When we were in hospital after having our twins last year a fellow new father warned me that our girls would be much sought-after once they reached marrying age.
“The boys will queue because you have brought new genes to the area. The biggest and best thing to happen to the northern Swedish gene pool was the invention of the bicycle. That meant men could travel 20 or 30 kilometres to meet a potential wife. Until then, a man’s options were slightly more restricted. It was not good for our gene pool.”
Northern Sweden still suffers from population stagnation. Most of the people in our area have always lived here. Even those who head down to Stockholm for work often come back to start a family – I can confirm it’s a great place to bring up kids. But not many Swedes move from south to north. And young people do occasionally head south for excitement and employment and stay for good. So there has been a gradual depopulation of the north.
We were the first non-Swedish residents of our village. For the locals this was a big thing. Many were bewildered (“You left London to come here?”) but most were intensely proud (“We are so glad you’re here to see how beautiful it is.”). And it’s this openness and pride that marks out northern Sweden as such a welcoming place for immigrants.
I’ve come across none of the suspicion and hostility to immigrants that is apparently so common down south. For one thing, Northerners tend to be progressive, politically. Randy, my neighbour, says, “We need new people up here. We need diversity. And it’s always fascinating to come across another culture.”
Marie, another neighbour, has a similar outlook. “Any healthy society needs a mixture of culture. The north also needs fresh blood and fresh ideas.” I’m yet to encounter anyone who objects to immigrants, although I’m sure, statistically, there must be those who wish for homogeneity and the subsequent death of the north.
Fellow immigrants I’ve spoken to at Swedish for Immigrants (SFI) classes have met with little hostility. One middle-aged mother told me of an incident in a small shop when her son had forgotten to bring his debit card to pay for a small basket of groceries “The old man in the shop told him not to worry, to just bring the money in next time. We lived down south for several months. That would not have happened.”
Another woman who had originally moved to Stockholm had nothing but praise for northern Sweden. “We could have stayed down south but we chose to come up here. We are treated with greater respect here. The locals are dependent on people choosing to move here and settle down. They appreciate us and treat as one of them.”
This is the key, of course. The north needs new blood, new ideas, new energy. There is nothing to be gained by fear of the different, by staying the same. Northern Sweden needs to keep moving forward just in order to survive.