Saturday, June 11, 2011

Swedish Scaredy Cat

This past week there have been several thunderstorms, and I have to say, I have loved it! Finally Sweden got some "dangerous" weather. It's really pretty safe here, besides the boatloads of snow we got over the winter. Even the roads stay pretty safe because Swedes are masters of keeping the roads clear, unlike central Ohio. With the thunderstorms came humidity. At first I was excited because it was in the evening and the smell in the air even reminded me of home. Then the days followed and I became crabby - who dare make the air so wet that 22C feels terrible?! The whole business with your clothes sticking to you and whatnot. I've already become spoiled by the dry Swedish climate. It'll be interesting to see how I react to summer in Ohio when I step off the plane this coming Friday. It'll be probably around 30 - 35C and super, super humid! In any case I'm looking forward to visiting home for 3 weeks.

So last night J and I went out to dinner at a local pub with M and her Swede. It was nice, although I think it'll take me quite a while to get over just how expensive eating out is here in Sweden. Over seven months here and I still cringe when I look at the prices. Thankfully we don't eat out often at all, at least in any sit down place like last night where it's practically robbery for a burger and fries.

After we finished eating J was really tired (as always on a Friday night) so we said our goodbyes around 9pm or so. He wanted some of that tasty lösgodis I mentioned in a previous post, so we went to our favorite store for that since, after all, it was Friday night. I decided to pay for the candy and so when the girl (around my age, I'd say) at the cash register told me 82kr in Swedish, I obligingly gave her my 100kr bill. Now, whenever I interact with any Swedes in public I suppose you could say I flip my "Swedish switch" to "On" mode. For most public interactions with Swedes I can understand and respond in Swedish now. For some reason, this girl blurted something to me so fast and in my mind I tried to replay the sounds to understand exactly what it was she said or asked me, and before I knew it "I'm sorry?" popped out of my mouth while smiling, of course. Whenever I revert to English I always kind of smile because I feel somewhat guilty/embarrassed for having to use English! However, this girl was so surprised to suddenly be confronted with the need to use English, she blubbered something else unintelligible, got into her cash drawer, handed me my change with visibly shaking hands, and then said "Thank you!" really fast and threw the receipt away without asking me if I wanted it. J even stepped up to try and save it by saying something to the girl really fast in Swedish but she was so shocked/scared that she just gave me the change without responding to him.

I was astonished at how afraid she was to suddenly have to speak English. I'm glad I was able to keep my face composed! As soon as we were out of the store I said to J, "Did you see how scared she was??" because I thought maybe I was the only one to notice. But he completely agreed with me and could not believe at all how frightened she was by me and how her hands were actually shaking! We had a really, really good laugh in the car on the way home. For once I was the one who wasn't afraid of the Swedes (about language) - they were afraid of me! I almost felt guilty for scaring her so badly. J even said he didn't catch what she said to me in Swedish, so I felt better for not understanding her the first time she spoke. Usually I can catch simple things. Of course when she began fiddling with the change in the drawer I immediately figured out that she wanted just 2 more kronor so that she could give me an even 20 bill back, but by then she was chaotically counting out my 18kr.

It's quite interesting gauging how different Swedes will react to an American speaking English. At first I used to be so shy of speaking English in public, it made me feel guilty/embarrassed and of course it made me stand out! Which I really don't like. I'm completely over that fear now. And besides, like I said, I can usually get by in Swedish now. But it's always interesting to see the different reactions. Sometimes you can tell they get really excited to be able to show off their English skills to an American. There was a woman in one of the local post shops, it also happens to be a gift/decoration store, who overheard my friend M and I once talking about something and the woman jumped in on our conversation in English. Then there are times like yesterday where they are so shocked to be confronted by English that they become tongue tied and super shy!

If anything, J and I had a really good laugh.


Ben said...

Hi Jessica,

We have had similar experiences after we moved from The Netherlands to Sweden six years ago.

We were well prepared, except for the language so, during the first months, we could only communicate in English.

Some Swedes took this well and were very glad to show off their English skills. A few of them even continued speaking English to us after we started to speak Swedish to them. We actually had 'to force' them to speak Swedish in stead of English!

Others became afraid - or chocked us you put it - when addressed in English, probably because they didn't master the English language that well. Later we learned that lots of Swedes who live around here - and that is in a rural area - only pretend to speak English.

You ask them: "Do you speak English?"
They answer: "Yes, I do."
Then you try to start a conversation, but after 'my name is...' and 'nice weather...' their knowledge of the English language is suddenly gone.

But then again, we can not expect the Swedes to speak English or Dutch just because we moved to Sweden.

Have a nice stay 'home', in the USA. I do hope you'll write about how you experience that, too.

Kind regards,


Jessica said...

Hi Ben,

Thanks for your comment! I generally don't resort to English anymore just for the purpose you mentioned - I've never expected people to know MY language in a different country. Although my Swede and many others always tell me "everyone here knows English" I still think it's presumptuous to assume others will speak my language. I happened to just blurt out "I'm sorry" before I knew what I was doing in that instance and we all saw the consequences!

I absolutely love reading your blog - is there any way to comment on it? I cannot find any place to do so. I've wanted to comment several times now. I especially hold a fondness for your dog, as my dog back in the U.S. is a German Shepherd, and my family has always had German Shepherds. I delight in the fact that you learn from her and take so much joy from her.

I'm sure I will have revelations and blog at least once when I arrive back in the U.S. It has been 7.5 months since I've been back, and this is the first time I've spent so long away from home.

Keep safe from the thunderstorms and insects! =)


Ben said...

Hi Jessica,

Thanks you for your kind words.

And yes, our dog Jeanny is a sweetheart. The words old and wise really do apply to her.

Aren't you missing your dog back in the USA?

If you take a look at my blog now, you'll see that it's possible to leave comments. As I was still exploring all the possibilities of Blogger, I hadn't fixed that yet. And maybe that's also why the link to my blog that you have put on yours - thank you for that! - isn't showing the new posts. I hadn't activated blog feeds, which I have done now. If you remove the link and put it back on again, it will probably work.

So from now on you're welcome to leave as many comments on my blog as you want...

I'll be reading some of your older posts, the next few day's. I'm always interested in what other people experience when they change their life, move to another country etc.

I'll do my best dodging lightning and bugs. Keep safe yourself, too.

Kind regards,