We need a German Ministry of Invitations

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When I was a foreigner abroad, especially in the beginning, I remember how the best thing would always be if a local invited you home. It was almost like an unofficial integrational competition among the other internationals: how many Swedish homes have you been to? Being invited into someone’s home gave you access to the society you were in, to find out more about how the people lived here and what they liked to do.

Last Saturday, I had guests for dinner. It is something that happens every now and then at my blue table. Young people in their twenties usually from different backgrounds, often different nationalities gather around that table that was the first one my mother owned herself when she was in her twenties. I put on that Spotify playlist, light the brass candle holders and uncork the red wine. That’s what I always do and that is what I did last Saturday as well. Actually, it was like any Saturday dinner with guests. Just that those guests did not come from Sweden or Spain or the South of Germany. They came from Syria and they did not come voluntarily.

Last year, Ebba Åkerman, a Swedish language teacher for immigrants, came up with the brilliant idea of the “Invitationsdepartmentet”, a Ministry of Dinner Invitations. She realized that refugees and immigrants are “let into the country but not into the society”. That’s why she started matching natives and immigrants who met for dinner together.

In Hamburg, we also have hundreds of refugees. They live in container camps with other refugees and contact with Germans is scarce or lacking. For the Germans, the refugee question is mostly a political topic that is discussed in media, it’s numbers, not people. In short: Hamburg, like probably any German city, is a perfect starting point for a German Ministry of Invitations.

Through friends I contacted Tina, an inspiring young woman who hangs out with the refugees and helps them with trips to the authorities. I asked her if she thought it would be a good idea and if the refugees would be up for a dinner with us. They were.

Last Saturday, I had guests for dinner. Young people in their twenties, from different backgrounds, different nationalities: two German girls, my colleague Sarah and Tina, and two Syrian guys. A PR professional, an engineer, an English graduate, an economist. We talked about Hamburg, about studying, about food, about parties, about what our parents do. We told each other of our childhood homes. We could have been a group of exchange students. When you sit down for a casual dinner, there is little difference between these guests, refugees, and other international friends if you don’t choose to focus on it.

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Last Friday Night

Magda, giant present bags, me, Martina

Magda, giant present bags, me, Martina

Happy Friday, everyone! This is a line my former colleague/mentor at my internship would exclaim when she cheerfully entered the office on Friday mornings and I think it is a most wonderful tradition. Each Friday, I put up a postcard on my desk that reads, “Hip Hip Horray, it’s Friday!” I have almost become superstitious, worrying there will not be a weekend if I don’t put up the card.

When Emma saw the name cards, she said, "Ah, a real Uppsala alumna you are!" because student dinner parties in Uppsala always have name cards.

When Emma saw the name cards, she said, “Ah, a real Uppsala alumna you are!” because student dinner parties in Uppsala always have name cards.

Last Friday then – what a delightful Friday that was! I already recounted the day and at night, I gathered all my friends at the Persian restaurant Shahrzad where I had reserved a chambré separé for our party of twentysomething people. It was such an enjoyable task to put out the little name cards I had made and with each card think, “Oh, and this friend is coming, too”, “And that’s her who I worked with during that time”, “So nice to see this person again who I share this memory with”. There were Stockholm and Uppsala friends from all periods of my Swedish life: the first friend from five years ago who accompanied me through it all, the first co-workers I had, the Germans who I met in Germany and who moved at the same time as me, the friends who I met through choir, other foreigners who studied Swedish with my side by side after work, the ones who brought me through my thesis, the new relative I only recently befriended. They were all there, they had taken their time to come and truly, ““I count myself in nothing else so happy as in a soul remembering my good friends“.

The table was set up in a large U-form and I sat on the inside of the U, moving around in order to be able to speak to everyone.

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These friends had not obliged the motto not to bring presents but instead brought me the most thoughtful, lovely gifts. From beautiful books to coveted bags, from classy watches to Swedish flower seeds to plant in a German garden (and the list continues!) they surprised me.

Coming up next: Sweden’s best book.

“Don’t you have a scepter?!”

IMG_0946IMG_0941I have been running late and stressing a little with my over-burdened schedule but as far as I’m concerned it’s been a lovely day. Very beloved people whose mere demeanor is an inspiration to me, gorgeous locations and late night deep talks.

The funniest thing I did today was probably when our group of what we call The Golden Hearts was waiting for our lasagna to be done. Suddenly, I decided that we needed to take a “Royal Picture”. It’s something I learned from the class under me that studied in my Master’s. In Uppsala, there were always many times when we dressed up for formal dinners and they then took the opportunity to stage royal pictures in ball gowns and tuxedos. So when I saw my friend Magdalena sitting so classy in Andrea’s Carl-Malmsten-armchair, I was immediately reminded of the “Royal Picture Taking”. Andrea who had been in the kitchen came back to the living room to find me arranging everyone for the photo and did not even question the fact that we now had to take a “Royal Picture”. I mean, of course. It’s like reading Schiller before dinner. Some things just need to be done.

Let me just tell you: we had a blast. This is one of the most fun things I can recommend to do. People started shouting questions such as, “Don’t you have a tiara here? Where’s a scepter? Get a sash, please?” After all requisites were in place (pyjamas becames sashes, a candlesnuffer the scepter and big necklaces the tiaras), we had a really hard time to look royal instead of bursting out in laughter.

Please meet King Linus I and Queen Magdalena,Crown  Princes Andrea, Princesses Martina, Mia and Helen as well as the servant Josefine.

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Failed attempts:

This would have been THE picture if not Jossan had been missing...

This would have been THE picture if not Jossan had been missing…

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Behind the scenes:

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