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Danielle - from Party Swede to seamstress

Danielle - from Party Swede to seamstress

| Text and photo: Björn Lindahl

Like tens of thousands of other Swedish youths, Danielle Backström travelled to Norway to work. She became one of the “Party Swedes” who worked in restaurants, cafés and bars. Since then, she has worked as a home carer and with plants. Now, she is training to become a seamstress.

Danielle Backström was 19 when she and a friend decided to look for work abroad in 2009. She is from Nordberg, one hour north of Västerås. It is a small community with nearly 5,000 inhabitants. 

“Norway and Iceland were our choices, but the financial crisis hit and Iceland was no longer on the table.”

Norway did better compared to the other Nordic countries, however. 

“The spring before we left college, my friend and I went to Oslo to see what it was like. We handed out lots of CVs and my friend got a job at a café. It made things easier. To rent a flat you needed a job. It also allowed us to get a Norwegian bank account.

“We found a flat in the Grønland neighbourhood and I moved to Oslo in October of 2009. I had experience working with flowers and in a shop. But my first job was as a street seller of Omega 3 tablets,” she says. 

A café job

“But then I got a job at BIT, a café specialising in salads and baguettes which was a bit ‘fancy’.”

What about all the logistics? Was it difficult to get established in Norway? 

“I had to go and see the Norwegian Tax Administration to register for tax of course. But that went well. 

“The language had its challenges of course. I had a quarrelsome customer who, when I had just started working there, asked for a ‘brus’. I didn’t know what it was and he gave me an earful!” 

Brus is Norwegian for soft drink - or läskedryck in Swedish. 

“The job was a lot of fun. We were ten people working there, everyone was from Sweden and aged between 19 and 22.” 

So you became a proper “Party Swede”? 

“Yes, you could say that. We used to party at Qadiz in the  Grünerløkka neighbourhood. Nearly everyone there was Swedish.”


The graffiti that gave name to an entire generation of labour migrants appeared on a wall of a building ready for demolition in central Oslo for three years before a new building took its place. 

Partysvensker (Party Swedes) quickly became a popular term in Oslo after graffiti emerged on a building scheduled for demolition in St. Olavs gate. Partysvensker; go home, was perhaps inspired by slogans like “Yankee, go home”.

The term spread further when hip hop artists Jaa9 and Onklp wrote a wrap called Partysvensker. You could buy a drink called the same and the Svenska Föreningen – a Swedish association that hires out flats – even sold T-shirts featuring the term. 

Svenska Föreningen was set up by Anders Eliasson. At its peak, it managed 35 large flats that could house 8 – 10 Swedish youths until they found their own place. When Anders Eliasson sold the business, 11,000 Swedes had registered with Svenska Föreningen which increasingly started working like a job centre.

Youth with "attitude"

In an interview published in the book ”I takt och otakt”, which examined Norwegian-Swedish cooperation at that time, Anders Eliasson said he had watched so many youths arriving in Oslo that he could discern a pattern.

“When they arrive and present themselves for the first time, they are 20 and look down at their feet. In Sweden, young people get money but no work. They can have the best education in the world but no professional experience. They are shy and wimpy. But they all find jobs here in Norway.

“After a few months, they come back and have become more self-assured. They might have acquired a nose ring or a tattoo.”

The Party Swedes did not give the impression of being cowed guest workers. They were labour immigrants ”with an attitude” who knew their own worth.

The reason so many ended up working in hospitality was a change to Norwegian alcohol licensing laws. The number of restaurants and bars rose from 2,400 in 1980 to 7,300 in 2007.


Oslo and other Norwegian cities changed in the early 2000s with the relaxation of alcohol licensing laws. Thousands of hospitality jobs were created. People are partying extra hard at Thank God it's Friday at Karl Johan in the picture above - it was taken minutes before the new legislation  banning smoking in restaurants and bars, came into effect.

Many of the Swedish youths worked to save money for The Big Journey, which often involved backpacking in Australia. They often gladly worked as much overtime as possible.

Despite a bit of bullying of Swedish workers, Danielle thinks most Norwegians had a very positive attitude to Swedes working in restaurants and bars. They were service-minded.

“When I moved to work as a home carer, I got nothing but good feedback there too. But I got another word wrong while working there. ‘Rar’ does not mean friendly as it does in Swedish - it means ‘strange’. 

But Danielle never went to Australia. 

“My friend and I weren’t so good at saving money. We moved around Oslo instead." 

After three years working as a home carer, Danielle got a job in an H&M shop. She met a boyfriend on Tinder. He was from Larvik in Norway. 

“We moved there and me being an optimist believed it would work out fine.”

Hard to fit in

However, it turned out to be harder to integrate into society there, even though she got a good job as a deputy manager at a shop in a chain of garden centres.

“I also tried to pass my driving test in Larvik. I took driving lessons and even bought a car. But there were no intensive courses like we have in Sweden.” 

The relationship did not work out so well either. It ended before she could pass her driving test. 

“I realised, while living in Larvik, that Oslo is my home. So I moved back and decided to improve my grades so I could start studying to become a social worker.”

Danielle 2

Danielle Backström moved back to Oslo which she now calls home. She lives in Kampen, an old workers’ neighbourhood with a lot of soul and bright colours.

Danielle is dyslexic and took on too many subjects too fast.

“I tried to study too much at once. It didn’t help when the pandemic struck. Online lessons did not work well for me.” 

Another consequence of the pandemic was that students graduating from upper secondary school did not have to sit their exams. As a result, their grades were higher and it suddenly became much harder to enter the social worker programme. 

“So I still haven’t finished my studies. But I became a personal assistant to a young boy. During the pandemic, I couldn’t go home to Sweden because I would have had to quarantine for two weeks on my return. He was vulnerable so I stayed put in Oslo.” 

After the pandemic, she laid plans for the future. 

“I enrolled in a one-year program in Sewing & Design at Folkuniversitetet because I wanted to fulfil another dream: to start making clothes again. I did some sewing when I was a child and teenager, but I hadn't done it since I was 17. I started there and realised that this was what I wanted to do.

“After my studies, I began as an apprentice with clothing designer Tine Solheim, a two-year training in ‘dress & costume’. 

“Now my dream is to open my own studio or to work at the opera or a theatre, where there is currently a generational shift among the seamstresses,” says Danelle Backström.


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