the flat world outside stockholm

You want to see what Thomas Friedman calls “the flat world?” You want to see a post-American world not dependent on any one center? You want to see the breakdown of the European idea of the nation, of the “folk”?

Come to lunch with me.

I work on the farthest outskirts of Stockholm where maybe 30 years ago they built expanses of apartments for the working class. They built out the subway too, coming out of the ground past the inner suburbs through the forest finally to Kista, which used to be a farm, I think. They also built a really big mall.

Like most of these outer suburbs across Europe, Kista quickly filled with immigrants, with Somalis and Iraqis and Turks and Kurds. Usually, these suburbs languish, either boiling over like in France or stagnating or become a rather lively incubator for a new Sweden. Whatever happens, it is out of sight.

But then Ericsson ran out of space south of town, looked around and settled on Kista. Bam, hello Sweden’s “telecom valley.” Now on one side of the tracks, you have all the immigrants in their apartments, and on the other side, you have an army of men and women in black suits working in telecom and IT and whatnot. And not just for Ericsson. Kista is a sprawling moniker now for working in the tech industry, for any number of companies. Stockholm’s tallest building is there, and it is not an Ericsson building.

I had lunch with my wife in that building today. Sitting in pink chairs on a pink shag carpet looking at exposed steel beams and mood lighting, she compared it to something out of Star Wars. But the real action, we agreed, is in the mall. For there, the two worlds meet. Every day, the masses of mostly white businessmen and women merge with older unshaven immigrants sitting in circles, with Somail women covered save for their faces, with running children of every possible color.

There is no real interaction, everyone in true Swedish fashion gliding around each other, paying no attention, tolerant but not really engaged. There is no tension, for the mall is nice for both, for the housing has been renovated and immigrants in Sweden seem to do pretty well. And the tech suits love the food court with its Persian, Indian, Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, Spanish, Italian, American, Swedish, Middle Eastern, fast food restaurants.

Kista is immigration from the south to the north. It is the interconnected world of telecom. It is sprawl but with buses and trains. It is isolation and mingling.

Oddly, in the end, it gets boring. Nothing really happens.

2 thoughts on “the flat world outside stockholm

  1. Great post. I’m a Brit who lived in Kista for a while 10 years ago. At that time, Ericsson and other businesses were still establishing themselves there but it sounds like things have changed a lot.

    After a long time living in Spain, I’m now back in Sweden – this time in the North but it was interesting to read some familiar thoughts from you there in Kista (which I’m sure you know, is unfortunately Swedish for “coffin”).

  2. keep em coming.

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