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Pippi. She’s wild and crazy and she doesn’t have any parents that she needs to listen to and she breaks eggs in her hair and sleeps with her feet on her pillow. Pippi. She was my favorite growing up. Working at the book fair I’ve noticed how different parents seem to view Pippi here. “Ah. My girls shouldn’t read this,” one woman said to me and I hinted that there was a concerned smile under her niqab, “they will get the wrong ideas,” she said, and put the book back down on the table. “The wrong ideas,” the phrase edged itself on to my mind and I’ve still not been able to completely forget about it. In a way Pippi symbolizes the Swedish upbringing: encouraging questioning authority, questioning what’s predetermined as “right” and “wrong”–as long as you stay nice and don’t hurt people. I mean, look at Pippi, she even gives some of her gold coins to the robbers after she kicks them our of her house. I’m sure Pippi and Astrid Lindgrens other characters that challenge gender stereotypes, the sensitive male characters and the strong female characters has had an important part in shaping me and the individual I’m today–a strong independent woman. When young Saudi girls sit down and experience Pippi for the first time I feel privileged to be sitting next to them, knowing that one bewildered, crazy, little stumpy girl from Sweden, with orange hair and miss-matching socks is inviting them to a new world and a new world order. Yesterday before I left I had a long conversation with a 12-year old girl. She loved Pippi, Pippi was her favorite. “My dad always tells me that I’m not allowed to ride a bike,” she said and continued, “but I always ask him why, why I’m not allowed to ride a bike when my brothers are? And then he has no answer. And I know, someday he’ll stop telling me I’m not allowed.”
Just got back to work after a great weekend. First I spent the day working at the Book Fair here in Riyadh, where Sweden is an honorary guest. Super intense but a lot of fun. A showed the KSA 2 crew around our pavilion in live TV and then apparently was dubbed “Miss Sweden” by news outlets. “I’m soooo glad you are not blond and blue-eyed,” an anonymous source proclaimed after. I could not agree more. Promoting Sweden here is also about challenging many of the stereotypes that people have about our country up in the far north. “No, we are not all blond,” “No, English is not out official language, we speak Swedish and that is not English,” “No, we don’t speak like we do because we are to cold to speak normally” (this was by far the best question of the day). At the same time I feel as if it’s as important to remember to promote Saudi Arabia back home in Sweden. It is a totalitarian country, and there are many things here that most swedes, Scandinavians or westerners might not like. But we have to remember to look past stereotypes. On Thursday for example we hosted a poetry recitation at the embassy and I was lucky to meet several empowering and inspiring women.