On a rainy November evening a few years ago, me and my flatmate took a bus to the other end of our city to buy a second hand couch table we had seen an ad for online. We were scraping together to buy things to furnish our flat going all over the city to collect second hand furniture from richer people that traded off their old stuff, and we were happy to finally afford a table for our living room. It was a long way to go to this neighborhood, where small houses replaced the rental flats in our area, and we searched for a while before finding the house. A pretty little brick house with an accompanying garden, was supposedly the correct place according to the address we had been provided with.
As we rang the doorbell a small boy opened. “My mom is coming” he said, then adding, unasked: “She only speaks little Swedish.”
A woman dressed in a black abaya appeared in the doorway, introducing herself in broken Swedish. We realized it was an Iraqi family that we had come across. It was obviously not one of the Baghdadi families, liberal in the urban kind of way – it was a conservative, religious family we could tell from the woman’s appearance and the religious scripts on the wall. We were surprised, then felt stupid being surprised. Why couldn’t a conservative Iraqi family stay in this upper middle class area? Here we were: two white women still buying second hand furniture because we couldn’t afford the new things, still sharing a flat in what someone could have called a “socially deprived area” where water leaks in the house made our flat smell of mold, and shootings was such a regular happening it hardly made headlines. Your own prejudices can have a way of coming back and slap you in the face sometimes.
The woman introduced us to the tables they were selling off and we chatted a bit. It turned out they were from Diwaniya, a city in Southern Iraq, and had arrived to Sweden a few years before. Selling all they had in Iraq before fleeing the escalating violence, and her husband starting to work as soon as they had arrived, after a while buying a small candy shop, had made them being able to buy themselves the house and put their children in nearby reputable schools.
Her husband and his brother came home, we agreed on a table on a price, then it was time for us to go. The woman started to propose that we had to drink tea first, we must be tired from the long bus ride. Or maybe eat something before leaving? We explained we were in a hurry and that we had to call a taxi to transport the heavy table to our place.
“Taxi?” the man asked. “You don’t have a car?”
None of us actually even had a driving license, but we withheld that so as not having to lower ourselves even more in the eyes of the sellers – we had already told them the area we lived in. Without further discussion the man and his brother carried the table to their car, announcing they would bring us home.The woman kissed us both goodbye and, when we declined tea or dinner a second time, welcomed us back anytime. None of the people we had bought our furniture from had been that nice.
We squeezed into the car (damn, it was even a Volvo) with the brother of the husband and the big table, and at our house he helped us to carry the table into our living room. When he had left we looked at each other, baffled. It had been a trip of surprises, not only over who stayed in the house, but over the ride. None of our fellow Swedish countrymen would ever have done us that favour.
Photo: Copyright Sweden and the Middle East Blog
“Your own prejudices can have a way of coming back and slap you in the face sometimes.”…this encapsulates perfectly the biases we all hold in one way or another for cultures different from the one we have always known. I wish more people in America were willing to examine the lens through which they view the world and be willing to adjust the focus when needed.
Thank you for sharing this experience.
Thank you Jeff! Well it’s easy to see other people’s prejudices but I think it’s important (and interesting) to look inside onself. No matter how much we wish to be perfect I’m sure everyone is having prejudices in one way or another… and we can only move on if we admit them.
Beautifully written, and very thoughtful post! I’m so glad you shared this with me. Not many over here will admit it, but America is very xenophobic, and what Jeff says is absolutely on point.
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I like how you write your thoughts out loud and without fear, but at the same time keep it considerate.
You know, someday if you stumble in my home to have a cup of coffee with me, you would come across religious scripts on walls, but hardly any discussion on and around religion or Islam. Most of us put these things probably out of respect and a need to feel secure in our homes, its like the cross or the portrait of Mary with Jesus which I saw every day of my life for 10 years during my school days of studying in a Christian Convent school run by Irish and Polish nuns in Karachi. They all knew I, most of us were Muslims as we knew they were Christians, but that was it!
wonderful way of putting it! and thank u for your sweet comment!