My quirky friend Lindbergh visited Sweden this past summer for the first time. He was quite excited over the prospect of walking the grounds of his great grandfather’s, and he tried to learn some useful phrases before leaving; “Jag har gått vilse” (I am lost), “Jag vet inte vad du säjer” (I don’t know what you are saying), “Var ligger den närmsta japanska restaurangen?” (Where is the nearest japanese restaurant?). He was not successful in learning any of those phrases, and he was a bit disillusioned when he returned to Vancouver.
I am always interested in hearing friends’ impressions of the old country, and of course, even keener to receive that customary bag of Swedish licorice that I shamelessly ask anyone and everyone I know to buy for me. Licorice is a big deal for me, and it is one of the things I really miss from the old country.
Of course, there are many things I miss from both Sweden and Finland. But no one can bring me back those things; my family, friends, memories, certain customs, the overall ways of the crusty and straight forward Scandinavians. And the sarcastic sense of humour.
People in Scandinavia say what they mean without dancing around the subject like we do in North America. This frank Scandinavian style of communicating might be interpreted as rude, but it is just so much easier than playing the “political correctness games” that we do over here. The fake politeness and the unnecessary mind games. It such an enormous waste of time.
Just say what you think! You don’t like me? fine! I’ll find another friend. You do like me? great, let’s go out for a drink! as much as I complain, I do find myself falling into that “fake trap” at times. You simply have to when you live here, or you will have no friends. I try to not trample on anyone’s feelings, but sometimes I do. I just get tired of being polite.
Anyway, back to Quirky Lindbergh and his impressions of all things Swedish. He felt quite at home with the blunt and sometimes crusty Swedes, but he did struggle a bit with the lack of customer service and the surprising answers you can get at times.
Lindbergh and his travel companion asked the Concierge at his hotel in downtown Stockholm how to get to Bromma airport (a smaller airport, not the main one which is called Arlanda). The Concierge shrugged his shoulders and said “How should I know?”
I grew up with the bad customer service all around in Scandinavia so that type of answer would not surprise me in the least, but for a typical polite Canadian traveller it must seem outrageous.
The problem seems to be that no one really wants to work in customer service in Sweden and they have not figured out that one should perhaps not show that. But who really enjoys dealing with annoying customers of any kind?
I worked in the travel industry for a few years in my younger years and I used to frequently feel like the exasperated Basil, owner of Fawlty Towers Hotel. Remember this wonderful British TV show from the 70′s? John Cleese played Basil.
I managed to not lose it as much as Basil, but I came close. Many times.
If you have not seen the TV show I am referring to you have missed out on a life altering experience, and some good belly laughs. But back to the main character of this story. Quirky Lindbergh.
When I first got to know Lindbergh he used to repeatedly tell me that he is strange. I wondered what that meant? we met in a writing class and as most writers are a bit odd in one way or another I did not take the “I am strange” comment too seriously, but I did google him a few times and could not find him on any Wanted lists.
I decided Lindbergh is simply a bit quirky, in a typical Scandinavian way. I like socializing with people who are comfortable speaking their mind. One never has to wonder where one stands with Lindbergh. And you will always receive an uncalled for analysis of some sort, accompanied with a great dose of wit.
While in Sweden, Lindbergh discovered that there is no word for Please in Swedish. We just say what we want; “Give me the map”, “Give me the sugar”, “Get out of my way”. I found it very annoying, and hard to remember, to add an extra word to almost every sentence when I first moved to Canada. My then “roommate” kept reminding me for years to say please. Please this and please that. Can I please just stop saying please?
No one says please in Sweden, or excuse me for that matter. No one holds up the door for you and you are pretty lucky if you hear a thank you, or get a smile.
“No one talks to you on transit! no one smiles at you! no one notices you!” said Lindbergh, who travelled on subways, trains and buses around Stockholm and was a bit disappointed that he did not meet the love of his life during his Swedish travels.
“My host told me to just mind my own business because if you start talking to a stranger in Stockholm they will think that you are a lunatic, or you are trying to mug them.”
That is very good advice indeed. I lived in a suburb to Stockholm for a few years, and I used to take transit all over town. I never chatted up strangers during my daily travels. Well, I did make a few exceptions but all attempts went sideways and I have tried to erase them from my memory banks.
Swedes are a bit suspicious, or perhaps I should say Stockholmians. I have heard that folks from smaller Swedish cities are a bit friendlier.
I still remember a very attractive man who was watching me out of the corner of his eye on the train into Stockholm one morning. He really made an impression because it is about 20 years ago. Or perhaps I have not been able to forget how I behaved myself. It was very unfortunate indeed.
I was reading a magazine and wondered why this man was watching me so intently. Did I know him? what did he want? was he crazy? out on a day pass? was he lost? I wondered if I should call for security or try to handle this situation myself.
So eventually I confronted him. Sadly. I cannot remember the exact extent of our conversation, but I had decided he was crazy and I asked him what he was up to, only to realize that he was just working up a nerve to chat me up and ask me out. Needless to say, he never sat close to me on the train again and there was no hot date.
Quirky Lindbergh is a wise man and he did not even attempt to chat anyone up in Stockholm. He hung around with his travel companions and his host. He saw all the important sights and he decided he liked Stockholm, overall, but he was not fond of the food. “I could not find a Japanese restaurant anywhere!”
And why would he? you eat meatballs with mashed potatoes and lingonberries in Sweden. And pizza. Swedes love pizza and you can find pizzerias in every street corner. Swedes are not that fond of sushi even though we enjoy herring and all types of other fish dishes.
Lindbergh was surprised to find out that creamy sauces are popular with just about everything. He did not think Swedish food was as healthy as he had heard. We argued a bit about that.
What about the North American diet? cheese with everything? I still remember seeing cheese melted over vegetables for the first time over here. Why would one eat melted cheese over veggies? in Sweden you have a slice of cheese with hard bread.
Lindbergh noticed that plaid is popular and brought back a cheery Swedish colored shirt that he proudly wore when we met up for Swedish stories. “But $90 for a shirt at Åhlens! outrageous!”. Clothes are expensive in Sweden, but it depends where you shop. I find it just as expensive over here these days, and I usually find some excellent bargains when I go back to Sweden.
The comments continued; “There is graffiti everywhere! why is that?” asked Lindbergh and showed me some photos he had taken with some very explicit wordings in happy colours. Well, as introverted as Swedes can be, they do like to express themselves at times. Graffiti is a big problem in Sweden.
To summarize, Lindbergh sort of liked the architecture, and the overall beauty of Stockholm. The customer service really has to improve. He is thinking of writing to someone about that. He might go back one day for further Swedish explorations, and to continue his search for that Right Person who just might be waiting for him in a friendly small Swedish town, far away from Stockholm.
On a closing note, Lindbergh had one last comment about Stockholm:”What’s with the strange sculpture at Sergels Torg (Sergel’s Square)?”
I think that 37-metre tall glass obelisk which is called Kristall (Crystal) and has been a landmark at Sergel’s Square since the 70′s, makes quite the statement. The Crystal is sometimes lit up in different colors, and it is the first thing you see when you drive into Stockholm.
As I will be heading back home for Christmas this year, I cannot wait to stroll the streets of Stockholm. I will start off at Sergel’s Square and continue on down the cobbled streets of the Old Town. The snow will lightly fall, the Christmas lights will be twinkling and all the windows will be lit up by beautiful Swedish candle holders.
However wordlessly my fellow wanderers might pass by, I will still feel almost welcome. The Vikings may not flash me any smiles, but I know there is a special warmth of spirit hidden deep in the Nordic stoic souls. I will be very pleased that I do not have to be polite, or say please and thank you to anyone for a while. And you can bet I will be revelling in my Swedish licorice, and downing those creamy sauces with everything.
Lindbergh took all the fabulous photos in this blog post, and a few hundred more, while in Stockholm. If you would like to purchase one of his fabulous pics, or perhaps launch his career as a great photographer by hosting a show, I will gladly connect you. Lindbergh would be pleased to give you a free quirky personality analysis while showing you his photos.