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PHOTOGRAPHY

‘Bringing my camera to Sweden was the best thing I ever did’

29-year-old Ahmad Aldurra, originally from Damascus, arrived in Sweden in October last year. He tells The Local how he already feels "part of a family" thanks to a photography internship.

'Bringing my camera to Sweden was the best thing I ever did'
Ahmad Aldurra. Photo: Private

Aldurra arrived at Svenshögen asylum centre in central Sweden over two years after leaving Syria. Fifteen days into his stay there, he met Marie Lindblad, a director at voluntary organization Kulturcentrum Väst, who was visiting someone living there.

Lindblad told him about Kulturcentrum and its work offering cultural activities and theatre training for people with special needs, including autism, Down Syndrome and ADHD. Aldurra was fascinated, and eagerly accepted an invitation to one of their shows.

He took along the photography equipment he had brought with him from Syria and took some pictures, which were admired by the volunteers.

When Aldurra asked if he could work for them they answered: “We help those who help us.”

“They offered me an internship and I started working for them – less than a month after arriving in Sweden,” explains Aldurra.


One of Aldurra's photos from a performance at Kulturcentrum. Photo: Private

He quickly got stuck in, shooting plays and rehearsals for the centre. His eye for a good picture resulted in stunning photos and requests soon came pouring in for him to cover events such as baptisms or weddings.

As he realized his talent could be a way to give back to the country that had welcomed him, Aldurra made a decision. “I decided to tell every Swede I met about my skills, and offer my help,”  he says.


One of Aldurra's photos. Photo: Private

His most recent project was shooting a performance of a silent play, Crossroads, at the Kulturcentrum, which portrayed the struggles of people with special needs.

“There were funny scenes and other tragic ones, but what mostly touched the heart were the performers’ facial expressions,” remembers Aldurra. “The audience cried, and I cried; although the play was silent you can still understand their sorrow.”


The Crossroads performance. Photo: Private

Aldurra is full of admiration for the Kulturcentrum. “I am very happy that I’ve worked with these people, they are great and so passionate; it felt like I was in a family. If you attend the rehearsals, you’d witness how great their coaches and teacher are, you feel how attached the performers are to their coaches – just like if they were their parents.”

He also has a positive attitude towards his adopted country – and doesn't buy into stereotypes of Sweden as dull or its inhabitants as reserved and introverted.

“I really love this country,” he says. “Some people might think Sweden can be boring because of its small population. I see it differently, it’s calm and quiet – this country gives you peace of mind and soul.”

“I have built relationships with many Swedes, even though I don’t speak Swedish or very good English. I don’t see them as introverts.”

“People here seem humble and they appreciate it when you help them.”


The Crossroads performance. Photo: Private

His advice to other newcomers: “Try to take the first step and communicate with them.”

After finishing his internship with Kulturcentrum, Aldurra was recently offered another at an adult education college in Värnamo, which may lead to permanent employment.

“If you want to work, you can always find something to do,” he says, adding that he thinks people complain too much about Sweden’s job market.

“I don’t complain, I just kept offering my services to people until I got an internship.

“People were really happy with my work, they told me they would never forget me and that’s what I wanted from the beginning.”

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CULTURE

‘Don’t wear bright colours’: Eight tips on how to dress like a Swede

Swedes have an international reputation for dressing well, with Scandi style a popular trend outside Sweden. The Local asked Swedes and foreigners living in Sweden to try and figure out the best tips and tricks for how to dress like a Swede.

'Don't wear bright colours': Eight tips on how to dress like a Swede

Black is best

When asking several Swedes their top-tips on how to dress like a Swede, many agreed – wear black.

Young professional Tove advises to keep it “all black, minimalist”. Uppsala newspaper columnist Moa agrees: “Wear a lot of black clothes and DON’T wear sneakers or ‘comfortable’ shoes, like running shoes, with dresses.”

Black is a neutral colour and, in general, if you get the neutral colours right you have got a long way in following the Swedish style. 

Neutral colours and a lot of knitwear is a good starting point. Photo: FilippaK/imagebank.sweden.se

Stay neutral 

Sweden might be saying goodbye to hundreds of years of neutrality by joining Nato, but Swedish fashion maintains its strong neutral stance when it comes to colour combinations.

Generally speaking, in autumn and winter Swedes tend to wear darker colours, as Sharon put it: “lots of beige, grey, black and ivory knits or wool. Jeans black or any shade of blue. Black tights with white sneakers for skirts and dresses”.

“Swedes in general will wear black and navy together which I’ve not seen before,” she added.

However, as the weather gets warmer, things change, as half-British half-Swedish Erik explained: “in summer/late spring Swedes change shape and personality,” adding a bit more colour to their wardrobe.

“Lots of colours yet still somewhat monochrome,” he said.

Most Swedes don’t wear a tie at work. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Follow the news trend, drop the tie

Nils, a reporter and presenter for public broadcaster SVT in western Sweden, does not always wear a tie in front of the camera – and he said his colleagues on national news don’t wear ties either.

“It’s not a must,” he said.

A blue shirt, no tie, top button open, beige chinos and a grey dinner jacket is the look he chose when presenting the evening news a few weeks ago.

Nils Arnell presenting the news on SVT Nyheter Väst. Photo: Nils Arnell/SVT

On a day to day basis Nils, who stressed that he’s “not a fashion expert”, gave the following advice: “As long as you manage to dress in a neat style, you can get away with quite a lot.”

“A white t-shirt and an overshirt work well in most situations and look stylish.”

Stay classy, even in class

Engineering student Erik (not the same Erik quoted previously) recently returned to Sweden from a one-year exchange at Birmingham University, where he noticed a big difference in student style between the two countries.

“The first thing that comes to mind is that on university campus there are so many people wearing work-out clothes, at least where I was”, he said.

“In Sweden, it’s more common to wear jeans than tracksuit bottoms, compared to the UK”. 

It’s also common to see a difference in styles even between departments at Swedish universities. The law and economics departments, for example, tend to wear more formal attire with a higher number of students wearing shirts and polos than, say, social sciences or engineering students.

Many students seem to wear a toned-down version of what they might be expected to wear in their future workplace.

When in doubt, think Jantelagen!

Equality and conformity are important concepts when it comes to many aspects of day-to-day life in Sweden, including the clothes you wear.

This doesn’t mean you have to do exactly the same as everyone else, but more that being too flashy or over-the-top can be frowned upon.

This can be traced back to Jantelagen, “the law of Jante”, a set of 10 rules taken from a satirical novel written by Danish author Aksel Sandemose in the 1930s, which spells out the unwritten cultural codes that have long defined Scandinavia.

Jantelagen discourages individual success and sets average as the goal. It manifests itself in Swedish culture not only with a ‘we are all equal’ ethos but even more so a ‘don’t think you are better than anyone, ever’ mindset.

And this is seen in Swedes’ attitude to clothing, too. Flashy, expensive clothing with obvious logos or brands designed to show off your wealth breaks the first rule of Jantelagen: “You’re not to think you are anything special”.

‘Stealth wealth’

This doesn’t mean that Swedes don’t wear expensive clothes, though. They’re just not in-your-face expensive.

Felix, a podcaster from Stockholm describes it as “stealth wealth”, saying that Swedes would have no problem buying and wearing “a black jacket without any tags for 10,000kr”. 

Despite living in Sweden his whole life, he said that it’s not always easy to get the style right.

“I’m struggling myself,” he admitted.

He suggested taking a look at fashion blogger and journalist Martin Hansson for inspiration on how to dress. 

“Do NOT use bright colours,” Felix added.

Birkenstocks with socks. Photo: Carl-Olof Zimmerman/TT

Footwear

Most of those we asked said that Swedes are a fan of white trainers, most commonly Stan Smiths or Vagabonds.

With the shoes being popular all year round for men and women, this can cause issues at house parties – as Swedes take off their shoes when they come inside.

This inevitably results in confused guests at the end of the night trying to figure out just which pair of white trainers belongs to them – and trying to find one missing shoe the next day because someone accidentally walked away with one of yours is more common than you might think. 

Vans trainers are also popular amongst more alternative crowds (black of course). At work, dress shoes are popular in the winter and loafers or ballerinas in the summer.

In the summer months, you’re likely to see Birkenstock sandals on men and women. Most Swedes wear Birkenstocks without socks – unless they’re off to do their laundry in their building’s tvättstuga.

Birkenstocks are also popular as indoor shoes all-year-round, both at home and at work. It is common to have a “no outdoor shoes” policy in gyms, schools and some offices. This is to avoid bringing a lot of dirt indoors, especially in the winter months when there is snow, rain, grit and salt on the streets.

H&M’s then-CEO Rolf Eriksen wears colourful socks at a press conference in 2006. Photo: Björn Larsson Ask/SvD/SCANPIX/TT

Don’t forget the socks!

As you often take your shoes off indoors in Sweden, your socks are visible.

This has led to an unexpected trend for colourful socks with interesting patterns, which are a great way to break the monotone of neutral colours and conformity by expressing your personality – in a lagom way, of course.

A pair of colourful socks or a playful pattern will get you noticed and likely be a conversation starter at a dinner party.

What’s your best advice for dressing like a Swede? Let us know!

This article is based on the responses we received from Swedes and foreigners in Sweden on what they think you should wear if you want to follow Swedish fashion trends.

If you have any tips of your own which you think we’ve left out, let us know! You can comment on this article, send us an email at [email protected], or get in touch with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram: @thelocalsweden

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