A unusually sunny late winter day of 2015, strolling the long of Strandvägen, Stockholm looked like the kind of place to force you into a severe depression once returned to wherever you came from.
The city was beautiful beyond belief; the people were handsome, tall, elegant; streets were clean; the pace of life calm and relaxed; the food had been tasty and made with fresh produce; public transportation was on time and frequent; the wonderful Stadsbiblioteket was still there, a bitter-sweet memory of lost and happy times...; everything was so perfect it was almost frightening. Then you picked up a copy of Aftonbladet...
The headline ran "Swedes recognizes the benefits of immigration, they think helping refugees is a moral duty".
And then you remembered your acquaintance D*, married to a Swedish lady, who in 18 months could not find a job. You remember your own anguish at having to feed yourself exclusively with knäckebröd (Wasa Frukost exclusively, of course, standards must be upheld even in poverty) and liver paste for weeks on end, as money was running out and still there was no job on the horizon. All your money went to pay for Swedish classes, you got an A in grammar, and a B in oral. You rented a room in a southern suburb, that you paid with your own money, and you could be kicked out from one day to the next as you had no real tenant rights, just a pricey rent to pay on time each month. You met many people who had to change their last name to have a chance of having their CV actually read.
Later in life, when meeting Swedish people far from their native country, if they discovered you have been there and spoke the language, their first reaction was to say "but we pay lot of taxes and we also have unemployed people" like if expressing your admiration for Hjalmar Söderberg (1869-1941), Swedish nature, raggare bands and Ingmar Bergman was going to rob them of some social service they wanted just for themselves. Like if an interest in their culture was a crime,because you might want to find employment in their country.
You thought of the Swedish journalist who told "of course the people (Swedes) want to work with those that are like them", forgetting she had been working in Barcelona and was on her way to Nicaragua to write about exploited children there.
And you cannot avoid thinking that as long as local jobs are considered the priority of local people beyond any real evaluation of skills; or if only refugees from developing countries are worthy of being welcome and helped, the EU will remain a failed dream. Is it a crime to be interested in other European cultures and invest one's own time and savings in it? Are all intra-EU migrants thieves who steal jobs and state health services from the native population?
All the time and money invested in learning Swedish in the Folkhögskola serves me today to read in the original one of the undisputed masterpieces of European fiction, Doktor Glas (Doctor Glas, 1905); or Den allvarsamma leken (The Serious Game, 1912) the only novel I know where men are not just lusty swine, they suffer from love (this is no mistake, I wrote men, certainly subversive by today's standards) ... Not to forget the novella Pälsen (The fur coat 1898), so cruel, so short and with a perfect end.
All that time was bad for my pocket and my health, but good for my soul.
After all, like the main character in the play Gertrud (1906), Baron von Trotta believes "på köttets lust och själens obotliga ensamhet" ("in the splendours of the flesh and the endless loneliness of the soul"). The film version by Dreyer is easy to find, and so are all of Hjalmar Söderberg's novels quoted here. Do yourself a favour: stay at home this weekend and read them all! The reward will be worthy of your time.