At the end of October, my family spent four pretty awesome days in the medieval and romantic city of Prague in the Czech Republic. I highly recommend a visit, and while it was a little tough with kids it was still well worth it. Here I am only sharing some of the graffiti and other art we found (carrying on from what I shared from Barcelona, Spain). More about the trip to come…eventually.
One of the first impressions a stranger to Sweden might get is that the average Swede is very aloof and reserved. This is often seen on the streets where nobody smiles at each other, makes eye contact, or in any way acknowledges the existence of the other…unless of course they are really good friends. This is often perceived by outsiders to be rude. (At least outsiders from the North American continent and other friendly places.)
Today, at precisely 6:13pm I realized why this is the norm of behavior in Sweden. It actually has nothing to do with being rude, but instead it is a collective cultural norm to help everyone save face. Essentially, this practice is a form of social evolution to allow individuals in this society to suffer less embarrassments and awkward moments.
Now, last year I did not realize this and I was quite frustrated with the “unfriendly” Swede and went out of my way to make eye contact, smile, and say ‘Hej’ to anyone I passed on the street. This is a typical adjustment strategy I use when first moving to a new country. And this strategy got me nowhere in Sweden…except for that one time when I basically pinned another hemmapoppa in the corner of the Systembolagat. Anyways, last year I was new here, I did not know anybody and I thought this would be a good way to show I am friendly and approachable. (Hint Hint Swedes…I am looking to make some friends.)
It was not until just today that I figured this all out. Though I just had a conversation with some new colleagues who explained that they get quite confused and startled if anyone they don’t know says ‘Hej’ to them, I still didn’t get why they did not greet acknowledge others on the street, until this happened:
I was walking out of the Chinese restaurant, taking some yummy Asian noodles home for K (who insists that Asian egg noodles are the best possible food in Almhult), and was about to cross the street where I almost cut off a bicyclist. We both stopped, made brief eye contact…as we were about to collide I think it was appropriate to have that sort of communication, but then it happened! I think I knew that person…but I couldn’t quite be sure. So I said nothing. I ignored her, waited very tensely for the crossing light to turn green, and hoped that I really did not know the person and was being quite rude. And that is when I realized why Swedes don’t make eye contact or greet people on the streets…you never quite know who you are talking to.
Remember, this is Sweden. The sun has set at 3:30 and it has been dark for over two hours and it is only 6pm. So it’s dark, not a big deal until you then realize it’s December in Sweden. This woman had a big wool hat pulled down half over her face, a matching white fluffy wool scarf covering the other half of her face, so the only distinguishing feature visible to make a positive ID on this person were two blue eyes and blond hair down past the shoulders. Hmmm…blond hair and blue eyes pretty much describes ¾ of the population here.
So here I am, having nearly knocked over this woman on her bicycle, at night, in the cold, impatiently waiting to cross the road hoping that I actually didn’t know this person cause I could not be certain of who she was to begin with, because I couldn’t see her bloody face through the wool and night sky!! And I couldn’t rightly say ‘Hej’, cause if I really didn’t know her then I would be that rude foreigner going around saying Hej’ to everyone like we were best mates or something!!
Yes, I see it now; it is much safer to go about your business in town and not acknowledge anyone and if everyone rightly follows this practice, then no one ever will be considered rude…unless of course they decide to look at you, smile, and say ‘Hej.”
Leaving Burma for Sweden there was one main thing I was looking forward to…Fall. Today was a day that made my soul sing. The colors are just past peak, but vibrant yellow and burnt orange colors surrounded my family and I as we continued our new tradition of finding a different nature reserve to hike in every Saturday morning. Vako Myr is a 13km square protected bog/mire surrounded by pine and birch trees. A vast fire tore through the bog in 1992, be the growth since then twisting up the scarred husks of burnt out trees was a great contrast to the other reserves we have visited. Just outside of Almhult, Vako Myr is easy to get to and absolutely beautiful, especially on such a fall day as today. The trail is relatively short, but the majority of it is two planks of wood set down to keep you from sinking into the mire. The planks lead you to two islands, the first which was last inhabited in 1903 and the second which provides a striking panoramic view of the mire as it stretched into Skane. For those that wonder why we decided to move to Almhult, Sweden…here are a few pics from today’s hike that sums up the reason pretty well:
I am in Barcelona for a workshop, met up with other participants and are headed out on the town for some wonderful streetside dinner. As the herd of foreigners slowly swarm down the streets, the conversation quickly turns to our children and loved ones (um…not that those are different) left behind. During this exchange, three points highlighted if you were a good Father/Mother.
- Do you have pictures of your children on your person?
- Have you texted them or sent a message home to them already?
- Have you purchased a gift for them?
Well, I left my phone (with the photos of K&M) at home, no points there. I had already emailed them, so I was not absolutely horrible; but, I have not purchased them a gift. At this point, I was pretty low on the good father scale, but was able to salvage it by indicating that S had specifically requested that I not bring any gifts back, hence the loss of points on that question are voided. I then countered that I have my computer in my room and can play a massive slideshow about my boys if they so wish.
In fact, I just might scroll through their photos now. I miss you K & M!! (S too.)