At a dinner party we gave last night for some of our fondest Swedish friends the conversation turned to our family backgrounds. All were Swedes, mostly Swedish-born, apart from me (now a demi-Swede); one of Indian origin; another from Sierra Leone; and a Latvian. That left six who had been born in Sweden. What interested me, however, was that all those six had recent ancestors who had come from elsewhere. Kajsa’s people on one side of her family were originally Walloon. Others boasted – or admitted to – Danish, German, various kinds of Belgian and other ancestries.

I was the odd person out. In the past I’ve tried to find ‘alien’ descendants, through DNA testing and (with Sylvia’s help) those ‘Heritage’ websites that trace your family back via census reports and the like. DNA has all my forebears coming from ‘Anglo-Saxon’ stock; ‘Heritage’ roots my father’s side in rural Essex for at least four generations. According to the latter we were all peasants, and many of us illiterate. That has been a disappointment to me, hoping as I did for something more interesting: Scandinavian, for example. (Tenth-century Essex was a great field for rape and pillage by the macho Vikings.)  But out of the ten of us at dinner last evening, I was the only ‘pure-blooded’ one.

I was also struck by the fact that all our guests had famous or at least moderately distinguished (by Swedish standards) relatives and friends. I had none of these until I went to Cambridge, and most of those were actors and comedians. (I was involved in dramatics there.) That may have had something to do with my class, and with where I lived before university. In a small country like Sweden, and an intimate community like Stockholm’s, it’s easier for middling-class people to rub shoulders with the ‘greats’, than in London suburbia.

Our circle of Swedish friends is varied, liberal and stimulating. I imagine this has a lot to do with their diverse heritages. In common, I think, with the Nazis, I used to think of the Swedes as ‘racially’ homogeneous. Thank goodness they’re not.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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