Söderström set out on his social experiment in the northern city of Skellefteå on Thursday morning, placing himself on the opposite side of the street to that of a beggar of foreign origin.
He had prepared for the experiment for two months: letting his beard grow unrestricted, having shed five kilograms of his bodyweight by minimising his portions and getting as little sleep as possible.
“I wanted to see whether we [the Swedes] really made a difference between people and people and whether it mattered if I was a Swede rather than a foreigner in despair. If Swedes were really as coldhearted toward people of other ethnic origin as I had thought,” he told The Local.
According to Söderström, who later posted about his experience on Instagram, two-and-a-half hours was enough to prove his point. The freezing cold, the hard stares and people’s blatant attempts to look away were too difficult to deal with.
“By the end of the sitting I had made 76 kronor (€8.20) and so I took my mug with money and went over to give it to the guy sitting opposite me – in the same amount of time, he had only earned 12 kronor! We didn’t speak, because he didn’t speak Swedish, but he grabbed my hand and squeezed it and had tears running down his face,” he said.
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Söderström said that while one woman had turned back and poured all her change into his own cup after he had responded to her greeting with a typical Swedish slang expression (“tjena, tjena”), an elderly woman had taken pity on him by wondering “what a poor little Swedish boy was doing in the cold begging”.
“I couldn’t understand why the fact that I was Swedish had anything at all to do with it. If people are in despair it doesn’t matter what country they are from.”
Söderström said that although he cannot make an overall judgement of the Swedes’ attitude toward foreigners after just one single begging sitting, the experiment was the most coldhearted thing he has experienced, especially as most people couldn’t even afford a smile as they passed by.
“If someone almost starts to cry of gratitude because you give him 75 kronor, it is obvious that the person is only doing this because he really, really needs to.”
“To be honest, the only real connection I had with anyone during that time was the guy I gave the money to. That was real. This experience has left me really disappointed because I was proved right in my suspicions.”
This is not the first time that such a social experiment takes place in Sweden. In September last year, a video posted online by STHLM Panda went viral after the social experiment network showed the differences in attitude towards people begging in Stockholm’s richest and poorest suburbs.
During the experiment, 34 people in the poorest suburb – and where around 90 percent of the population is either a first or second generation immigrant – donated, while not a single person stopped to aid the same beggar in the wealthiest area.