A voice for newcomers in Sweden

Syrian dentist Hasan: I'm hugging like a Swede now, but we need to talk about underpants

Hasan with the friends who have become like a "family". Photo: Private

Published: 22.Jun.2016 14:31 hrs

Hasan Ali Deeb from Damascus has embraced the new language and culture after two years in Sweden. Now he's fully used to all the hugs, but still has some reservations about Swedes' loose attachment to their underpants.

“I think I am more than integrated in this country,” says Hasan of his new home. “I have friends and a family here; whenever I need help with something I ask and they happily help out – and vice versa.”

Photo: Private

He particularly relishes the openness of Swedish society, which allows him to have frank discussions with his friends. “There are no taboos. We talk about some very controversial topics," he says. "Through that we get to learn about the differences in each other's cultures."

“For example, once my friends asked why men from the Middle East don’t take off their underpants while in public bathrooms in gyms, or school bathrooms, or in swimming pools. I told them that we are not used to it; it’s about the culture and it’s influenced by religion. I said that we are just as surprised at how readily you take off your pants in public!"

"When I explained, they were understanding. Discussions open up the space for mutual understanding and respect."

One way he has been deeply influenced by Swedish culture is the hug.

"When I first arrived in Sweden, people I met would hug me as a greeting. At the beginning, I didn’t understand - it felt weird! But now if I meet a Swedish friend and they shake hands instead of hugging, I wonder ‘where’s the hug? Is something wrong?’" laughs Hasan.

Photo: Private

When he first arrived in Långviksmon, northern Sweden, in November, 2013, it was a shock to move from Damascus, a bustling city of two million, to a small village of just 200 people. But its size did have its upside. “In about a week you’d get to know everyone there. Coming to this village was the best thing that happened to me in Sweden."

There was a small Syrian community in the village, but Hasan and his friends were eager to integrate with locals, which he was able to do quickly. "People are so kind and from the very second day after arriving here I started building friendships with Swedes. On the second day I was invited to play volleyball with Swedes and other Syrians, and I still have a great relationship with these people – they are like my family.”

Photo: Private

An internship at a secondhand shop, Ankaret, helped him learn about Swedish culture and language by chatting to the villagers who came in to browse and have some coffee and cake. “Many people got to know me and wanted to help with the language, some even brought me books to read," Hasan remembers.

He studied hard, learning from a friend Annete, and practising whenever he could. “I used to talk to people in Swedish – I wasn’t shy about making mistakes.” As his own skills improved, he was able to help Annette teach other refugees by making PowerPoint presentations or helping to explain Swedish grammar.

Hasan later moved to Örnsköldsvik to study SFI (Swedish for Immigrants), before moving onto the Korta vägen programme. “This helped me upgrade my Swedish very quickly, and learn medical terminology. It helped me understand how to apply for and get a job in the Swedish job market.”

And after a lot of research and phonecalls, in March this year the 28-year-old began work as a dental assistant, where he assists dentists as well as translating for any patients who can’t describe their symptoms in Swedish.

"I hope to get my Swedish dentist licence soon so I can practice my profession."

But he hasn't forgotten the village that first welcomed him. “I stayed in contact with my friends in the village, and there’s a Swedish family that used to welcome me into their home – whenever they come to the city they visit me and whenever I go to village I sleep at their place.”

"I actually advise newcomers to go and live in small towns and villages, people in these places are very kind, sociable and accepting of others. At the end of the day it’s important for the Swedes to socialize with refugees too – including and not isolating the newcomers is good for the Swedes and for Sweden."

Did you like this story?

Help improve The Local Voices by completing this short reader survey.


More Stories

Ratiba says living in Sweden will "give a new meaning" to her life.

Alienation in Sweden feels better: I find myself a stranger among scores of aliens

Ratiba Hanoush, 28, left Syria for Turkey in 2012 before arriving in Sweden last year. She admits that she still feels like an outsider, but explains why she is happier here than at home. READ
A new study into the gender pay gap suggests Sweden still has some work to do. READ
There's something fishy about the human jawbone – it has its origins in the placodermi, a jowly species of fish that lived 400 million years ago, Swedish and Chinese researchers say. READ
An arson attack in Malmö that caused only minor damage and was barely reported in the media has been claimed by terror group Isis. READ
This tasty cake is an autumn staple in Swedish cafés. Why not make it yourself! READ
Justus and Emma

A layover at Qatar airport brought this Swedish-Kenyan couple together - now they're heading for marriage

Closeness, selflessness, and pleasure; falling in love is a strange but wonderful human experience. READ
The social media giant removed a breast cancer awareness video because it deemed the images "offensive," according to the Swedish Cancer Society. READ
Anna-Lena and Johan designed and built their home with tall beautiful windows, a smart heating system, and a separate section for their greyhounds. READ
The 300kg haul was found by in a truck which drove off a ferry in Karlskrona. READ

'Swedish startups should embrace newcomers' talents - there's nothing to fear'

Syrian programmer Samer Malatialy got an IT job after just over a year in Sweden. His new homeland has all the ingredients to be a global startub hub, he believes, but it needs to embrace more foreign talent and fix a couple of serious bottlenecks. READ