flirting in bars or clubs.
Of course, there are the Swedes at the Migration Board and the Job Office, but those people they see as obstacles, part of the problem.
Stefan was their only solution, he was the Swede they knew best, the one fine thread linking them to their new homeland – and their future.
In the break, someone casually suggested making a protest.
“Protest about what?” said Manuela. “He’s your teacher, not your mother – we teachers have to think about ourselves too, you know.”
Stockholm Syndrome is a series of articles from The Local focusing on life in the Swedish capital through a foreigner’s eyes.