I visited my parents who live in a little village up in the province of Dalarna. It is situated on one of the branches of the river running through it. Very picturesque. My mother was born there. In fact, they live in the house that her grandfather moved to the current place, and where my mother grew up. Why is this interesting, you may ask? Because as she was growing up she was considered an outsider. “Utböling”. Not a very nice thing to consider someone. You are not one of us, and thus lesser. The reason? Well, neither her mother nor her father was born in that village. My grandfather was born in a similar village up-river, a train station away – the distance a steam train could travel between filling up with water. My grandmother was born even further up river. It takes about 2 hours to drive there these days. Mind you, if you look at my grandmother’s genealogy, they seemed to have spent generations in just that village – there is nobody from elsewhere in the genealogy I have (so I guess my grandmother was the rebel, moving away like she did.) My grandfather’s is a bit more adventurous, but much of it centered around the area. Some old relatives are buried at the church in the neighbor village. But, it doesn’t take much to be not one of us. Of course, when she talks about being an outsider, she is talking about the 30’s and early 40’s, so it is a while ago.
The village is small, but with quite a few businesses going, so it is healthy. Also, close enough to some of the larger towns that you can easily commute, through nice roads surrounded by forest. A few years back, the national chain of grocery stores that had a branch in the village decided to close it down. Possibly not seen as profitable enough (well, I found things like Wasabi and curry paste there which was nice, but so not tied to what the population was interested in eating, so I can see why). The village council – where my father is active – decided that it was very important to have a store in the village. So, they bought the building, and looked for ways of getting a grocery store there. And, they did. But the first person running it made some crucial mistakes. She came from the nearby village my grandfather came from, and hired people “not from here” – Utbölingar – instead of people from the village. And the customers would just not come. Just could not buy from someone like that! There are other stores within driving distance, and they would go there. But, now it does well again, taken over by locals. This all according to my parents (and I believe them).
Now, there certainly have been changes in who you look at being “from here” since my mother grew up. A local restaurant is run by a family that is most certainly not from anywhere around Dalarna, in fact they are first generation immigrants from distant countries (rather than upriver villages), but now live in the village and are no “utbölingar”. The restaurant is doing well. I even think that, by now, my mom is considered a native. At 81.
When I taught prejudice in the US, I used to bring this up, because people there are so focused on skin-color or visible ethnic differences as a driver of prejudice. I have even had people believe that there possibly could not be any prejudice in a place like Sweden, where everybody looked alike. I’m wondering also if my students now, down in Southern Sweden, where there are a lot of immigrants, may focus on visual group-differences.
But, our tendency to group and be for us and against them has nothing to do with that. It can be useful. But, there are other markers (dialect for example. Or sheer familiarity). We will find them, if it is important to us. But, they may also soften, and even vanish, if not.