Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Swedish Laundry Room

An exciting Saturday night last night. In an attempt to catch up on laundry I spent an eventful evening in the basement in the laundry room. And who doesn’t want to be in the laundry room on a Saturday night?

Anyway, living in an apartment has introduced me to the world of communal laundry. At college I managed to live in the same house for three years, and always with a working washer and dryer. Life was good. I did laundry when I wanted to and only had to fight with a few other people. And I knew them all so if someone forgot their clothes in the dryer it wasn’t hard to figure out which room to dump the clothes in.

That doesn’t quite work here. Now I have to book a time. I have to plan ahead. I have to haul everything down to the basement. I need to clean the lint filter. Which apparently leads to a whole lot of laundry room fights here in Sweden. Like the woman who was locked in the laundry room by her neighbor. Or maybe the laundry room feuds in Lund.

Anyway, I manage to do my laundry, without any feuds, on a halfway regular basis. I haven’t had to resort to dirty undershirts or turning my boxers inside out. I’ve been down to my last pair, but I always seem to come through in the clutch.

And last night was one of those clutch moments. Clothes were scarce and it was time. So I made my way down to the laundry room at about 7 in the evening. This was a process that should have taken max two hours. I was still folding laundry at 10:30.

I planned on doing two loads of laundry. I headed down to the laundry room and found a Swede down there studying away while doing his laundry. The laundry room is an excellent place to study so it made sense. I gave a quick nod and then turned to the task at hand. I was feeling industrious so I sorted my clothes. Whites and colors. I threw them into the washing machine and went on my merry way, once again giving a nod to my friendly neighbor laundry-doer.

I came down about 40 minutes later to find that my whites came out smelling so fresh and so clean clean. The colors came out not so fresh and not so clean. In fact, they came out mostly dry with just a splash of water along with the laundry detergent clumped nicely over my shirts. Turns out the machine had stopped working almost immediately. Awesome.

The Studying Swede was still down there. He removed his headphones and began talking to me. And I’ll be honest, I was caught off guard. Was he going to accuse me of not cleaning out the lint filter? Of spilling laundry detergent on the machine? Of stealing his time? I have come to expect absolute silence in the laundry room so I expected the worst.

I was wrong. He was making small talk. He had said that the machines had been having problems and that one of his had stopped working as well. He even mentioned that the guy before him had told him that one of the machines left his clothes stinky. Which is never good for a washing machine. I was disappointed but didn’t really have many choices. I could just stick my clothes back in and hope that I wasn’t stealing someone else’s time, or I could wait.

But before that I had to get my whites dry. Luckily there are two dryers and two drying cabinets in the laundry room. Plenty of space for drying clothes. But I was wrong. Both dryers were in use. One of the drying cabinets was full, and the final drying cabinet was being loaded up by the Studying Swede. However, the Studying Swede apparently empathized with me. Because he offered to share the drying cabinet with me. I jumped at the chance. I just don’t have enough room to lay out a load of wet laundry in my apartment to dry. So we shared a drying cabinet. Clearly, we became best friends.

Now I had to figure out what to do with my partially wet, laundry detergent-covered coloreds. Luckily, on a Saturday night, there aren’t so many people who want to be doing laundry. Which is strange really. So I was able to book another time immediately. And I was able to get my clothes started again. This time I stood around until I was sure that the clothes were completely immersed in water and the machine was spinning. I had learned a valuable lesson. One being never to wait until Saturday night to do laundry. It’s just not much fun. Another being to stick around until the laundry machine is working as it should. And finally, and maybe the most important lesson of all, empathizing over faulty washing machines is obviously the best way to start conversations with Swedes.

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  1. Oh, the laundry room. The glory of the laundry room. A source of brotherhood, lifelong friendship and fights...

  2. In our building we "sign up" (with a locking metal gadget in a schedule board) for specific slots of 3 hours. The irritations arise when the previous person doesn't clean or properly clean the washing machine soap intake tray, or take the lint from the dryers, or just isn't tidy. I am a neatnik, so I am a hero to the older ladies (around my age) who usually follow. I even clean out the water trapped in the rubber lip around the water-tight closer for the washer. This really impressed our upstairs neighbor. Others aren't so neat. I sometimes see terse notes posted around the tvättrum. Some of these are from the "super" who lives on the top floor. Others have been from folks whose laundry was ruined by someone leaving a colored item in a washer. I approach the tvättrum with great respect and some fear.

  3. @robban - yeah it seems to be where frienships are formed. or where neighborly relations go to die.

    @ron - I'd like to think I do a good job of cleaning up after myself. But I will confess, I don't clean out the water around the rubber lip.

    and I must say, Ive never thought of the consequences of leaving behind a piece of colored clothing in the washer that could ruin someone elses clothes. But I feel like the blame there can be placed on both parties.

  4. The laundry room was perhaps my biggest culture shock when I moved to Sweden. The Byzantine rules, the harsh disapproval, the people who steal your time. We spent a week on it in SFI. You can not truly understand it outside Sweden.

  5. It seems to bring out the extremes in people. Maybe its all the lint.

  6. I think lots of Swedes feel they need an excuse to strike up a conversation...and something being out of the ordinary is often such an excuse.

  7. thats a good point. and I suppose with the community laundry rooms there is always something out of the ordinary to comment on.