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Suffering along the path to suffrage in Sweden

Paul O'Mahony · 17 Sep 2010, 10:23

Published: 17 Sep 2010 10:23 GMT+02:00

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Getting official business done during summer in Sweden is like trying to lick your own elbow in school: it's frustrating, makes you look stupid and everybody watching knows it's impossible. So beginning my quest for citizenship in June was half-witted at best, but I wanted to vote in the general election and reckoned it was worth risking some mild social embarrassment.

In my defence, friends with dual citizenship had assured me the process would take six weeks at most. Once I had submitted my online application, the striking Nordic beauty we call home would cast a coquettish glance in my direction before welcoming me through the gates of a utopian kingdom where elk frolic in the forests, little frogs dance in rings, and tax officials ensure there are no silly names to upset the shimmer of relentless gaiety.

But my trailblazing new Swedish buddies had of course submitted their applications in the autumn or early spring. Not in June, when the great shutdown begins and a work-shy fog descends on the offices of every public employer for two whole months. It's a time when interminable phone calls ring hollow in the cobwebbed offices of government agencies while hordes of absent clerks scratch their bureaucratic behinds in cloistered woodland glades.

By mid-August I was starting to get anxious. It is no exaggeration to say I say that I called the relevant agency twenty times in two days. Each time I was greeted with the same automatic reply.

”You have called the customer service department of the Swedish Migration Board. All our lines are bissy. Pleece call later.”

I slammed down the phone and unleashed a salvo of choice imprecations.

Bissy, bissy, bissy, every single time.

Eventually I changed tack and called the main switchboard. A rude woman informed me that I would have to call customer service.

“But there's nobody answering there.”

“Not my problem, guv'nor,” she said, or words to that effect.

My appetite to participate in the looming election grew stronger still as party political posters began shooting up all over the country like enthusiastic heroin addicts. I hit speed dial, the Migration Board by now having assumed a status akin to a sibling or parent, and awaited the inevitable bissy message. But the hoodoo was finally dispelled when a different recorded voice informed me that my call would be dealt with if I held the line for 50 minutes. Strangely elated, I filled the best part of an hour sketching Swedish flags and learning the words of the national anthem.

I was humming the bit about wanting to die in Scandinavia when my call was patched through. A woman with a repellent desk jockey drawl told me I could expect to wait for “up to ten months”. Once my jaw had rebounded from the floor, I requested the name and number of the woman assigned to process my application. I then hung up and dialled the magic number.

“The person you are seeking is out of the office and will return on Monday.”

I wanted to die in Scandinavia. With immediate effect.

Monday came round and the farce gathered force. I called at 10.37. An automatic voice said my own personal bureaucrat would be back at 10.50. Fair enough, silly of me to have called at coffee break time.

I then forgot all about it for a few hours and called again just after four o'clock, fearing the worst.

“The person you are seeking has left for the day and will be back tomorrow.”

Of course. Next day I called just after three. “The person you are seeking has left for the day and will return tomorrow.” Scatter my ashes on a little red house and tickle me pink.

September arrived. Leaves were already tumbling from the trees outside my window when I finally got through. I almost expected this woman to inflict intense pain as she stuck needles in my voodoo effigy, but she was actually very nice and told me she had exceptional news: my application had just been approved and I was now officially a Swede. A little certificate duly arrived in the post to confirm my status as a dual citizen of the Republic of Ireland and the Kingdom of Sweden. Paradise regained.

All that remained was to phone the election authority and request that my name be added to the register ahead of polling day. My interest in the future of my adopted country grew overnight. How to vote? Should I choose to embrace our great shiny-pated leader for another four years (as a fellow follicle-shedder, I can say this without risk of being perceived as baldist), or should I harness my hopes to the three-headed red and green tax machine?

Story continues below…

A woman picked up.

“Say what? You just became a citizen. Then you're too late, mate. If you haven't been a Swede for 30 days you ain't got the right to vote.”

Just like that.

Suffrage is silenced.

Despite my disappointment, becoming Swedish has already led to some new behavioral quirks. I've become less inclined to make quick decisions, have developed an interest in the latest men's fashion trends, and sometimes find myself desperate to get outdoors and sing rousing folk songs with hordes of like-minded amateur crooners. It's just a shame my election dreams ended on such a bum note, with my chances of affecting the outcome now on a par with attempts to get amorous with my elbow. Still, can't blame a man for trying.

Do you feel the need to be a Swede? Here's where you can apply online.

Paul O'Mahony (paul.omahony@thelocal.com)

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Your comments about this article

14:37 September 17, 2010 by dogbasket
It's a pity that O'Mahony applied for and obtained Swedish citizenship. If he dislikes Sweden so much then the country would be a better place without the likes of him getting the vote. Please return to the hole that you crawled out of, and leave Sweden in peace.
14:38 September 17, 2010 by pokerke
I sent in my application (online) in the beginning of August.

I added a small friendly note to ask if they could possibly handle my application quickly so I would not have to be without my passport for too long.

And I got my certificate and my passport back just two weeks later!

I did the same for my residence permit some years ago, and it only took 2 days. I did not add a note when renewing my residence permit and then it took 9 months.

Even if I now became Swedish 31 days before the elections, I still don't get to vote, since skatteverket did not manage to update their lists in time :-(.
14:44 September 17, 2010 by Algord
Dogbasket, it's called British humour. Suggest you get yourself some cultural context or return to your place under the dog.
15:08 September 17, 2010 by dogbasket

According to O'Mahony himself, he is Irish - not British. No doubt he would have voted for Ohly because it starts with an O and finishes with y like his own name.
15:43 September 17, 2010 by jbkulp
Well, I guess the referendum on free Guinness for immigrants is now going to fail!!
16:19 September 17, 2010 by eovti
I went totally ROFL when reading this! A very well-written piece.
16:20 September 17, 2010 by Algord
Aha... the Irish obviously allow dual nationality... That option wasn't open to Brits, at the time I thought of applying way back when - no matter how long we'd been ex-pat.

Paul's piece was relatively kind and really not much to get het up about. The difference between British and Irish humour is marginal - a British writer would probably have flavoured the piece with a sharper cynical edge.

@Dogbasket, do something about that grudge you seem to bear and have a chin-wag with Paul about cultural issues, politics, or whatever, over a pint and you'll find there was no ill-will meant with the article.
18:39 September 17, 2010 by dogbasket

No grudge as such, but I dislike British/Irish complaints about a country when they hope to obtain citizinship. Doesn't only apply to Sweden of course. Brits in the Algarve and in France in particular complain about everything that doesn't suit their taste "because we don't do it like that in England..." I have no patience for them.

Back to Sweden, I thoroughly recommend a book entitled Fishing in Utopia by Andrew Brown. Fascinating reading. Many reviews with varying degrees of praise available on the Internet.
22:01 September 17, 2010 by Nomark
@dogbasket - you overreact. Are you really saying that a prospective citizen shouldn't make a light-hearted remarks about working practices in his adopted country ? Don't forget that the reason he was agitated was because he was keen to take in the democratic process. Around 15% of Swedes don't even bother to exercise their voting rights. Furthermore, if the author is who I think he is, then he has created a number of jobs here. How many Swedes can make that claim ?

Also, pointing out problems with your host country is not a "British thing" - this is in fact a terribly racist and bigoted thing to say. You should take a look sometime at the internet fora of Swedes who have settled abroad. The fact is that everybody takes the p*ss and sometimes criticizes - this is human nature.

Regarding the book by Brown, I thought it was overly self-indulgent and not a little naive. The author, who had enjoyed a privileged upbringing, encountered the working class for the first time when he moved to Sweden. He then erroneously thought that working class behaviour was somehow a very Swedish thing and wrote a book on it. He would have had many of the same experiences had he moved to Rochdale. I learned little about Sweden from reading that book.
22:06 September 17, 2010 by Lena_i_USA
I thought Sweden was bad before I moved here!! I had to live here for 5 years before I was able to apply to become a citizen. The process didn't take more than 6 months but it cost $1500! (+ the lawyer fees...)

My daughters green card was stolen in the beginning of this year. Which means that she can not work or leave the country. After sending in an application to get a replacement card it took 4 months until she was called in to get finger printed again ( I doubt that her fingerprints have changed that much in 4 years).. Just to get a replacement card cost $375... She is till waiting for her card.

I assume it takes a lot more time to become a citizen in Sweden if you are not from Europe.

I don't complain about the US to people who were born here. They wouldn't like it at all! My husband is from Australia so at home I can say what I want.. I was 35 when I moved here so ofcourse I will compare how things are done in Sweden and here. Some things are better here, especially the weather :)
12:54 September 18, 2010 by Icarusty
All that energy and emotional trouble for a tick in a box for a country with a few buildings in a winter wasteland. One can't help thinking you could have spend your time better
15:38 September 19, 2010 by Swedesmith
It's a pity that someone doesn't have a sense of humor. No need to ask which one of the seven dwarfs you are.
19:05 September 19, 2010 by Cornelius Hamelberg
Congratulations Paul O'Mahony of the Republic of Ireland and the Monarchy of Sweden.

Though you are still fully Irish you are now my landsman/countryman albeit of a whiter skin,

which means that you are less visible and easier to fit in.

Lo and behold we now have the same King and Queen

So come right in

Welcome to the club of us who sing

Ja, jag vill leva jag vill dö i Norden,

In Irish? "No, I want to live I want to die in the North."

When's the party?
14:40 September 21, 2010 by Beephlatt
I applied for Swedish citzenship in May. Three days later I was a Swedish citizen!

The form on the imigration authority's web site took 5 minutes to fill in and I was required to send in my passport. It was returned three days later with a very nice certificate.

I wonder if there is any other country in the world where this process is dealt with so rapidly?
23:36 September 21, 2010 by elke77
"Suffrage is silenced" Really? The bias you displayed over on foreignpolicy.com wasn't aimed at influencing anyones vote of course.


But thats journalists for you, all the power, and accepting none of the responsibility, much like the financially bankrupt, 1/4 occupied island you hail from.
11:54 September 22, 2010 by Nomark
Elke77 - since when was a journalist not allowed to express an opinion ? If you feel so strongly about this why not write a piece yourself for foreignpolicy.com ? I'm not a journalist but I've written an op-ed piece for a national daily on a topic I felt strongly about. You just need to submit your idea.

This would be a more effective means of communicating your message than a ranting on an internet forum.
11:58 September 22, 2010 by pintoflex
fantastically written.
17:25 September 22, 2010 by deblom
Dog basket loosen up.... try going round and round at least ten times before you lie down to sleep at night. Your more uptight than a Swede waiting in a queue.
20:19 September 22, 2010 by mikewhite
Don't forget that Ireland is part of the British Isles, so you could at a stretch say that the author had a British sense of humour ! (and probably a parallel Irish one)
11:39 September 23, 2010 by JulieLou40
@mikewhite-what planet are you on? As anyone who has ever listened at school knows, only Northern Ireland is part of Britain. End of.

You numpty!
02:38 September 24, 2010 by Potrero
Okay, so I'm not the only one who read the intro and then tried to see if they could lick their elbow, right? Right?

(But then I was one of those kids who tried to lick a frozen railing and got their tongue stuck. So maybe there's just something wrong with me.)
23:40 September 24, 2010 by mikewhite
@JulieLou40: I'm on planet Earth, where are you ?


I didn't say "Britain".
12:27 September 25, 2010 by Streja
Maybe it's good that he thinks it takes a long time to become Swedish and not at all because he was unlucky. Otherwise we would probably get more Paddies becoming Swedish, getting drunk in the wrong way and organising literary pub crawls all over the place while singing Johnny Logan songs. Terrible! ;)

Välkommen in i värmen. Glöm inte att ta av dig skorna i farstun. Kaffe och bulle?
20:01 September 25, 2010 by mikewhite
If you are worried, Streja, don't be, because with the price of Guinness over here, plus Systembolaget, I don't think you'll find an exodus from the Emerald Isle !

(PS "Paddy" is considered slightly derogatory, at least in the UK, so don't be impolite unless you mean to be !) ..

te för mig
20:48 September 26, 2010 by Streja
Ohhh sorry. I love the Irish actually. :(

Ahhh tea, something you took from the Brits. ;)
12:49 September 28, 2010 by Fredatvas
Asking to exchange my english driving licence for a Swedish one at the beginning of April, paying the 600 sek, and it seems I am almost there. Just another 150sek, and a short wait. and then.........................
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