No Smiles For You!

This post is just a list of some things I’ve noticed about Swedes, and how they’re different from Americans.  Or at least, my experience with Americans.  Please forgive the disorganization!

-Kids in Snowpants

One of the things I loved right off the bat about being in Sweden was seeing kids in snoveralls.  Honestly, putting my snoveralls on was one of my FAVORITE things about getting lots of snow.  They’re super convenient and super warm, plus mine had a lining that you could tuck into your snow boots so snow didn’t get in your boots or up your pant legs.  Over here, kids don’t just wear them when they go play in the snow.  They wear them everywhere.  There’s probably less than an inch of snow on the ground right now, but every store I’ve been in (IKEA included) has had kids running around in their snoveralls while their parents hold their coats.  It is adorable, and snoveralls are forever associated with Winter Fun (yes, it is a proper noun).  This includes, but isn’t limited to, skiing, sledding or running around on Grandma and Grandpa’s frozen-over pool with my brothers.

-No One Smiles When They Pass You

I don’t know how many of you regularly go for walks or runs or bike rides around your neighborhood or on a trail, but when you do, you smile at those you pass, right?  I know especially when I’m on the Anderson Township Trail, everyone smiles at one another and sometimes people chat briefly.  I noticed the other day when I was jogging from the Ryd into the city that absolutely no one was smiling.  I smiled like a fool at every single person I met, sometimes adding a “hej” (pronounced “hey”) but NO ONE RESPONDED.  I was perplexed, since everyone I had met so far had been very friendly and helpful.  Had all these people been anomalies in Sweden and I stupidly assumed they were the majority?  WHAT was going on?!

Well, later on that day, I asked Ida about it.  Well, I actually didn’t even get the chance to ask her.  I said “So on my run today, I was smiling at people, and — ” and she cut in with “Oh, no! No one does that here! You supposed to pretend you don’t notice anyone.”  She told me that everyone probably knew immediately that I wasn’t a Swede because Swedes just don’t do that.

This — believe it or not — has been so hard for me!  I smile pretty easily and I want to seem welcoming and friendly, so I’ve been grinning buffoonishly at all these people when culturally, it just doesn’t mean the same thing.  You don’t greet anyone unless you know them.  It has proven nearly impossible for me not to smile at every single person I inadvertently make eye contact with.  It’s like walking around with a “FOREIGNER” stamp on my forehead.  Although, I guess of all the things that might mark me as a non-Swede, smiling constantly isn’t the worst.

-Bikes, Bikes, Bikes!

It is no lie to say that nearly everyone bikes here.  It is a law that everyone who rides a bike must have two lights attached; a red light must be on the back of the bike and a white light must be on the front.  This is great, because it makes the bikes visible, but only when you’re walking toward them or behind them.  When they are behind you, they are decidedly less visible and hardly anyone has bells on their bikes.  In the US, my experience has been that people either have bells on their bikes or call out “On your left!” before they pass by you.  Here, you know they’re going to pass you when they whiz by, like, six inches away from you.  It is always startling and I’m not sure I’ll get used to it.  There are a lot of things I need to learn to navigate near and around, and the bikes (as a unit) are one of those things.

-Students Call Us By First Names

I can barely do this with “grown-ups” who tell me to call them by their first names!  When I first started babysitting for Kim and Rob, I was 14 and called them Mr. and Mrs. Guy for like … 3 months until Kim told me to call them Kim and Rob.  Even then, it was quite an adjustment.  I felt really uncomfortable and mildly disrespectful the first few times until it became clear that they truly didn’t mind.  When I started taking the RA class at OU with my soon-to-be-boss Micah, I called him Mr. Mitchell until he told me to call him Micah.  I just have never called an adult by their first name without permission from them, so becoming comfortable with high school students calling me Emily will be hard for me.  Especially because I had to get out of the habit of introducing myself as Emily and into the habit of introducing myself as Ms. Barnett.

When I was talking to Ida about this, she said that it’s because Swedes kind of assume adulthood at an earlier age, and teachers want their students to feel like they’re their contemporaries as far as the learning process goes.  This is in keeping with what we’ve learned in the MIC — that we can learn from our students just as they learn from us — but here they take it a step further than we do by dismantling the hierarchy that is automatically created when you must address someone by a title.  More explanation I’ve heard of this comes in the form of an analogy to the workplace: that you don’t address your boss by Mr. or Mrs. or Dr. just because he or she your boss, so why should students be obligated to do that with their teachers?  I’m struggling with this a little.  Partially because it feels so different (and thus a tad uncomfortable) and partially because I’m one of the young ones in the program and feel like I have to differentiate myself from my students, and that this is one institutionalized way to do it.

-Early Dusk = Early Fatigue

The early sunset thing is no joke.  Here’s a (blurry) photo I took out my window at 4:15pm :

This early-sunset thing is hard just because I don’t know Linköping well enough yet to venture out after dark, unless it’s in the Ryd.  It’s also great though, because once it gets dark, I start getting tired.  So instead of it getting dark at 6pm and me getting tired around 10pm, it’s dark around 4 and I’m tired around 8.  I’ve been doing pretty well, sleep-schedule wise because of this.  I’m getting a ton of sleep, but I’m also getting up between 7 and 8am, so I have the full benefit of daytime sunlight.

-Butter, Yogurt, Chocolate

Our first full day here, Ida took us to the grocery store and recommended a brand of chocolate.  I got some, and ended up consuming the entire bar in 24 hours.  And then I got some more yesterday.  Let me tell you, this chocolate is SO. GOOD.  I don’t know why because the label  is in Swedish, but it is just delicious.  The same with the butter!  My grandpa recommended Scandinavian butter to me a few years ago but I kind of blew it off because how could butter really be that different from the butter in the United States?  Turns out, it is different and the difference is that it is more delicious.  Aaaaaand the yogurt.  It’s not different in that it’s more delicious, but it’s different in that it is thinner (like maybe the consistency of a smoothie?) and it comes in a carton, not a plastic container.  You open it and pour it just like you would with milk.

-Free Laundry, No Detergent

Yes, this is awesome.  Laundry is free (yay!) and the detergent is already in the machine, so I don’t have to use any of my own!  I bought a giant container of powdered detergent before I left, put it in baggies and had packed it.  When I became concerned about the weight of my suitcases, my mom suggested I take enough for 3-4 loads and offered to ship the rest.  (Note to mom: Don’t! I’ll still take the coffee though 🙂 )

Max, one of the people in my corridor, said that they have the detergent in the machines because people would come in and not be sure how much detergent to use, so they would overload it and mess up the washers.  I’m fine with that; laundry is free, detergent is free, and now I have enough detergent to last me a few months once I get back!

There were a few more things I wanted to write about, but those will have to wait.  Since I have a bunch of meetings this week and I’ll have my first day at school on Thursday (3 days later than I expected) this will probably be a week of many posts.  Sorry in advance!

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5 thoughts on “No Smiles For You!

  1. I, too, had a pair of snoveralls that I loved. They stay up so much better than regular, old snowpants AND you don’t get snow down the back of your pants.
    The sun also set early in Ghana (consistently at 6 p.m. because of their proximity to the equator) so I know what you mean about getting tired early.
    And I’m laughing to myself imagining the TSA reaction to your individually bagged powdered laundry detergent…hahaha

  2. Love this, Em. I could have told you about the Scandinavian no-smile thing… I think it’s the same in Russia, too! It’s strange though, since we tend to be such an overly friendly culture. LOLOLOL at the “snowveralls” and “Winter Fun” I am so glad I am going to get to visit you!

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