One of our favourite writers – particularly in combination with his former colleague at the Stockholm School of Economics (‘SSE’), Jonas Ridderstråle, with whom he co-authored the divine 1999 tome Funky Business: Talent Makes Capital Dance - Kjell Nordström is also an inspiring speaker, and we at Mediolana periodically check the Internet for new content from this marvellously distinctive and original commentator.
Recently however, our CSO did find himself wondering whether one of Dr. Nordström’s most brilliant notions – that of the United States of America not as a country, but as an idea – still has as much validity as it once did. In the excellent compilation Kjell in Concert, the Associate Professor at SSE’s Institute of International Business posits the idea (also featured in his work with Dr. Ridderstråle) that the USA is a virtually uniquely straightforward country into which to assimilate: within 3-5 years of ‘plugging in’, anyone can ‘become American’, with the Austria-born former Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger cited as an paradigm of this phenomenon. Nordström contrasts the United States with the ‘impossibility’ of ‘plugging in’ to European countries such as Finland, Poland and France, which are presumably (and perhaps correctly) perceived as less open and receptive to immigrants.
But while for much of modern history this dichotomy may have been essentially true, we at Mediolana have some qualifications of our own to the proposition that the United States is that much easier to ‘plug into’:
1. A Diverser Europe? In the past couple of decades, a European generation has grown up that is entirely used to the presence of people of foreign or even non-European origin, particularly those raised in large urban areas. For these people, multiculturalism is not so much good or bad; it just is, and monoculturalism, whether in cuisine, dress or language is simply unthinkable. This is not merely the case on the streets of London or Berlin, but even remote countries such as Finland: as of 2009, c.10% of Helsinki’s population has a mother tongue other than Finnish. When it is entirely normal for football players of African origin to represent non-colonial countries such as Switzerland and Norway, we can in at least some senses speak of a Europe in which diversity is intensifying.
2. A More Insular America? As Dr. Nordström has acknowledged elsewhere, the United States is not nearly as welcoming to at least some outsiders as it once might have been. 2000s creations such as the Department of Homeland Security and the Mexico – United States barrier evince a country which is actively seeking to become less diverse and which is no longer confident about the presence of people with certain (perhaps ill-defined) characteristics, despite the huge economic and cultural costs of such a disposition. In any country, when the political climate is pervaded by fear, militarism and uncertainty, those who are visibly and/or linguistically different from the perceived average are unlikely to feel at home, regardless of how well they have integrated into the mainstream.