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OPINION & ANALYSIS

Murder in the laundry room

Hideous underwear, tales of dead cats, speakers of ancient Aramaic, and anonymous threats: Paddy Kelly has been to the laundry room and lived to tell the tale.

Murder in the laundry room

Nothing raises more hackles, shortens more lives and causes more gnashing of teeth in Sweden than a bleak room filled with washing machines.

The room in question is the communal laundry room, called the “tvättstuga” or, literally, “laundry cottage”. This is where people who live in apartments go to wash their clothes. Every apartment building has one, or offers access to one, and most everybody uses them (except those who have installed their own washing machines to avoid ever setting foot in the place).

Now, the problem with the tvättstuga (tvett-stoo-gah) is not the standard, nor the location, nor the price (they are almost always free to use). The biggest problem is always the other people, the ones who cannot seem to understand the difference between “everyone’s” and “mine”, or “open” and “closed”, or indeed “now”, “later” and “not if you were the very last man on Earth”.

For me the idea of a free communal laundry room is still a bit of a luxury. Having spent four years as a student in Dublin (and a subsequent four years living like a student because it was such a giggle), doing the laundry involved stuffing everything into a large plastic sack and dragging it down the street like a ponderous dead body to the closest laundromat. Once there, every item of clothing that I owned–colours, whites, Spandex, woolens, silks, plastics, Kevlar–was dumped unceremoniously into an enormous washing machine and pummelled with 60 degree water until it was either clean, dissolved, or shrunken to the size of a hand-puppet.

So it goes without saying that the free and functional Swedish washing machines make me feel as if I am being pampered like a King. The Swedes, however, see the tvättstuga as a given, and not a luxury, and so they go out of their way to find things to get annoyed about.

The time-booking process — whether it is done by pen and paper, movable metal pegs or an electronic system — is generally problem-free. The trouble starts when one discovers that there are always people who cannot do the simplest of tasks without completely fudging it up for everybody else. And these people fall into four categories: the late arriver, the late finisher, the machine snatcher and the wielder of the door-chair. Bear with me please, I will explain.

The late arriver always wanders into the wash room some time after the 30-minute window for starting their wash has run out. They will stare in disbelief at you, the person who has had the gall to take “their” machine, and then proceed to get all stroppy about it. The fact that it is their own fault may absolutely not be mentioned. The late arriver may also begin to offer a long and complicated explanation for their tardiness, often something to do with a dead or dying cat, and may even start to cry. If this happens you should simply nod and start sidling inconspicuously toward the exit.

The late finisher comes in at the other end. He or she will decide that it is absolutely okay to hog the tumble drier far into the next wash cycle, which happens to be yours. You will therefore be granted the happy task of lifting out mounds of somebody else’s washing, comprised mostly of underwear too hideous to mention in a family newspaper.

The machine snatcher will take all the machines in a single washroom (usually four of them) if the other person has not turned up thirty seconds into the booked time. When pressed on the issue they will pretend to speak only ancient Aramaic. and leave you standing there like a confused idiot with a fully laden blue Ikea bag digging a deep and painful cleft into your shoulder.

And then we have the door-chair wielder. This person has several different washes on the go in several rooms at once (actually impossible to do legitimately). They will then jam a chair in all the doors to avoid having to open them as they wander back and forth between the rooms, and to make it easier to pop out for a smoke. So if you are sharing a wash room with a door-chair wielder, the door will always be open and anybody can just wander in and take your clothes. The wielder will listen to your protests but will fail to see why this is a problem, mainly because they are a complete idiot.

The tvättstuga is naturally a place of conflict, and the Swedes very often deal with these conflicts in a not unexpected way — they send anonymous notes to each other. In fact, the angry unsigned tvättstuga note (“you take my time again I take your head”) has become a social institution and there are even websites devoted to collecting and displaying them. The levels of bile and anger in these notes really have to be seen to be believed and are a sure indication of a people with slightly too few things to worry about.

You may wonder — if I get so annoyed by the whole thing, why do I put up with the tvättstuga at all? Well, in my mind it’s better to run the gauntlet every two weeks than to have a washing machine installed in the bathroom. Because this leads to a situation that is even worse: a machine taking up half the available space in the bathroom; an apartment that smells constantly of wet clothes and fabric conditioner; and no excuses whatsoever, from now until the end of time, for not doing the stupid laundry.

Paddy’s tips: To read more about the rituals surrounding Swedish washing rooms, you could always go to this blog entry, which says basically the same stuff. And if you want to amuse yourself by reading angry notes, then why not go here and have a good chuckle. And finally when you are sick of the whole thing you can buy a washing machine, cheap, and never have to bother yourself with your neighbours or their disturbing underwear ever again.

Paddy Kelly has been in Sweden for many years but he still can’t work that mangle thing in the washing room.

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OPINION & ANALYSIS

‘Police should have stopped Koran-burning demos after the first day’

Swedish police underestimated the level of violence that awaited them and should have called a halt to Danish-Swedish extremist Rasmus Paludan’s demos as soon as it became clear the riots were spiralling out of control, argues journalist Bilan Osman. 

‘Police should have stopped Koran-burning demos after the first day’

Speaking to The Local for the Sweden in Focus podcast, out this Saturday, Osman said she understood why the police had allowed the demonstrations to go ahead in the first place but that the safety of civilians and police officers should have taken precedence when the counter-demonstrations turned violent. 

“Just to be clear, I don’t think it’s an easy question. I think everyone, regardless of views or beliefs, should have the right to demonstrate,” said Osman, who writes for the left-wing Dagens ETC newspaper and previously lectured for the anti-racist Expo Foundation.

“I understand people who say that violence [from counter-demonstrators] shouldn’t be a reason to stop people from demonstrating. I truly believe that. But at the same time: was it worth it this time when it’s about people’s lives and safety?” 

Police revealed on Friday that at least 104 officers were injured in counter-demonstrations that they say were hijacked by criminal gangs intent on targeting the police. 

Forty people were arrested and police are continuing to investigate the violent riots for which they admitted they were unprepared. 

“I think the police honestly misjudged the situation. I understand why Paludan was allowed to demonstrate the first day. It’s not the first time he has burned the Koran in Sweden. When he burned the Koran in Rinkeby last year nothing happened. But this time it was chaos.” 

Osman noted that Rasmus Paludan did not even show up for a planned demonstration in her home city of Linköping – but the police were targeted anyway. 

“I know people who were terrified of going home. I know people who had rocks thrown in their direction, not to mention the people who worked that day, policemen and women who feared for their lives. So for the safety of civilians and the police the manifestations should have been stopped at that point. Instead it went on, not only for a second day but also a third day and a fourth day.” 

On the question of whether it was acceptable to burn Islam’s holy book, Osman said it depended on the context. 

“If you burn the Koran mainly to criticise religion, or even Islam, of course it should be accepted in a democracy. The state should not only allow these things, but also protect people that do so. 

“I do believe that. Even as a Muslim. That’s an important part of the freedom of speech. 

A previous recipient of an award from the Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism for her efforts to combat prejudice in society, Osman drew parallels with virulent anti-Semitism and said it was “terrifying” that Paludan was being treated by many as a free speech campaigner rather than a far-right extremist.  

“If you are a right-wing extremist that wants to ethnically cleanse, that wants to cleanse Muslims from Sweden, and therefore burn the Koran, it’s actually dumb to think that this is a question about freedom of speech. When Nazis burn everything Jewish it’s not a critique against Judaism, it’s anti-Semitism.” 

Anti-Muslim sentiment in Sweden tended to come in waves, Osman said, pointing to 9/11 and Anders Behring Brevik’s attacks in Norway as previous occasions when Islamophobia was rampant. Now the Easter riots had unleashed a new wave of hatred against Muslims that she described as “alarming” and the worst yet. 

“I do believe that we will find a way to coexist in our democracy. But we have to put in a lot work. And Muslims can’t do that work alone. We need allies in this.” 

Listen to more from Bilan Osman on the April 23rd episode of Sweden in Focus: Why Sweden experienced its worst riots in decades.

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