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'We had forgotten how lucky we are to live in Sweden... until we went abroad'

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'We had forgotten how lucky we are to live in Sweden... until we went abroad'
A Swedish pre-school. Photo: Hasse Holmberg/TT
11:40 CEST+02:00
OPINION: The Local contributor Paul Connolly writes about how a holiday abroad made him realize how lucky he is to be raising his daughters in Sweden.

The incident unfolded almost in slow-motion, as if time itself couldn’t believe what was happening.

Our four-year-old twins, Caitlin and Leila, were playing in a small playground in a Turkish resort when a girl of about eight walked up to Caitlin, who was about to climb the slide, and punched her in the face, knocking her down.

There had been no provocation. The girl just wanted to go on the slide first and had been unwilling to wait.

My girlfriend and I were sitting, having dinner, about ten metres away.

I rushed over to make sure Caitlin was OK. She was physically fine, but was obviously shocked and distressed, so I held her. And then turned my attention to the assailant. All I did was look at her sternly before she started to cower and plead with me in what I assumed was Russian.

Since our girls were born in Sweden just over four years ago we’d not left the country. Donna and I were too busy with the twins and with trying to build our professional lives in a new country.

But this summer we spent a few days in the UK before heading off to Turkey for our first summer holiday as a family.

Given the Brexit vote we weren’t too surprised to find that civic life in the UK had coarsened since we left five years ago. But seeing life through the lens of being a father of daughters was remarkable. And not in a good way.

It wasn’t just the way I saw women being catcalled by men in the street.

Or that I overheard men making openly lascivious remarks to women.

Sadly, those morons existed before Brexit emboldened the reactionary and dim to air their prejudices and insecurities.

But this misogyny had even seemed to affect those who should know better.

One friend with an adolescent daughter teased her mercilessly over the fact that she didn’t want to shave her legs. Called her Hairy Mary.

Another friend laughed at his daughter’s suggestion that she could play football professionally.

When did this happen? When did it become acceptable to demean girls and women in the UK?

When we arrived in Turkey, the difference in how females are regarded was even more palpable. Female airport security guards were not allowed to pat down male passengers. There were far fewer women in obvious positions of authority.

However, it was at the resort, run by a very well-known French operator, where the differences were most notable.

There was a large contingent of Russian families at the resort, mostly unaccompanied by fathers. The kids were out of control – aggressive and terribly behaved. The adults were not much better. They were rude, obnoxious and showing levels of entitlement I’d not encountered since I’d worked as a waiter at the Henley Festival in the UK.

Even the kids’ club, a feature for which the French travel company has an enviable reputation, had obvious problems.

When I mentioned that the girls wanted to play football one morning, the staff member responsible for the activity looked at me as if I were a little unhinged.

“No,” she explained slowly, as if trying to explain astrophysics to a toddler, “the boys play football and the girls can sit in the park and pick flowers or something.”

Due largely to the antics of some of the other kids, our girls loathed the kids’ club. One morning, just as we turned up with the girls, one boy punched another child in the face. The staff did nothing. Our girls were terrified by the violence.

After five calm, measured years in Sweden we almost felt as though we were amongst savages. Other nations seem aeons behind Sweden.

Despite the barbarism we witnessed, we did enjoy our break.

It was great to feel real heat for the first time in years and, as a family, we had fun in the pools and sea. Leila learned to swim and Caitlin threw herself at the waves.

However, we were glad to be back home in Sweden.

We know we live in one of the best countries in the world to raise daughters.

But we'd become quite blasé about how lucky we are to live in a country which values its young and its females.

In Sweden, it’s a major event if the girls have even the tiniest row with one of their friends at dagis.

There is no violence, no intimidation, and nobody to tell my girls they can’t play football.

Paul Connolly is a Skellefteå-based writer and occasional contributor to The Local. Follow him on Twitter and read more of his writing on The Local.

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