23 October 2007

Musings on the Swede Den


LUND--The individual Swede is rarely odd looking by American standards. Most, other than being generally slim, well-dressed and good-looking would not look out of place on the streets of Ohio. But what is strange, to my eyes, are the Swedes en mass: whole herds, packs, gangs of fair-haired white people walking and bicycling swiftly and confidently at me. And while compared to the rest of Europe the Swedes don't dress particularly oddly, they do have a sort of Swedeiform. Men and women alike are almost all dressed in shades of black or grey under black anoraks or leather coats. The women wear tight pants or jeans tucked into high boots. While personally friendly, there is no casual interaction on the streets or in the stores, no hellos to strangers are exchanged, no eye contact is made. The scrum in the grocery store is almost brutal with no "sorrys" or "pardon me's" in any language, just a fast and efficient hunt for meatballs and herring and tubes of squeezy fishpaste.

Lena recalls how surprised she was in the Wal Mart back in the States, that total strangers not only smiled and greeted her, but, "They said, 'Excuse me,' from two or three meters away, not even close to bumping me." She theorizes that this, in the US, is due to hundreds of years of acculturation to the fact that your fellow American shopper might well be heavily armed. So best, then, to smile, keep one's distance and make sure it is evident that one is a non-threat... that and at the same time watching the other's eyes and hands for evidence of a quick draw.

Here, she says, one barely needs to look both ways before crossing the street. I am always stopping, assuming that the boxy buses (equipped with passenger seatbelts) and speeding Saabs ain't gonna stop for the likes of lil' ol' me. But, as she says, they are far less of a danger than the Nordic hordes of bicyclists. What does a gun-owning, American SUV driving, Republican do in a land of unarmed, bicycle riding socialists? I have taken to wearing all black naturally enough and am more or less tall and blonde. I may add a Che Guevera t-shirt and a little red star on my lapel so as to study their habits more closely... After years of travel in Central America it is rather a relief not to stick out of the crowd. It wasn't like I could dye my hair black, throw on a straw hat and suddenly look Guatemalan. Here, if I don't open my mouth, I can quietly observe the Swedes in their natural habitat...

I met Lena in downtown Malmo after she got off work. I was munching on some sort of wrap or roll containing a hot dog, mashed potatos and what might have been shrimp salad, something from a local take-out stand that I had pointed to a picture of and grunted. It was good but not as good as it probably was meant to be since I was sober. I walked with Lena through a big square and she said that on weekend nights it was one of the most dangerous places in the city.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because it has both a MacDonald's and a Burger King!"
"What and Swedes get in violent disagreements over Big Mac versus Whopper?"
"No, it's where all the boys who aren't getting laid go after the pubs close, all drunk and frustrated."
That made sense of course, there being universal danger around take-out food stands after closing time but still I found it amusing, MacDonald's and BK being epicenters of Scandanavian violence, Friday and Saturday nights ending in fists and boots, clumps of blonde hair pulled out, Super Size fries and Whoppers and Big Macs exploding in sprays of blood and secret sauce. And the pale morning sun rising sadly over inert bodies and half-eaten beef patties, a jaded cop prying red-stained fries from a cold, dead hand...

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

fries from a cold dead hand...nice...damn that sandwich sounds pretty good...and i am sober..gonna have to whip one up...hot dog/mashed potatoes and shrimp salad you say..typical socialists...lump everything together to make everyone feel equal...like all things in the world..needs a coating of good ole' American Freedom..aka Deep Fry Batter....now that's a sandwich with..B-A-L-L-S..!

7:53 AM  
Anonymous L. said...

You're accusing us of lumping everything together!?! Hmpf. Ever tried one of those Dagwood sandwiches!?! The other day I caught the man in the kitchen putting grevé-hard cheese, wästerbotten- hard cheese AND shrimp melted cheese on one sandwich. Brutish imperialists I say, lump everything together to prevent any taste from really coming through.

8:12 AM  

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