What’s in a name? A lot, it seems, at least if you’re an immigrant living in Sweden. Although the country is internationally known for its supposed openness and tolerance, many immigrants find it difficult to find work or rent an apartment here – even if they’ve lived in the country for decades and speak the language perfectly. The problem? Their names.
Several studies have shown how people with “foreign-sounding” names are discriminated against when applying for jobs and have lower incomes than those with Swedish-sounding names. To get around the problem, immigrants are now changing their names. Last year, the Swedish Patent and Registration Office (PRV) received over 1,400 applications from individuals wanting to do just that and 20 per cent of these were from people with non-Swedish names.
“A common reason is the desire to fit into Swedish society, or to give one’s children the possibility to fit in better,” explains the PRV’s Jan Ekengren.
The most common surnames in Sweden are Johansson, Andersson and Karlsson. But for an immigrant seeking to fit in, these are strictly off-limits.
“Under Swedish law, you can’t take the name Larsson if it doesn’t already exist in your family. You have to invent a new name for yourself,” says Ekengren.
For those in need of inspiration, PRV offers help on its website. The surname generator search tool at prv.se lets you choose typical Swedish endings or beginnings, and then suggests a number of couplings. Choose “back”, meaning “hill”, and you get, for instance, Brantbacke, Bredbacke and Tallebacke, which translate as Steephill, Widehill and Pinehill. Some Swedish-sounding names approved last year include Solskogen, Fridfalk and Stormvinter – Sunnyforest, Peacefalcon and Stormywinter. All of which, while slightly unusual, seem to be helping the migrants.
Last year a record 96,000 immigrants entered Sweden. The largest immigrant community in the country are Finns, who mainly arrived in the 1960s in search of work, followed by more recent groups from the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Iran and Poland.
Examples of prv.se generated surnames
Muscovites are grappling with chopsticks and trying to develop a taste for wasabi as sushi becomes the city’s most fashionable meal. An estimated 400 restaurants are offering the raw fish dishes and the craze is getting out of control.
For many restaurants, it’s become as essential to serve sushi as to have salt and pepper on the table, with Italian, Chinese and Russian restaurants all offering guests a separate sushi menu. Yakitoria, a chain of cheap, stylish sushi restaurants that stay open until 06.00 and often have queues outside, launched its first venue in Moscow in 1999. It now has 50 branches across Russia and the Ukraine, 22 of them in Moscow.
But the quality of sushi is low. “Most sushi in Russia is awful – the ingredients are all wrong,” says Hiroshi Yamamoto, director of the Japan Centre in St Petersburg. Still, the lack of authenticity is hardly surprising – St Petersburg has more than 200 “Japanese” restaurants, but Yamamoto estimates that fewer than 200 Japanese nationals live in the city.
They are even less likely to have authentic cuisine in the Russian provinces, where sushi with mayonnaise is a particularly heinous Russification. To make up for the lack of real Japanese staff, restaurants hire waitresses from Kazakhstan or the Russian Far East. Anyone with vaguely Oriental features will do, it seems.
“It’s a big problem to get good fish,” admits Glen Ballis, head chef of the recently opened The Not-so-far East, a smart Russian-Japanese fusion joint in central Moscow.
Ballis, a former executive chef at Harrods, thinks that the sushi craze is partly down to health reasons. “Wealthy Russians like to look good and eat well without eating a lot,” he says.
Another reason might be that eating sushi lends a veneer of culinary sophistication to people who for decades had little or no restaurant culture to enjoy, and – wasabi aside – does not prove too taxing on the notoriously conservative and spice-wary Russian palette.