Being an Immigrant in Sweden

Being an immigrant. There is a lot written about it.

I read almost zero books for year before I picked up reading again this December and have been at it ever since. I have been reading books written by authors of Indian or African (mostly Nigerian and one Zimbabwean) origin. Even though I have been in Stockholm only for a year or so, I have, I guess, always felt like an immigrant living in different places within India. Most of the literature I have read is about people from developing or under developed countries going to a developed country in search of a future. It is quite a common story and I grew up in a family where I saw people around me going off to the USA or similar places. Most stories I read have been very US centered, but there is something very intrinsic with which I connect to when I read such stories. For example take the following line in the book I am currently reading:

This is something I have felt over and over, many times in Sweden. I do not think it is a Swedish thing to complain for small things or anything. It is just that coming from India, many experiences are difficult for me relate to, understand or empathize with. What are called #firstworldproblems. One of the first things I remember from Sweden is that I was standing on the left side of the escalator and someone behind got really grumpy. My friend urgently tugged me and taught me about how one should stay on the right of the escalator so that people who was to walk past you have the way to ahead. I was quite surprised and thought about it for a moment and joked with my friend saying ‘Sweden doesnt have real problems so people fret about these little things!’ But now I think about it slightly differently, don’t people get grumpy in Bombay when a slow person blocks someone in a real hurry? Of course they do. I realized there are many many layers to the question of immigration itself.

The first thing, which is interesting, is that I can slowly see myself changing. Of course, I stand on the right side of elevators now, go skinny dipping in frozen lakes, complain about the cold wind on a sunny day and other small things. Small things which my friends are quick to point out. Also, I have an awesome master thesis partner who like discussing such things! I also complain and get grumpy about a minute delayed in subways. There is another layer to this experience though, as soon as I get grumpy about these little things, I also realize how lucky I am to have such well functioning subway system, sometimes I get flashes about how travelling to work in Bombay could be. And then I smile. Also, do I want to show that I am ‘Swedish’ by embracing these Swedish traditions wholeheartedly? Very tricky question to answer, do I show new immigrants the Swedish ways and teach them Swedish things to show them that I am a lil bit Swedish already? Again, these deep subconscious things are soo difficult to be certain about.

Second thing, I still dont have the a feeling of ‘self-realization’ or rather I feel guilty pampering myself. Most people in Sweden dont feel this, and to me it makes sense, but it is still so different. I mean, I don’t like spending money on myself, or things that I don’t need or whatever, you know, there is always this voice in my head saying do you have to buy it or cant someone else use this money better than you, or something like that. Now, again the interesting thing is that, rich folks in Bombay, I think, make more of a deal about their money than the folks in Sweden. And I have often felt guilty about pampering myself even India. I think that feeling elevated in Sweden because I have more avenues to pamper myself and people around me are constantly doing it.

Third thing, I sometimes wonder if I am being treated differently from other Europeans. This one is so difficult to say. I mean, they way I am treated by anyone at any point is a function of like a million things. The mood of that person, that person’s previous experiences with me, that person’s values in life, the context and many such things. So, to pin-point if I am being treated differently from other immigrants is whoa, I don’t even try to think like that.

What I am trying to get at, I think, is that being an immigrant is complicated (I think the technical term is ‘intersectionality‘). It has many many layers and I feel it is really important to separate everything that happens to me from being treated as an immigrant. Of course, there are things that come from being an immigrant but I do not think, in anyway, has Sweden restricted my identity to just being an Indian or an immigrant or a male or a business student for that matter. I think, to phrase it differently, most people do not look at me just as an immigrant. Being an immigrant or Indian, is of course, an important part of my identity and at this point in life, I definitely do feel very Indian and would be slightly annoyed if someone refused to see that in me. But at the same time, I feel, I have been given all the space I need to express myself as I wished.

I think it is the little things that make me happy though. For example, in crowded public places, its quite common for young people to stand and hand out pamphlets to people walking by. Sometimes, these young people try to sign you up for services like gyms or donations. So far I have been approached 5 times and every time they spoke to me in Swedish and I had to say, ah, I dont speak Swedish too well, could you speak in English? The thing is that they want to sell something to me so they really want to get their point across and their English is really good, so they have every incentive to talk with me in english if they can ‘look’ at me and know that I dont speak swedish. Most people dont assume me not to be Swedish just because I ‘look’ Indian. I think that’s pretty cool.


Written by Raghuraman

06 Mar 2016