Swedes are quite self-aware. DCP and I have had plenty of conversations with Swedish people about the non-smiling nature and reservedness (sounds like a real word right?) of the Swedish people. Especially here in Stockholm.
No one smiles or says hello when out and about, or on public transportation. Or on elevators. Granted elevators are just a really awkward experience usually. Do you strike up a conversation with someone who might get off in three floors? Or do you stare straight ahead at the wall in the tiny 6x6 foot moving box? Anyway, it’s a noticeable phenomenon. And something most Swedes seem to realize.
In fact, sometime in the fall a woman even tried to explain this in Swedish in an opinion piece in one of the free newspapers. Her reasoning was that Swedes are just so relaxed that it would take too much effort to smile and say hello and that would only make them tired and stressed. It was an awful article. But interesting because it furthered the idea that they realize there aren’t that many smiles for strangers.
What is so interesting is that so many Swedes I have discussed this with seem to think it is too bad and that they would like to see more smiles and hellos. They realize they are hard to come by. Yet no one seems to make any effort to change it.
DCP swears that you can see looks of shock as Swedes pull away from you if you give a smile or a hello on the train. It’s as if they think you’re crazy. Or drunk. Or maybe just American. But it is amazing. And really kind of sad.
So in the last few days I’ve started nodding and smiling at random people as I pass them on public transportation. It’s a little thing. But it makes me feel like I have some sort of personal connection with someone on my 90 minute commute to work. Aside from one older man I have had no response whatsoever. But one is better than none.
And so maybe I’ll even flash a smile next time. Or strike up a conversation with someone on the train. I might scare them. But maybe they’ll go to work and tell everyone about the nice young man with the strange accent that talked to them on the train. Or maybe they’ll avoid the train at all costs in order to get away from the crazies who ride it. We’ll see.