Hosting a Welcome Dinner is not just a chance to make new friends, learn about new cultures and offer a way for immigrants to integrate, it also shines a light on the system in which we all live – for good or bad.
It was curiosity that led Suzanna Renhuldt and her family to hosting a United InvitationsWelcome Dinner for two new Swedes. With Suzanna’s 14-year-old daughter completing an internship at Department of Invitations, which runs United Invitations Welcome Dinners, the Renhuldts had heard a lot about the movement, and wanted to take part themselves.
â€œWe liked the idea from the start, and of course, we were curious. It’s not only the immigrants who have a hard time mixing with Swedes – Swedes have a hard time mixing with new Swedes as well. How do we get in touch with them? Also, it’s hard for new Swedes to find jobs – they need to speak the language properly first, so we don’t meet at work like we do other Swedes.â€
It’s hard for new Swedes to find jobs – they need to speak the language properly first, so we don’t meet at work like we do other Swedes.
So the next step was to sign up online, and after a short space of time, they were â€˜matched’ with their guests. Suzanna and her family left the choice of dinner guest open – you can choose between individuals, couples or families.
The day of the meal arrived, and two women – Im from Cambodia, and her Polish friend, Agnes arrived at the door. â€œWe were all really nervous – my husband, my two daughters and I – even just deciding what to serve for dinner, so we went with something simple. Then they came and they were really nervous too. They came exactly on time; at 6.30pm on the button, which I thought was sweet. I think the Swedes are known for keeping time, so I’m sure they heard that somewhere.â€
The meal went well, with both the hosts and guests settling into their comfort zone. â€œIt could be a culture thing, but we kept asking them about their lives and experiences from home and what they thought of Sweden and they didn’t ask us so much. I believe that’s a culture thing; we’re brought up to not talk too much but ask about the other person – show interest really. Perhaps they thought we were really nosy. It was really charming and they were so sweet. And we only spoke Swedish, but it worked well.â€
Looking back, Suzanna says the experience was lots of fun, and seeing her home country through the eyes of her guests was certainly eye opening. â€œThese are immigrants who don’t know any Swedes – what obstacles do they find? What do they want? – these are the things you get to find out when you host a dinner.â€
One of the most strikingly obvious issues for immigrants that Suzanna realised during the meal was how difficult it was for others to integrate into Swedish life. â€œSo it’s a bit sad, but this initiative is wonderful. At least it’s one way of tackling the issue.â€
So it’s a bit sad, but this initiative is wonderful. At least it’s one way of tackling the issue.
The big question, would she do it again? â€œThe experience was really nice and I would love to do it again – and I can, because it’s easy. It’s just up to me now.â€
Together with United Invitations (Sweden), ChangeX launched a ‘Welcome Dinners‘ campaign in Ireland. To find out more about how to get involved as either a host or an attendee visit (this link) or www.changex.org/unitedinvitations.