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Swedish reality TV show brings Swedish-Americans back 'home'

Joel Linde · 11 Nov 2011, 12:22

Published: 11 Nov 2011 12:22 GMT+01:00

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Feelings of rootlessness are something many immigrants and expats have struggled with, and a new Swedish reality TV show offers ten Swedish-Americans a chance to visit the land of their forefathers and gain a glimpse into their past.

Viewers tuning into Sveriges Television's (SVT) Channel 1 on Sunday nights may have come across the distinct sound of American-style English, not to mention a few lines of heavily-accented Swedish.

The lines likely flowed from the mouths of one of the ten Swedish-Americans brought over to Sweden in the summer of 2011 in search of pieces of their family puzzle as participants in “Allt för Sverige” (Everything for Sweden), a new reality TV show currently airing on SVT.

In true reality television fashion, the contestants were eliminated one by one, until there was only one left to receive the ultimate prize - a family dinner with their long-lost Swedish relatives.

“I think it’s very beautiful and something that separates Swedes from Americans. They want to conquer a prize most Swedes would chop off an arm to avoid,” the show's host Anders Lundin told the Nöjesbladet newspaper.

One of the 10 Swedish-Americans who took part to battle it out for a meet up with the extended family was interior decorator and jewelry-and-bow tie designer, Guy Clark from New York.

His great grandmother, Anna Maria Pehrsson Jacobsen, left the poor and religiously intolerant Sweden in 1886 along with roughly 1.3 million other Swedes during that period, with hopes of a better life in America.

“In the United States, half my family is well-known, and the other half, the Swedish half, I don’t know anything about,” Clark tells The Local.

Clark had had Swedish food around Christmas time, and his sister wore a candle crown, just like Saint Lucia, but that was about as much he had experienced of his forefathers' traditions.

That is until his Swedish masseuse introduced him to a Swedish television producer.

“She said ‘hey listen, we’re looking for a crazy gay guy who has a Swedish background but has never been to Sweden and doesn’t know anything about his background’,” Clark recalls.

“Every chance you get to do something new in life is a bonus, and I love new experiences, so I was all up for it.”

Along with nine other souls curious to trace their roots, Clark flew to Denmark to travel by boat over to the southern Swedish province of Skåne last summer.

After a long and rocky boat ride, they all landed on Swedish soil for the first time, and Clark sat down and kissed it.

What Clark didn’t realize was that he was actually in Torekov, the same coastal community that his forefather Pål Romare had once been an integral part of.

While on a stroll around town, Clark and a few of the other contestants stumbled upon a map which revealed their whereabouts.

“I was so overwhelmed,” Clark says with a shaky voice, his eyes welling up.

“I still am."

“I have heard about this town my whole life. My sisters, my mother, my grandmother heard about it their whole life, but we just don’t know anything.”

But the fact that the unknowing Americans were first brought to Torekov, and then Båstad, two extremely wealthy and picturesque towns, was also criticized in the Swedish media.

It was questioned whether they would actually get to see the “real” Sweden, such as the concrete suburbs or the fact that pizza and Thai food are probably more common than meatballs and herring, an Aftonbladet columnist Svante Lidén complained.

But Clark doesn’t agree with the critique.

“Now of course we started in Torekov, the richest town in the country, probably the most beautiful spot in the country, and also the warmest part in the country,” he admits, adding that Torekov remained a topic for discussion throughout the whole adventure.

“But I saw all kinds of weird, strange and unusual things,” he argues.

Since he can’t reveal how far he made it in the contest, Clark didn’t want to get into details, but he feels certain he got to see many different sides of Sweden.

“You know, Stockholm is beautiful but it’s kind of like a Stepford village... where everything is perfect. But going to parts of Sweden that were not as put together as this, you could see that not all of Sweden is like here.”

As it would turn out landing in the town of his 18th century ancestor was not the only surprise in store for Clark, who also happened upon his grave stone in a public park.

“I feel like I got almost everything that I came for immediately. All my other days were a bonus.”

What he got to experience during his “bonus days” has now enabled him to develop an emotional attachment to Sweden that he never thought he would find, he said.

“I had no idea what the nature was in Sweden. I knew Stockholm was going to be pretty and clean, because Swedes are pretty and clean,” Clark says.

“I found another home and I have every intention to move here part time. I love it here, I think it’s a perfect society for me.”

Another premise of the show that caused rankled critics was that only one of the 10 contestants was actually going to be able meet his or her family.

Story continues below…

However, the shows second episode, revealed that to not be entirely true.

“We believed that if we left, we got zero,” Clark says.

What really happened was that the eliminated contestant was handed an envelope with all the phone numbers and addresses of the relatives that Sveriges Television had found and spoken to.

Although, to Clark’s knowledge, he is the only one to have made a return journey to Sweden.

Next summer he will be bringing his family back to Torekov for a big party with the families from both sides of the pond.

“First thing my family said when I came back was, ‘when are we going’,” Clark says, explaining that developing this link has become the most important part of the story.

Travelling back to Torekov will also give Clark a chance to look for a possible home, and the peace that a busy working life and the responsibilities of a large family seldom allows him.

“Sometimes I would just like to turn everything off and not shave or put a bow tie on for one day, and just relax and read a book," he says.

“It’s very difficult. Maybe in Sweden I can let that happen.”

Allt för Sverige airs on Sundays at 8pm on Svt1. The episodes can also be found on their website, SVT Play.

Related links:

Joel Linde (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

16:10 November 11, 2011 by jvtx3232
"That is until his Swedish masseuse introduced him to a Swedish television producer.

'She said 'hey listen, we're looking for a crazy gay guy who has a Swedish background but has never been to Sweden and doesn't know anything about his background',' Clark recalls.

'Every chance you get to do something new in life is a bonus, and I love new experiences, so I was all up for it.'"

That's great, the political correctness mentality rears it's head again. Nice to know he didn't get on the show on the merits and because he WANTED to apply in the first place, but rather because the producers deliberately sought HIM out because they wanted a token gay guy on the show.

I don't have anything against the guy personally, rather it's the thought process of the show's producers that bugs me.
16:34 November 11, 2011 by Lavaux
Who wonders why the Swedish journalist gravitated towards the gay bow tie designer with the Gypsy-Swedish roots? Sure the guy makes for a colorful profile, but only on the surface. Going below the surface would require insight and hard work, things we know that today's journalists abhor.
17:04 November 11, 2011 by Swedifornia
@ Lavaux

Perhaps it was the fact that "he is the only one to have made a return journey to Sweden." Now, I obviously don't know this for a fact, but my guess is that The Local wasn't willing to send its journalist to the US to speak to any of the other non-gay/gypsy people...
19:15 November 11, 2011 by Tuomi1980
I would love to watch that show^_^
20:21 November 11, 2011 by teknowaffle
This show is crap. I remember reading about when they were looking for "people who were of Swedish descent in America to go back to Sweden", and being interested in it thinking it would be an almost Ken Burns type documentary program.

I imagined an in depth look into the lives of those people what they held onto that was typically Swedish, a genealogical look into their history, and all around an informative show that would open borders between Swedes and their descendants.

Instead it was a crappy reality show with the cruel premise of "if you win, you learn all about your family history. If not, well, sucks to be you".

The fact that SVT produced this crap is a shame.
20:50 November 11, 2011 by svenskamerikansk
I'm cringing already. This appears to be just another silly reality TV freak show. I'll take a pass on this nonsense.
21:16 November 11, 2011 by skogsbo
if these folk are so wrapped up in having ancestors living in sweden, many mnay generations ago, why didn't they spend a few days do some very basic family tree search and book a flight to Sweden. It's that easy and even a person of very modest intelligence, I never watch the show but I suspect these volunteers were kind of 'special'.

I remember speaking to Americans when I been working in other countries and they would say 'oh, I had or have relatives in the England / Scotland etc', I would asked where and then you would find out it was two hundred years ago. I can only put it down the US's history that they seem to hanker for longer term roots, thus there would be no shortage of buffoons for a show like this.
21:50 November 11, 2011 by swedejane

It's likely you mistook their trying to be conversational and make an effort to be friendly with you. Of course, it sounds like you showed them by interrogating them on every detail. Congratulations...I guess you won.
06:23 November 12, 2011 by Kaethar
I'm really enjoying this show. The only downside - as most critics have stated - is the competition. But I can look past that and I hope they remove the competition element if this is renewed for another season. ;)
06:54 November 12, 2011 by Decedo
'Swedish reality TV show brings Swedish-Americans back 'home''. I heard about this in the US, I think they call it 'Deportation'.
07:30 November 12, 2011 by skogsbo
Jane, nope I didn't mistake them being friendly, I asked an obvious question back, it's called showing in interest in their conversation, being polite and social - not interrogation. Life is not a competition, only this show.
08:57 November 12, 2011 by Lavaux

I think you'd better read the article again ...

"Along with nine other souls curious to trace their roots, Clark flew to Denmark to travel by boat over to the southern Swedish province of Skåne last summer.

After a long and rocky boat ride, they all landed on Swedish soil for the first time, and Clark sat down and kissed it."

The text above seems to indicate that 9 others traveled to Sweden with Clark, affirming my critique.
11:36 November 12, 2011 by Cederberg
The reality show may be crummy; most are IMHO, but I certainly understand the premise. I have been fortunate enough to trace my Father's and Mother's Swedish roots back as far as 1500's and to have met relatives on both sides of the family. 3 of my grandparents are Swedish immigrants and farmor is from Oslo. I can totally understand the deep desire that Americans have to find their roots. My first trip to Sweden was wonderful and Stockholm has become like home for me, every time I return. There's nothing like finding your roots.
14:16 November 12, 2011 by skogsbo
ceder, that's my point if it bothers you so much, they would do as you did, I think the chance to be on TV was primary, family history was way down the list of priorities.
20:46 November 12, 2011 by Swedifornia
@ Lavaux

Yes, they were all here last summer to film the show. This interview I presume, was conducted recently when this guy travelled back to Sweden...
00:00 November 13, 2011 by Smiling Canuk
It seems that many North Americans are curious about their origins. I should ask my wife if she's interested since she's Swedish-Canuk but has never been there. It always seems that I'm actually more more interested in Sweden than she is. I'm half British and half native aboriginal. I went to the UK to "find my roots", at least my father's half. It was interesting to say the least.
16:25 November 14, 2011 by flintis
How do you have a long boat ride from Denmark to Sweden??????

Stockholm is like Stepford, which planet is this prat from?
16:03 November 17, 2011 by jwlundgren
on behalf of nice normal americans, I apologize for the crap we send you on television.
15:11 November 18, 2011 by lennea
I applied and was contacted by the producers. They really liked my application, but said I wasn't eligible because I knew too much about Sweden (having studied the language independently and visited Sweden for a few days once). The casting person then had the chutzpah to ask me if they could contact someone else in my family to be on the show! I declined, and I'm glad that I did.
09:17 November 19, 2011 by Icarusty
So in a Sweden vs USA war, who would you fight for?
13:53 November 21, 2011 by TravelMiracle
This is Janis Babcock, one of the cast members on Allt för Sverige. Interesting to see the reactions of the public to this show. On the Facebook page I find most Swedes greatly disliking the elimination aspect of the show and wanting more of the connection aspect. I get that opinion, but I also get that adventure is fun and light-hearted TV can also be fun! Why not? While I am sad that my life as a Genealogist with a tree of over 1300 people and 850 hours or work put into it was edited out of the program, I must realize it wasn't a complete documentary of our lives. People have much more depth than what can be shown in tiny soundbites. I guess if you haven't seen the show you don't see how emotional of a journey it was for us. In most cases people left their countries of origin due to immense hardship. For some people there is a sadness in our hearts for that loss of our ancestors, so returning to Sweden was very moving and healing. Yeah, reality shows are silly, but Americans who honor their history are not.
02:45 November 23, 2011 by wesbrow
Yes, I also applied for this activity but was not accepted. Since I had studied the Swedish language in college and had, in 1998, played several concerts in Stockholm, I knew too much about Sweden. In addition, I had traced my ancestors there back a few hundred years. It may also be that I'm culturally not in the young vibrant group that they possibly wanted, being an advanced senior citizen. Actually, I'm probably better off not being involved!
10:34 November 28, 2011 by trucker17
I am a Swedish-American.....And am very proud of my heritage....Although i do not know where my heritage goes to in Sweden.....I know my grandparents were both from Sweden, and would love the opertunity to someday set foot on what i call my family homeland....Even if its just for a short visit....To see where my roots come from would be a once in a lifetime thing.....

All i know is their names....Henery nelson....and my grandmothers maiden name....Ella Patterson or peterson....Not sure which....

For you who live in sweden it may not seem like much....But you live their and walk the streets where your heritage started....For many of us, me included, this is just a far away dream to come back to where our heritage started....True we have towns here like Solvang, and Kingsberg, here in California....But it is not Sweden......At some point everyone wants to come home....Maybe someday this will happen for me and my family.....
17:04 December 23, 2011 by Emerentia
@trucker17. Do you know when your relatives came to the US or maybe what year they were born? I recommend http://www.ellisisland.org/ where you can start searching for them. If you dont find them try another spelling, many changed their names, from "Nilsson" to "Nelson" or from "Pettersson" to "Patterson" etc. Good luck searching!

I really liked this show, all the participants where very likeable, and it was emotional and heartwarming, even if it was a gameshow. I hope that there will be another season of this, maybe the contests could be a bit less silly and more based on gathering knowledge about Sweden, like in the last episode.
00:26 December 24, 2011 by Marysia2
skogsbo: it's just not always that easy to do "basic family tree search" on this (No. America) side of the Atlantic. Even if you are lucky enough to find an ancestor's entry at Ellis Island (and really only a small percentage of Europeans came through there), it only shows the port of departure from Europe, not the hometown. In my case, my search ended with the earliest birth certificates that said "Mother/Father's Place of Birth: Ireland (or Russia or whatever) - I haven't found any with a town/village listed. You personally have no curiosity about your ancestry because you have always known it and it's probably 100% Swedish. You might feel differently if you had been born in the "new" world. Immigrants who arrived on the east coast spread out to the four corners of the continent. It's difficult tracing some of them even within the US/Canada let alone back to Europe. So don't be so hard on Americans/Canadians who haven't made the effort - most people don't even know where to start.
15:50 December 28, 2011 by salalah
I wonder if these "Americans" are still considered "Immigrants" in the US or are they fully assimilated?

Let's ask Sd what they think about these fake swedes...
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