“The boys play football and the girls pick flowers”

Family vacation time spent in other countries shocked Paul Connolly into realizing how lucky he was to be raising his daughters in Sweden; proving that even newcomers can become a little 'hemmablind'.

Skellefteå 29 maj 2023 09:00

One of the first Swedish words I learned was ‘hemmablind’. Its meaning in English is "home-blind." It refers to being so comfortable in the place you live you no longer see its flaws or  virtues — they just become part of your everyday life. Even what is remarkable to others is commonplace to you.

My family (my girlfriend, Donna and our twin daughters) live on a lake — we can see for kilometers in most directions. When English friends stay with us, they’re stunned by the beauty. They often swear in awe: “F*****g hell, this is so beautiful.”

When Swedish friends first visit us, they see the lake and fields and say, “Ooh, the wind will be cold in the winter.” They don’t see the beauty. They’re used to it. It’s their normal. What they want to know is if the house is going to be chilly in the winter (it isn't).

Most newcomers have encountered this local attitude to the natural beauty of northern Sweden. This slight air of complacency also applies to social and cultural norms in Sweden. For instance, many Swedes I know assume other countries share its progressive approach to gender equality. But most countries do not.

I was reminded of this a couple of summers ago when we spent a few days in the UK before heading off to Turkey for our first summer holiday as a family. Indeed it was our first time out of Sweden since the twins were born.

Brexit meant we weren’t surprised to find that life in the UK had coarsened since we left ten years ago. But viewing UK life through the lens of being a father of daughters was depressing. Very depressing.

It wasn’t just women being catcalled by men in the street, or men in bars making obscene remarks to females.

These morons existed long before Brexit encouraged the inadequate and dim to indulge their prejudices and insecurities.

What saddened me most was that this toxic strain of misogyny had even seemed to infect those who should know better, people I'd been friends with for many years.

One old friend with a teenage daughter teased her over the fact she wouldn’t shave her legs. He thought it hilarious to call her Hairy Mary.

Another friend laughed at his daughter’s dream that she could one day play football professionally.

When we arrived in Turkey the difference in how females were treated was starker still. Female airport security guards were not allowed to pat down male passengers. There were few women in positions of authority. 

However, it was at the resort where the differences were most notable.

The kids’ club, for instance, had obvious problems. When I mentioned that the girls wanted to play football one morning, the staff member responsible for the activity looked at me as if I were deranged.

– No, she explained slowly, as if trying to explain maths to a dog.

– The boys play football and the girls sit in the park and pick flowers or something. 

I was too stunned to react before she walked away. Safe to say, the girls never again visited the kids' club.

It was a relief when we returned to Skellefteå at the vacation's end. Everything was calmer. There was nobody to tell my daughters they couldn't play football.

We always knew Sweden is one of the best countries in which to raise daughters.  But the shock of our experiences in the UK and Turkey made it clear that over the previous seven years we'd become blasé about it. 

We’d become hemmablind.

Swedish word to remember: Jämställdhet (gender equality)

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