Bodily and material aspects of human encounters can be the cause of incomprehension and irritation. Behaviours, movements and clothes that are viewed as polite and correct in one context, may be considered totally wrong in others. This makes it harder to achieve conviviality among people from diverse cultural backgrounds.
Using ethnographic examples from Sweden, this presentation focuses attempts to overcome such difficulties and thus pave the way to smooth coexistence.
Somali immigrants with no previous schooling have not been successful on the Swedish labor market. They have great difficulties understanding how the Swedish society works and what is expected of them.
In integration-project Rätt steg (Right step), illiterate Somali refugees get information about Swedish society and are taught new skills, e.g. the “right” way to greet a person (eye-contact and firm handshake). Participants are told how to raise children in Sweden (do not hit them!). They are also encouraged to exercise more and avoid wearing big headscarves. Bodies and minds are thus adapted to the perceived ideals and norms of Swedish society. The ways of Somali refugees are ascribed almost no value in Sweden. The subordinate position of the participants is obvious to everyone, including the teachers. Sometimes the participants resist the attempts at changing their behavior. However, since they realize that adaption to the Swedish norms is unavoidable, the vast majority of participants deem the course very valuable. Mastering the basic codes of Swedish society can lead to greater freedom of action, within very limited conditions.
33 Nordic Ethnology and Folklore Conference. August 18-21 2015, Copenhagen