The events of the weekend have been turning over in my mind, and I’m beginning to form a theory.
After the Swedish conversation class, the ex pats all sat around and… pretty much talked about how weird Swedes are. One really nice German woman told us how she went on a 6 hour rock climbing class with a bunch of Swedes – including partnering with one – and thought they all got on well, but at the end of the class every one of them left without even saying good bye. The English woman had a story similar to mine about her boyfriend’s friends inviting her out, except they didn’t forget her, they flat out told her that she could join them at 10pm after they had had dinner together (her boyfriend was away on business). She said that she sat watching TV in the apartment alone, yawning, waiting for the text to summon her, and finally it came… at 20 past midnight when she’d fallen asleep on the couch.
The weirdest thing was, she said, that the next time she saw them she felt kind of annoyed that they clearly didn’t really want her to join them so acted a bit ‘off’ with them, but they all wailed what happened to her, they’d missed her, and she wanted to yell, “so why didn’t you text me at a normal reasonable time then?!”
She reckons there’s a social caste system, where people are amazing friends to those they have known 20+ years, good friends if it’s lasted a decade, warm acquaintances for 5 years, and any less you’re an undesirable peasant who should be grateful for whatever crumbs of a social life they flick off the table for you. It doesn’t even occur to them that you expect to be treated like a normal human being, so they’re all astonished and confused and sad if you ever admit to being hurt. She was laughing as she told the story, I’m sure exaggerating for comic effect… but there was definitely a grain of truth to it.
It struck me as we were all giggling along with her, that I’ve kind of heard this before. But I’ve never really talked like that to ex pats before… then it hit me. Hockey Girl basically told me the same thing – yet she said it with apparently no idea that it is exactly how she treats me. I guess she’d be astonished and confused and sad if she knew?
That’s what led me to my theory: that the message outsiders here receive (i.e. that people are jerks and really don’t want us around) genuinely isn’t the message Swedes think they are sending. That behavior that’s perfectly normal and acceptable here we perceive as rude or unfriendly and we get offended and hurt, and they’re all, “why so sad?”
It’s disorienting to not be able to read behavior and decipher whether or not someone is being a jerk. Assessing whether or not somebody likes us is surely a pretty basic social skill, no doubt I’ve gotten it wrong in the past from time to time, but it’s not really something I’ve given much conscious thought to before. For example. I realize that I’ve felt more warmly towards Asterix and found him more friendly lately, but I don’t know if he has really changed towards me (at least when he’s sober) or it’s just that the Viking told me he really likes me and so I perceive how he acts differently now. Further, that whole conversation with the Viking, he was totally shocked that I thought his friends didn’t like me really threw me and I wondered if I was going crazy – but now I think that we just understood the same stuff differently.
All of which leads me to the weird thing that happened yesterday. ABBA Girl emailed me. I guess the Viking gave her my email address, and she emailed, in English, all about the plans for the weekend and what food we should all bring and how much fun we were going to have. I actually checked the email address about three times to make sure it was really her, because the person who emailed me was fun and excited and all exclamation mark-y, and I would really love to meet her because she sounds awesome. Maybe I will this weekend?