A few months back, right after my Grandma passed away, I went to get some groceries. It was literally a couple of days after, and I was still in that fog of all-consuming grief, not really ready to function or face the world yet, but I needed some food so I got in my car and drove on automatic pilot to the closest grocery store where I picked up a couple of things so I wouldn’t starve. I was waiting in line for the cashier when a dude, a random stranger dude, stepped up behind me, and was like, “man, what’s going on with the weather?”
I didn’t even turn around. I couldn’t. I hadn’t gotten to the point where I could look another human being in the eye without losing my shit, so I just kept facing the way I was, staring at the ground.
“Lady, you were at the [local high school football team]’s game Sunday?”
I’m paraphrasing what he was saying, btw, all I actually heard was, “blah blah weather, prattle prattle football.”
I ignored him.
He ignored that I was ignoring him, and continued, like a dog with a bone, trying to engage me in conversation. But I just couldn’t. I had a wall up between me and the rest of humanity, and I wasn’t ready to tear it down yet, not even for the random jackass determined to hear my opinions on a high school football team I didn’t care about even when I attended their high school more than a decade previously.
You know that feeling, when you have a headache that’s threatening to head to migraine-ville and you’re just holding on, sitting still, closing your eyes, whatever, until you can get hold of some good drugs, except then a kid starts crying or someone starts hammering and it pushes you over the edge? That’s what this guy’s inane yatter was to me that day: every word just shoved me closer and closer to the brink of the very, very black hole I was only just holding myself back from.
He had no clue what I was dealing with. Of course I absolutely get that. He wasn’t out to get me, he just wanted to talk about the weather, or football, or whatever. On another day, I might have chatted back and we would have passed a pleasant couple of minutes shooting the breeze while we waited to pay for milk and frozen pizza.
But that day, this dude almost killed me.
This would never have happened in Sweden.
I love reading other ex-pat blogs to get a sense of other people’s experiences and perspective, and one complaint I see coming up time and time again is how Swedes don’t chat to strangers. There’s no, “have a nice day,” or “how’re you doing today?” or pleasant minutes shooting the breeze while in line at the grocery store. And sometimes, I miss it. I completely understand how ex-pat Americans, used to that pleasant veneer of friendliness to life, feel as though Sweden is like a giant library where you get in trouble for talking unless it’s for very good reason and you whisper.
But then I think of that day. And I remember that not invading strangers’ privacy can also be respectful and considerate. It’s not that I think it’s altogether better here necessarily, just different and, on this count at least, I get and appreciate why Swedes are the way they are.
And thus concludes Professor Life is Swede’s second observation on the ways of the natives of Sweden.