To Swede, or not to Swede…
I’ve done it. After almost 30 years of officially residing in Sweden, I’ve finally applied for Swedish citizenship. And as is obvious by the 30-year delay, the decision to nail my flag to Sweden’s mast has involved a long and soul-searching process. As indeed it should.
Born and bred British, I grew up safe and sound in a country that educated me to university level – free of charge – before allowing me to up sticks and move away, secure in the knowledge that the ’once British, always British’ policy meant I can always return. This freedom was a gift. No student fees to pay off, no monetary debt to society, just a tinge of guilt as I threw a British passport into my bag and set off for a life in Sweden, armed solely with a brand new degree in Scandinavian Studies and the promise of a mattress on a pal’s floor. Settling into Stockholm, I experienced positive discrimination as the natives warmly welcomed a zany English chick who already spoke their lingo. Back then, my nationality was a novel part of my identity. I was completely content in my role of a Brit abroad.
So the question of citizenship first arose several years later when I married a Swede. Children were on the agenda and eventually on the way. I was inclined to give birth in London to safeguard British citizenship for any future grandchildren. Our own children would automatically be entitled to British citizenship; but if they were born on Swedish soil, their children would not. Their father felt that was overkill – grandchild nationality was not our responsibility. Decent point. Multiculti citizenships within the family, however, begged another question: what if, in a world of unrest, a crisis occurred while we were abroad that required speedy evacuation? I would be part of the British contingent, my husband would belong to the Swedes, and our dual-nationality children would belong to whomever we believed could get them to safety first. Either way, the family would be split. It made practical sense for me to apply for Swedish citizenship. The British Embassy in Stockholm assured me that I could retain my British citizenship but my heart cried No! How could I diminish my British heritage by diluting it with a second allegiance?
But truth be told, I also had another major reservation that directly concerned the beautiful country which has proven to be a nigh perfect place to love, live, run a business and now raise our children.
As a teenager, my father fought for Britain in WWII. As did my uncles. They risked their young lives so my generation could be born free while Sweden claimed neutrality and allowed the Germans free passage to access occupied Norway. That thought rubbed. And blistered. Did I actually want to become a Swede and thereby accept that shady, self-serving, easy street war stance? Again, no! Sweden’s WWII history was a deal breaker.
Until 11th September 2001. When the second tower collapsed, when our hearts froze and our minds panicked, I was desperately following the news updates while waiting for my 3-yr old to finish dance class. In stark contrast to the carnage in New York and our horror at its implications, she emerged in a pretty pink leotard that endearingly matched her happy flushed face. I remember thinking; Thank God we live here and not in London – if this attack is the start of something big, Stockholm probably won’t be next and promptly experienced my first fleeting understanding of Sweden’s war policy. I was equally desperate to keep my children safe. And I was ashamed of how hypocritical that instinct proved me to be. I was taking pride in Britain’s valour while taking advantage of Sweden’s safe neutrality. I squirmed and conceded. And accepted.
I love Sweden – its traditions, cuisine, climate and culture. I’m proud of this clean country with its cutting-edge technology aimed towards energy conservation and recycling, its sense of solidarity and willingness to safeguard society’s underdogs, provide international aid. I hold with its belief that everyone has value and potential, that everyone is entitled to a second chance. I’m grateful that it provides my children with a happy, safe place in which to grow and thrive.
But out of deep-rooted loyalty to Britain, I continued to hesitate. Over the years, many people asked me why I didn’t apply, given the fact that I have lived here for so long and can retain my British citizenship. But I believe requesting citizenship denotes a serious commitment to a country and the bottom line is: I simply wasn’t ready.
So what changed? I did. We’ve just returned from a trip to the USA and as always we were asked many times by interested onlookers where we come from as our family toggles indiscriminately between two languages. For the very first time, I answered “Sweden” rather than “Britain and Sweden”. It was a knee-jerk, natural response. And it took me entirely by surprise. I pondered this turn of events on the plane home, and somewhere over the Atlantic I realised that if I were seriously forced to choose between these two countries, with no hope of ever returning to one of them, I would choose to return to Stockholm. And citizenship was suddenly a done deal. I was ready.
So here I am. A Swede-in-waiting.
Hoping my application will be accepted. I’ll keep you posted.