Today I was on the blue line headed away from Stockholm. In general the blue line heading away from town is somewhat immigrant heavy. Rinkeby is on the blue line for example.
I tell you this only to set the scene. I am, for all intents and purposes, an immigrant to this country. However I blend in a bit better. Sometimes at least. Today I had a light blue collared shirt on and halfway tight jeans. So I’m basically a local. And I’m white. In certain suburbs of Stockholm this becomes very noticeable.
I was sitting on the subway lost in the wonderful world of American sports brought to me by my podcasts. The girl kitty corner to me, in her early twenties, was lost in a Liza Marklund book. Because I judge you by the books you read I take notice of this sort of thing. On a completely unrelated note, she did not have any sort of earphones in. This is important.
A tall, slim, black man walked over to my area. He did not have a light blue collared shirt on nor was he wearing halfway tight jeans. So he didn’t fit in. And he wasn’t white. I may have mentioned that.
He glanced over at me, took note of my earphones and instead turned to the girl reading. Remember, no earphones. He said excuse me. In impeccable English. No response. He said it again. No response. At all. Instead it was the nervous look straight ahead and concentrate really hard and maybe he will go away. If I can’t see his eyes he can’t see me. If I don’t move he won’t know I’m here. I’m pretty sure that only works with a T-Rex.
There were really only two options as to why this girl would have completely ignored a perfectly reasonable and understandable question. The girl was deaf and had horrible peripheral vision meaning that she neither heard the man nor saw him out of the corner of her eye. Or she was just incredibly rude.
After the second excuse me I took my earphones out and asked him if I could help him. This is not necessarily because I am a nice guy, although I am, but because I have some semblance of politeness. And the ability to maneuver myself through a social interaction every now and again. I blame my parents completely for this.
Turns out the guy was a bit turned around. He knew where he wanted to go and which stop he was supposed to get off at, but wasn’t sure which stop we had just passed. It was a simple question to answer, especially with the help of a handy subway map posted on the inside of the subway cars.
At this point I had walked up to the guy and pointed out the previous station on the map. Always good to add some visuals when giving directions. When I got up I noticed that suddenly the Liza Marklund fan seemed very intent on listening in. Which would suggest she was not, in fact, deaf. Having eliminated her deafness, the peripheral vision just wasn’t important anymore. This led me to only one logical conclusion. She was mean.
After an interaction that lasted maybe 30 seconds, the man thanked me and returned to his seat explaining to his buddy on the way that they only had one more stop left. It was that easy.
I have written about the shy nature of Swedes. I have written about immigration in Sweden. I have written about the latent racism which I sometimes see pop up in Sweden. They tend to be off the cuff observations based on my experiences and the stories of others. Any evidence that I have would be anecdotal at best. But that’s the beauty of the blog really.
I don’t know if this had anything to do with any of those topics. It was an isolated incident. I know that. But that kind of coldness, whether it be shyness, fear, racism, or just a mean individual, frustrates me to no end. Smile at the person on the subway. When someone asks you a question respond. It doesn’t need to be in the affirmative but at least acknowledge their existence. It really is that easy sometimes.
Welcome to Sweden. Where mean people read Liza Marklund.
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