Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Mean People Read Liza Marklund

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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  1. I read Liza Marklund, in fact I love her books! But I'm not mean :(

  2. could be she was just engrossed in her book and didn't hear nor see him at first. my sister is a bookworm, and when she's into a book.. she's really into it, you basically have to smack her in the head to get her attention.
    I've also had some bousts where I just completely forget where I am; starts thinking about things, and a few minutes later when I'm back to reality again, I suddenly have a very angry old lady staring at me because I didn't move.

  3. Swedes are antisocial, shy and some very scared of speaking English. Even though they're really good at it. The English that is.

    I'm Swedish myself so I know. It took me a few years of living abroad to become normal... And I still have some trouble with being shy. Hate it!!!

  4. Interesting blog. I'm a middle aged New Zealander of Swedish descent. Back in 1873 the connection was made. My great grandfather came here from the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea.I can trace my lineage back to his emigration here. But I have no way of proceeding any further.


    Peter Petterson
    Lower Hutt
    New Zealand

  5. I'm certainly not shy, I speak English without a Swedish accent, I chat with people often - and love it. Friends and family are from all over the world and skin colour is of no relevans. I seldom use earplugs. And yet, had it not been the wrong city and the wrong book that could so easily have been me. Give me a good book and I sink into it completely. Only when I read do I miss my train stop. Never when I sleep. When I read I don't even notice colleagues sitting more or less next to me, I miss friends shouting out my name, waving. I shut out the world. Can fully understand the young woman, she may not even have noticed.
    (and Swedes in general are not shy, it depends which city you are in)

  6. Sure, there might be a decent explanation to why she did not respond, but I still think Hairy is right on point here. The absolute worst thing about Sweden is the blank stare into your eyes that some swedes will give you when you try to make contact or ask a question. Fortunately not everyone is like that, but enough people to totally annoy the crap out of me if I would move back to Sweden.

  7. This is a thought-provoking post Hairy. I am an extremely social being and thrive on social interaction. I am also very polite and helpful, which has, on more than one occasion, got me into trouble so I tend to have to force myself to be a bit more reserved for self-defence purposes. That said and assuming she was just a bitch, I could not imagine behaving in that fashion. She was in an extremely public place (safety in numbers) and I'll assume the guy was leering at her. Everyone says the same thing: Swedish people are shy and reserved but nice once you get to know them, ie. are introduced by a mutual friend. I have never felt more alone than in this country. Even the parents I met through my son's dagis could give a shit, save for the forced "hello". They know I'm from "outta town" but, with the exception of one parent, haven't bothered to get to know me, ask me how I like it here, how my son is adjusting or anything of the sort. Sorry, I'm venting. I just can't understand the mentality. Even when people tell me, "Oh, Swedes think they're being rude if they interrupt your thoughts with conversation" or some shit like that. I don't know what's colder in this country, the people or the country itself. And I come from Canada, same weather, and trust me, the weather has nothing to do with it. Getting back to the topic at hand...I am so glad you put that bitch (assuming that is what she was being) in her place and demonstrated the proper response to such an inquiry.

  8. Here, in Poland (or at least in Warsaw), it's somehow better. I think people like to help and really love to speak to others in public transport.
    What annoys me is that question are usually asked impolitely, without any "excuse me" or something, just being thrown towards nearest person.

  9. I am amazed at how much one reads about the Swedish frosty reserve. It's really enough to put an American off ever visiting.

    @SwedishJenn: I'm sorry it has been so lonely for you! I lived in LA for a few years, and people there are not very friendly. You can live next door to someone for years and never make eye contact or learn their name. The way I managed, over time I cultivated a core group of good, supportive friends and didn't worry about the rest of LA. Hopefully you can do something like that in Sweden.

  10. no no , you could not say it was an isolated incident. i've had the same experience couple of times.
    on train , on walk side , everywhere almost! you name it.and they weren't swimming in any book actualy once it was when i was at T-centralen just outside the station. i threw it 3 or more to different passengers no response though. i began thinking it might because of my color(i'm brown in case you're wondering).and just another day at one of those swathe of lands(beaches) i almost drownned ,she was 2 meters far and was looking i say was in doubt"shall i?"
    i'm just astonished You called it an isolated incident if it was someone else i would say he hasn't been around so doesn't much.

  11. Eh, I just moved to Stockholm from Washington DC. Americans could be considered "friendlier," but I wouldn't be surprised at all to see a girl on the metro in DC act as you have described.

    If I felt threatened, I may have even had the same reaction. And Im not [usually] rude.

  12. Well then I´m an unusual Swede. I aknowledge people on the subway. I start conversations with people I don´t know, and try to be helpful if someone askes me a question.
    Problem is: Some guys can´t talk to You without assuming you´re out to get laid.
    That annoys the Crap out of ME...

  13. I'm a black guy who went to Stockholm last year, and I didn't really find it racist. People, even women, were very polite to me and even offered me impromptu tours of the city. What I did notice however was that people were noticeably more friendly in the evening, especially after drinking. If I met someone at night or after drinking, they would continue to be friendly if I met them again during the day.

  14. I just wanted to ask you(swedishjenn), why don´t you talk, why do they need to make the first contact, of course you are alone if you think that way

  15. @ Anonymous. Oh but I HAVE made the first contact, on many occasions. Though I will admit I am very close to giving up. Luckily, we are blessed to have some very dear friends who we've known for years here but their kids are older. I would love to get acquainted with some parents with children my kid's age but alas, none seem interested. Yes, I've tried. Yes, I'm friendly without being in-your-face. No, I don't smell...ha!

  16. @Laura: Thanks for the compassion and the tips. For my kid's sake and my sanity, I will keep trying. Someone has to crack through the ice here :-).

  17. @ swedishjenn:i have a quite unpleasant experience with being social.
    yeah i don't know why the hell they always turn that looks like the country is filled with them. what pisses me off though is that they think i'm too.

  18. @emmylish – Clearly you are the exception to the rule.

    @ces – I considered that, but she sure was interested when I got up to respond to the guy.

    But you’re right, we’ve all had our moments where we lose ourselves in a book, or in our own heads. It happens. And that might have been the case. I don’t think it was the case but it might have been.

    @Ewa – Youre absolutely right. But I suppose I am just hoping that somewhere between being shy and antisocial there is a way of getting around being rude. Someone can be shy but still be polite right?

    @Kiwi Riverman – very cool, Gotland is a beautiful place. Some great medieval history there.

    @Ann-Katrin – I will give you the book reading thing. Because I have moments where I also disappear. But Im just not convinced that was the case here…

    @Tobbe – agreed. And it is important to note that not everyone is like that. And those who aren’t are just incredibly friendly. And I love it. But those moments where you get a blank stare, they are just so disheartening.

    @Swedish-Jenn – It’s kind of frightening how many foreigners say just what you said. That they have never felt more alone than when in Sweden. Ive heard it enough times to realize that there is a lot of truth to the statement. It’s sad that people aren’t willing to make an effort. Whether it is because they are shy or just lazy, I’m not sure.

    @MikePL – Agreed, an excuse me makes such a difference. I’ve only been to Poland once, and not to Warsaw, but it was amazing how much more noise there was on the train I was on. People talking to each other. Such a difference.

    @Laura – visiting is fine. Moving here and expecting to make friends immediately though might not be wise.

    And good advice by the way!

    @anonymous – well, I was trying to avoid a general blanketing of the entire Swedish population by saying it was an isolated incident. But you’re right, it is a bit more than isolated. I have seen it happen quite a bit. But this one was just a little bit different. Because it was so extreme. And so, this extreme of an incident was isolated. Either way, it is sad how often similar things happen.

    @Anne – fair enough, but I just couldn’t imagine how this was threatening. He stood back, very politely asked excuse me. Was soft spoken. Well dressed. I don’t know, I guess I was just hoping for a different reaction from the girl.

    @anonymous – you are a very unusual Sweden then. But the reaction you get from guys is exactly why its so sad that people aren’t more open. Because if you are open, youre automatically looking for something rather than just being friendly.

    @T. AKA Ricky Raw – Im very glad to hear that. And the thing is, in the end, I can blend in very easily in Stockholm if Id like so I will never really know what it is like. But youre absolutely right about the drinking. Its amazing what a social lubricant it is.

    @anonymous – a fair question.

    @SwedishJenn – and a fair answer.

    @anonymous – just not really sure how to respond here.

  19. Swedish people, especially here in Stockholm, might seem rude and cold to people visiting or people that have just moved here from other countries, but that's just the way we are. I get really frustrated when I read people writing that "Sweden is probably the worst place to visit", "Swedish people are just the rudest people like eveer" and "I lived in Sweden for like a year and it was hell, all Swedes are complete retards". This is OUR culture in OUR country and it's really RUDE and UNPOLITE to just puke out comments like that, people might get offended. In Sweden we have absolutely no intention of hurting peoples feelings of offending anyone (of course there are exceptions like in EVERY country.) When it's quite on the subway it's just because we feel that we got nothing to add. If you ask a question, most of us would answer it politely. When we don't go around grinning all day to everyone in the street it's because we're never gonna meet them again and we are in a hurry. And other cultures are very foreign to us, like the american. I feel almost violated when I walk in to a store in the US and feel that people are very loud and take up alot of space when you meet them when you go out (of course, not everyone is like that, I've met many nice americans.) And sure, this place might not be for everyone, but I'm from Stockholm, born and raised, and love it here! If you don't like it, then leave, and don't go and cry on forums about how horrible it was. Why on earth are we supposed to adept and be like you want us to be, and I'm really tired of having to defend our selves and our way of living all the time. Let people make up their own mind. Evil people don't read Liza Marklund, evil people mock others way of life.

  20. Essentially you’ve just said that Stockholmers are rude and cold to anyone not Swedish because they have nothing to add and are in a hurry. Awesome. This is followed by the if you don’t like it leave defense. Common for certain groups in the US. Usually far-right anti-immigration groups. It’s almost like you’re trying to strengthen my argument.

    I understand there are cultural differences. I understand Swedes tend to be a bit more reserved and quiet. That’s fine. But there is a limit also. And that limit is the blank stare when you ask someone something. It happens too often. That limit is the people who live here for years and have two, maybe three, Swedish friends. I’ve heard that story more times than I’d like to admit.

    So yes, there are cultural differences. It happens in every country. That’s why most Swedes never really understand the more conservative culture of the US. An as a culture, you don’t need to change. But as an individual, you need to respond to people when they politely ask you a question. You need to acknowledge someone elses existence. Not in order to change your culture, but to be nice.

    And I stand by my comment about mean people reading Liza Marklund. It’s important to make broad generalizations based on one girl reading one author. Obviously.

  21. Great blog on Sweden. I'm an American who probably won't ever visit Scandinavia but I feel like I'm in Sweden when reading your blog. It is funny and entertaining. I wish I had kept a better diary when I traveling in my youth. Bless your parents for having raised a polite young man. I look forward to reading your next post.

  22. @Hairy Sweden: Well said and well put. We are not coming in to change your culture. And being from Canada, the cultural melting pot of the world, I personally get very annoyed that native Canadians are allowing this to happen (granted we're a very newish country founded by immigrants). I admire the Swedes for their attempts to preserve Swedish culture. But the perceptions of "cold and rude" exist. I don't know that I would want this to define/tarnish an otherwise beautiful, rich culture and long proud history. But alas, Swedes are well known for this. All it takes is a little bit of compassion and kindness and all cultures are capable of that, are they not? Scratch that: All Human Beings are capable of these traits are they not?

  23. "But this one was just a little bit different. Because it was so extreme. And so, this extreme of an incident was isolated"
    you 're awesome at playing with woeds my friend ;) what was that comment saying" you're not a good writer you're...." i might believe that haha

  24. Well I might have been abit harsh when typing "if you don't like it then leave". I love to talk to people from different cultures and they are free to visit and live here, the more the merrier. And yes, people here in Stockholm tend to be more reserved and cold than in other parts of the country. And those two things I mentioned were just examples, we are not rude because we are in a hurry. When we are in hurry we don't smile to everyone in the street which other people might concidered rude, but we don't. Same with the subway, it might seem cold and reserved to anyone from the "outside" that we don't speak to strangers in the subway, but we don't really take notice of that. So sure, by your measurements we might be reserved, cold and rude, but not by ours. So, who's right? Then of course there are people like the Liza Marklund girl, that is rude in every culture, but far from every person are like that. I answer questions politely when asked and so do my friends. We swedes can be very nice and caring if you just get to know us, and it might take more time to do so than in other cultures around the world. It doesn't mean we are a bunch of rude, cold and unpolite basterds who just hates everyone from "the outside" which some people sure makes it sound like =)

  25. @lifelessons – Thanks, despite this post, you really should visit Scandinavia if you ever get a chance though.

    @SwedishJenn – Agreed. A simple response. A smile. A hello. It makes a difference.

    @anonymous – its always important to be able to play with words enough that you’re never wrong.

    @anonymous – that’s fair enough. And you’re right, when you get to know them, Swedes can be incredibly friendly. Its just that sometimes it takes so long. It leaves foreigners very frustrated. And I really do think that is something that the person who has lived in Sweden all of their life can’t truly understand.

  26. Gotta hope she was really into that book... Otherwise she was just a bitch. Because I've never seen anyone so shy, even here in Sweden, that he/she didn't dare to reply to a simple "excuse me" and I don't think I ever will.

  27. "That limit is the people who live here for years and have two, maybe three, Swedish friends." Why? I've lived in Sweden all my life and I've got two friends. I don't see a need a lot of friends. I rather have quality (they are really good friends) than quantity. I think the man should have said "Excuse me, do you know the of the previous station?" or something like that. If someone just saying "Excuse me" you dont know if they are talking to you or in the phone or something else. Maybe she didn't notice your earphones and thought the man was talking to you? Maybe there were so many guys who hade said "Excuse me" to her followed by sexual suggestions so she didn´t what to talk to anyone else. Maybe her mother had told her never to talk to strangers. If he had just asked about the station, maybe she would have answered him. Btw, thank's for teaching me a new word, i hadn't heard the word "kitty-corner" before and had to look it up, "tvärs mittemot". It sound kind of cute, like there's a little cat sitting in a corner, but I read it's from the french word "quatre", fourth, fjärde. Always interesting to learn something new.

  28. I'd like to step up to the girl's defense for a wee bit.

    I've been a "victim" ever since I was in my early teens of intruding African men. It's always African men. I don't know why. I've lost count of all the times I've been cornered, unwillingly approached or bothered by African men. And it's never been the innocent ask for help or directions. It's always been whether I'd be interested in starting a relationship with them. Complete strangers.

    One time I was sitting outside a 'glasskiosk' near Vasaparken with a friend having an ice cream and a young African man just sat down at our table, wanting to get to know us. He touched my shoulders and put his hand on my hand. I was polite and said no thank you and we moved on. Said man then followed/stalked us along the entire street of Odengatan, persisting his pursuit of wanting to become close "friends", demanding a reason for my saying no. It was creepy and plain disturbing.

    And that was just one incident out of hundreds I've had happen to me for the past 10-12 years. I'm fed up with it. Nowadays I don't go on public transportation without my mp3 player and it's come to the point where I can't even make eye contact with them or they'll see it as a free invitation for close friendship/relationship. And that's not me being paranoid or prejudice, that really has been the case.

    So I can completely understand the girl for ignoring the man. Maybe she too has been a victim of the same things I have. In this case, the man really only wanted to ask for help and that's unfortunate, but I'd rather be safe than sorry.

  29. I would say that there are more cold women in Sweden than elsewhere. In many countries, women often give warm smiles back when they notice that you look at them, or make a point at being friendly in a genuine, heartfelt way. In Sweden, they often react as if thinking "there is a pervert approaching me". I don't know what it is, but to be fair, this isn't an issue necessarily restricted to women even though that's where it is most obvious. For example: Americans often make small talk with strangers while on a bus or while waiting for a bus, but in Sweden it's like you must be weird or something if you try to talk to the stranger next to you. I am describing general tendencies, and of course it isn't always like that.

  30. I can only speak for myself, but I don't necessarily want to be checked out or looked at in that kind of way. I don't want to be bothered while on the bus or on the subway, I want to go on with my business and be left in peace.

    It's a cultural thing I think. We don't do 'small talk' in Sweden. We don't see a need to fill silence with words. And I like it that way.

    Fredrik Lindström talked about it on one of his TV series, the one about Swedish dialects. That the further up north in Europe you go, the fewer words are needed to express or explain something. For something that might take five or six words to say in French or Italian might only take one or two words max to say in Swedish. And that phenomenon also reflects in the social behavior. Italians talk a lot. The general Swede only speaks when he has something to say, not because he's asocial, but because he simply doesn't have anything more to say. With as few words as possible. This is especially evident in the northern provinces of Sweden.

    I think it comes down to what one would define as rude. People from other countries might find the introverted, non-responsive 'cold' Swede as rude. We might find the outgoing and overly social foreigner as rude for 'invading on our personal space'.

  31. hehe, that girl must have been the worst example of the shy swede. I have never seen anyone ignore someone just like that..

  32. And Anna kinda took the words from my mouth.

  33. The girl probably assumed she was going to be hit on. For at least some women, it's irritating in its frequency. So she had two rudenesses to choose - feign withdrawal, or respond and then have to reject him.

    In the US major metro areas, people who come right up and address you in parks, on subways, on busses, in public areas, are all too often either sturdy beggars or lunatics. There are many who don't enjoy giving the requisite responses:

    -- Get a job, dude.

    -- You aren't making any sense, madam. Kindly excuse me.

    So they try to exude interruption repellent, as did the young woman in your vignette.

    The young woman may have been rude, to avoid being ruder. And she may well have been conditioned to it. That the guy had a presentable question for you when you asked him for it doesn't necessarily mean that's what he was going to say to her.

  34. Most likely she though she was being hit on. All girls up to 30 something will always assume that they are being hit on when you talk to them.
    If you just need information fast and want to avoid a possible awkward conversation, don't ask a woman.
    Might just be me though? hmm

  35. @Robban – agreed. I just don’t think she was though. It was just a disappointing display.

    @Sofie – In terms of friends, you’re right about to or three really good friends, but I think for many foreigners the definition of friend is sued somewhat loosely when referring to Swedes. So someone you might have a beer with once a month becomes a good Swedish friend.

    You’re right about the girl, its all possible. But the situation just didn’t lend itself to some of those excuses.

    @Anna - Again, it’s all possible.

    @anonymous – agreed. Many people shy away from any sort of interaction whether it just be a smile or some small talk.

    @Anna – Youre absolutely right, in the end it is really a cultural thing. But sometimes, those cultural mores can be taken too far.

    @F – it was pretty bad. And fair enough.

    @Simon – Then the choice should be easy, respond and reject him. Because that is a rudeness that at least shows some sense of dignity. Completely ignoring someone who has directed a very polite excuse me to you is just ridiculous in my opinion.

    @anonymous – an interesting idea. The hitting on theory has emerged a bit in these more recent comments. But that kinds of lends itself to their being so much shyness. That when people do talk to someone, a girl for example, it cant just be a question, or small talk, the girl just assumes they are being hit on. If people actually said hello every now and again on the bus or train, maybe people wouldn’t be so conditioned to shutdown and ignore people. It’s a catch-22 really. Or you can just say that Swedish women are conceited and believe that no matter what they will be hit on.

  36. Hi Hairy Swede, I've been reading your blog for the lats month and I'm finally leaving a comment. Herregud, your comments and thoughts more or less describe my time in Sverige. I spent 16months from Nov07 to March09 with my gf in Stockholm. Quite an out of body experience for me. I was only 19 when I left and everyday was something new for me. But I fell in love and made a lot of friends and had amazing adventures that i'll never forget. But I digress from my point, your blog helps me smile while I'm back home in Louisiana trying to move on, though I just wanna visit Sweden again and Denmark too. Do you have FB?

  37. Oh and by the way. I'm a Black guy and now 21. My time in Sweden, I never felt any racism. Seriously I didn't. I did imagine Sweden to be a H&M paradise and was suprised to see such diversity, but I mean that's really in big cities like Stockholm and etc.

    Though 1 time coming back from McDonalds in T-centralen with my gf, there was this Swedish woman in her 40's and her hubby and she seemed very posh. Anyway she kept leering at me and telling me something rather aggressively in the subway car. I had my feet on the seat across from me. It was empty and the train was more or less empty so not a problem for anyone but her. I never knew if she was grouchy for no reason or just pissed at some seemingly "foreign young person". She did mention "polis" so I guess she was upset. Anyway I put my feet down. Not big enough of a deal to cause trouble.

    but seriously man. I told my ex-gf whose actually Danish but grew up in Vârmland about your blog and that next time I'm in Swede, i'll have to look you up. Greetz from LA

  38. @Anonymous(August 18, 2009 6:00 AM):
    Placing your feet at a seat is not very nice to the next person using said seat. They will get their clothes dirty. Maybe that's why the woman was upset.

  39. @cup of tea,

    You're right except no 1 was sitting next to me except my gf. And no 1 was sitting in front of me. The woman was sitting on the other side of the train leering at me. I mean it's no big deal now, she was just rude, but vocal about it. All other Swedes who were rude did it passively and quiet.

  40. I have actually had the exact opposite reaction from most Swedes since I moved to Stockholm this past February. People seem to go out of their way to be nice and helpful to me, and it is not just people that I have gotten to know. If I am looking for something in the grocery store, an employee there will almost always ask me if I need help. If I am standing on the subway and, to myself, say that I went the wrong way (yes, I tend to talk out loud when it should be a silent dialogue)someone will try to help me find my way. I have been told by my friends that it may be because I speak English and Swedes want to practice it or that they can tell that I'm an American and want to help the foreigner. Other friends are amazed that strangers willingly talk to me. I have noticed that not everyone gets the same treatment. Maybe it's just the times that people go out. I don't work, so I go out later in the morning when all the students and parental leave people are out, so maybe that makes a difference as well.

  41. @Anonymous(August 18, 2009 5:44 PM),

    My point was that someone would use the seat _later_.
    It's simple, really:
    1. You walk around outdoors
    2. Dirt sticks to your shoes
    3. You put your shoes on a seat
    4. Dirt sticks to the seat
    5. Someone uses the seat
    6. Dirt sticks to someone's clothes

    Ergo: The woman certainly overreacted if she mentioned "polis" in this context but part of her reaction is justified. I've seen lots of these minor incidents where young people place their feet everywhere and have an older person yelling at them. Nothing strange with that.

  42. I think it just comes down to manners. I simply don't believe the women on here who claim every black man they come accross hits on them. Sorry honey, I just don't. If someone speaks to you in a public, non dangerous setting such as a subway, you should respond. Alone, in a dark place, in an alley - ok, ignore him and move on. I give that a krappy excuse rating.

  43. @m8surf - Yeah because I just love to make things up and lie [/sarcasm]. You're obviously not a woman and you're obviously not a woman who has been cornered by African bachelors. Believe what you want, I'm just telling what's happened to me ever since I hit puberty more or less. I'm not particularly attractive so I have no idea why it keeps happening to me.

    And yeah, I CAN tell the difference between wanting to ask for directions casually and wanting to ask someone out. Because the majority of them even said (in plain English) they wanted to ask me out. Didn't even have to read between the lines or see something that wasn't there. They put the cards on the table themselves.

    The first time it happened, I wasn't even 11 years old. I was just a kid. How fun is it when you're at MEGA Skivakademin just wanting to buy a CD when you're 10-11 to find yourself being forced by an at least 30-something stranger to sit on a barstool (by the little coffeeshop thingy they used to have downstairs) next to him and have him want to know everything about you. You shouldn't have to be forced into that kind of situation.

    Like I said, believe all you want. I just find it sad you can't take my (or others') word for it.

    The last time it happened was just a few months ago. But since you don't believe me, I guess there's no point it telling what happened.

  44. Let's clear some things out: Swedes are shy, but this has nothing to do with that. This is pure egoism and lack of empathy.

    I am Croatian and have some experience of similar things:

    1) Yesterday a girl repeatedly tried to start her car, unsuccessfully. There was a Swedish couple standing 5m next to her on the same parking lot and talking. They didn't even notice her. They sat down in their car and drove off. I (an immigrant) was shocked and offered to help her. She was sooooo surprised that I offered my help.

    2) When I travelled alone with a babystroller (barnvagn) by trams&buses I needed help to get in/out. Immigrants always came forward and offered their help while Swedes never cared or even notice me.

  45. To clarify. I (Croatian) commented on the original problem being that Swedes block off and want to be left alone, NOT on the white girl v/s black man discussion that followed - that is just an extreme excuse not to talk to and help other people...prejudice!

  46. @Anna - I am very much a woman. I understand and appreaciate your disliking innapropriate advances, however, I just disagree that EVERY black man has done this to you. I bet you pass many, many black men on the street/store every week. How often do they really come up to you? I bet the percentage of black men that hit on you is small compared to all who you pass by in your daily life. So it is just unfair to treat all black men as though they deserved to be ignored like a dog or alchoholic bum on the street. Those bothering you are likely the ones who have just arrived from Africa and do not yet know our western culture (they approach women aggresively.) But plenty of black men grew up in the West and do not behave that way.

    But I do admit that there are plenty of women in the US who also ignore men assuming they just want to hit on them. I just don't like that kind of attitude. Those women are usually the snooty, cocky, my sh!t don't stink kinds of girls who are more worried about the risk of being bothered than being a kind person to someone who may deserve some help or attention. I may sound like a bitch but I just hate any excuse on this earth that gives people the right to ignore or degrade people. One love ya'all.

  47. @m8surf - I never said that EVERY black man I had ever walked by in my entire life has tried to hit on me. But whenever I've been hit on, it's always been a black man. And neither of them made me feel comfortable even talking to them - and that has nothing to do with their ethnicity. Like you said, every one of them were most likely very recent immigrants - but that doesn't change the fact that they still made me feel really, really uncomfortable, cornered and forced into something I did not want to do.

    I don't treat anybody like dirt. I try to respect anyone I don't know. But "they" (meaning the men who have bothered me so many times in the past) have made me very cautious. "They're" the ones who have made me always carrying my mp3 player and a book wherever I go in public (so I have a reason to look busy) because I'm so sick of being bothered in the way I have in the past. If it had only happened once or twice in my whole life, I wouldn't even care. But in my case, it's not been a "one hit wonder" kind of thing.

    I probably wouldn't have ignored the man like the girl did on the subway. Because it was on a subway and someone wanting to ask you something on a subway usually means they're looking for directions. Unless it's late at night. In which case I ignore everyone. But I can UNDERSTAND why she did it (if she wasn't trying to be rude).

  48. @Anna - Ok fine, you are obviously scarred. But however you try I don't see this as a valid defense for ignoring someone in a safe place, just because of their race. And I know you didnt say that EVERY black man harrasses you, but my point was that in order to excuse ignoring any black man that talks to you it would have to mean every one of them bothers you...

  49. @anonymous – It is a fun place. Even though I bitch and moan, I do it with love. I really enjoy the adventure Im having here and its been quite an experience. For better or worse. Im glad you had an amazing one too and also that the blog can bring back a memory or two. Even if they are ridiculous ones.

    In terms of the racism thing. That’s what I like to hear. A lot. Because I was being told just way too many stories so its nice to hear some the opposite.

    @cup of tea – agreed.

    @anonymous – also agreed. The Swedes get picky about that sort of thing. I had an SL employee tell me once. Ok, its happened twice.

    @Shawna – Like I said to anonymous above. I am so very glad to hear that. As a general rule Swedes do love practicing their English. But that’s why I was so taken by the rude behavior of the girl on the subway when the man was speaking English to her.

    You have a good point though, it could be the group of people you find yourself out an about with. Or its your girlish charm.

    @cup of tea – some good points. Although the polis being involved is ridiculous.

    @m8surf – You should definitely respond.

    @Anna – being hit on at 11 is not cool. At all. I agree.

    @anonymous – Sadly, I have been in the car situation. More times than I would like here in Sweden. And it has always been an immigrant who has helped me. Always.

    @m8surf – in certain situations I can understand the ignore. In thi one I could not.

    @Anna – Honestly, I still don’t really understand why the girl ignored the guy in this situation. Like I said above I can sometimes understand. But just not this time.

    @m8surf – Im still commenting on this discussion just because I always respond to comments. Unfortunately I have nothing to add.

  50. I'm not going to comment on the main subject of this thread. I have opinions on the subject, but I'll keep them to myself for the time being.

    No, what I'm going to comment on is: "As a general rule Swedes do love practicing their English"

    Perhaps this is true for some. Others don't like it at all. I think that in a lot of the cases, the Swede in question might just doing what s/he feels is the polite thing to do. This will be the case if you're new to Sweden. If you actually stay here for many years and refuse to learn Swedish, you may learn that the same Swedes that "love to practice their English" with newly-arrived doesn't want to speak English with you at all. Answering all your questions as succinctly as possible, refusing to carry on a conversation in English etc.

    This seems to be a part of the culture clash. Sweden is not an extension of the anglophone culture sphere even though some English speakers seem to believe so.

    I started to read "living in Sweden" type blogs about a year ago as I developed a desire to find out what people moving here actually thought of the place. One of the things that blew me away the most was reading about people being hurt, humiliated and angry at Swedes for switching to English when they tried to speak Swedish to them. People thought that Swedes were being very rude for doing this to them. Swedes rudely demanded spotless accents in Swedish or they'd demean you by switching to English etc.

    I had never imagined this. The thought had never occurred to me that I was being rude. I - and I would imagine other Swedes as well- switch to English to be polite. Why not e.g. say that while you appreciate the gesture, you really need/want to practice your Swedish you could we please try to hold the conversation in Swedish?

    I've seen this type of thing again and again. Even in this blog. A type of behavior is described and labeled: Rude.
    I'm envisioning the the behavior and I'm thinking that the person what doing the polite thing. So many times what you and others think Swedes ought to do to be polite would actually be very rude in Sweden.

    In fact, foreigners do tend to be "rude" quite alot. Most people tend to accept that as being "foreign". It happens quite frequently that foreign people do and say things to me that I would never EVER accept from a Swede.

  51. @Jacob_M: I fully understand that. My Swedish is terrible, so I find it easier to speak in English, unless I am not understood, then I switch to my (terribly accented, poorly grammatical) Swedish. I am given leeway since I have only been here for a few months, don't plan on staying another year, and definitely stand out as a non Swede (especially in winter with my Carolina blue coat). My friends all know this and ask me why I want to learn Swedish if I'm not staying. I just think that everyone who plans on living in a country for any amount of time should take the time out to learn the language. I just am so self conscious of my Swedish that I try not to use it (sort of defeating the whole purpose of learning it I guess).

    I do have friends who will practice with me. I will speak Swedish to them, and they will reply in English. I've learned it's a happy compromise.

    Swedes are much more reserved than many other cultures, and I can see how some things I do (and many other Americans do) would be perceived as rude, and as I'm learning these things, I am trying not to do them. Often though, I don't realize that what I am doing is being rude since it is just my nature, and if no one points it out to me, I will never learn the difference.

    The accepted and expected ways we interact with each other change so much from one place to the next, and if someone just adapts to the other, without letting the second person know that they are uncomfortable or that it is considered rude in their culture, the other person will never learn, and will continuously make the same mistakes. So if someone does something that you would normally perceive as being rude, kindly let them know that that is not acceptable in your culture. I'm sure they will make the effort to change for the next time. You may save them some headache down the road.

  52. I would really appreciate a Swede letting all of us expats/immigrants know what it is we do that you find offensive and/or rude. We're all bickering back and forth here, which is fine and dandy, but I for one, would sincerely like to learn specifically what it is I do that comes across as offensive so that I can learn to adapt.

  53. One other thing: I have never felt so much pressure to learn a language as I have in this country. People are downright annoyed that I've been here since January and haven't started classes yet. Not that I blame them. This is their country and I should speak their language. Just an interesting observation is all.

  54. @SwedishJenn,

    I stayed in Sweden for 16months and still only on basic Swedish. I didn't push myself to learn. I admit that. But also my friends didn't really care. Swedes love it if a foreigner speaks their language but mostly they prefered english. I've met tons of students studying here, French, Chinese, German and they pick up a few words but none care to learn more. Maybe they just here for a semester and no desire or because English will get you everywhere here.

  55. But that being sad, it's horrid about the girl and all. I mean I've noticed it often. I guess being a Black American it didn't happen to me. I either traveled alone and kept to myself or been out with foreign pals and obviously people would notice I were American.

    1st time I got to Tunnelbana I was looking for Bergshamra I was totally confused, but an elderly Swedish woman helped me out. I really owe her. I wish i got her name to repay her, but she gave me that look that she wanted to do something more :P I like older women but I draw the limit at 65

    all I know is I so wanna visit Sweden again and I love this BLOG

  56. Hej Anon. That's why I find the mounting pressure so ODD. Swedes speak excellent English but I guess with the growing number of immigrants coming in, it's become all the more important to preserve their language. I'm headed to whatever office I need to get to in order to sign up though. I'm cracking...Plus, we could be here for another year or possibly 10, we really don't know. So best get my arse in gear..ha!

  57. Well when you say it like that, I understand. Yeah it would appear Sweden is slowly re-discovering some bits of their nationalism.

    Lycka til. I'm thinking about moving back there if me and my ex get back together. But who knows. I need more time in Louisiana.

    Oh my name is kevin by the way.

  58. @Shawna - I have a Carolina blue coat also. Are you a tarheel?

    And yes immigrants can be rude in many ways depending on where there from. Especially about stuff like waiting in line or not pushing to get on-off a buss or tram. I spent my summer in southern-eastern Europe and although I knew all my neighbors and everyone talked to me around town, you would get knocked over in line at the grocery store. I actually began to miss that Sweden. It was a big moment for me. I think she's growing on me.

  59. @m8surf: I'm technically a 49er, since I went to UNC- Charlotte, but I don't really follow the College sports (I know, a punishable sin in the South). I do feel a bit of pride when they win, since the Heels are in the University family, but I also am happy when they lose (when the mighty fall).

  60. @Jacob – Ive never thought Swedes who switch to English rude. Ive thought them to be overly polite as you say. But I think the frustration is probably more from the people who really want to practice their Swedish. Because a lot of Swedes, at the hint of an accent, will switch to English. Whether it is because they want to practice their English, or they are just being polite, doesn’t really matter. Instead, as you say, it’s the culture clash. Swedes tend to be damn good at English, I know people who decided to come to Sweden to study because they wanted to be in a country where they could practice their English without being in an English speaking country. I suppose that is a testament to the English abilities of Swedes.

    And you’re right, I label a lot of things rude here in Sweden. People who don’t respond to others when it is clear they are talking to them. People who don’t show any acknowledgement at all when doors are held open for them. Much of what I write comes from a very American perspective. But I have been here for a couple of years now. I know what is expected and what is not. And I know what, regardless of culture clash, is rude. So, I would love to hear what I have deemed to be polite which the average Swedes would see as rude.

    @Shawna – well said.

    @SwedishJenn – But that might be seen as rude.

    @anonymous – also my experience. Although, I do think everyone should make an effort to learn the language of whatever country you are in.

    @anonymous – gotta love the old Swedish ladies.

    @SwedishJenn – well, some of it might also boil down to just how easy it is to get into those classes. The barriers of entry are so low that Swedes may just see it as lazy if not taking advantage.

    @anonymous – Nationalism is alive and well in Sweden I would say. Whether they admit it or not.

    @m8surf – it does have its moments doesn’t it?

    @Shawna – blog bonding. I love it.

  61. I'm not going to argue whether Swedes are less friendly to strangers in general, but, I am willing to bet that this young woman has been sexually harrassed before, particularly by men from other cultures, where the cultural values are different.
    "Nice guys" (such as yourself :D ) tend to be in disbelief that some other males are leering creeps. It's like, nice men don't want to believe that other males sexually harass or bother women. Maybe this girl was rude and mean, but I'd bet money she has had bad experiences in the past.

  62. you could be right. but I guess I would just expect that because it was a very public place that the girl would have at least acknowledged his existence. that being said, Im not very often sexually harassed so I can't really say what that is like.

  63. Hey Hairy, don't forget it's free. I've asked a ton of foreign students why they study in Sweden and they admit cause it was FREE. But also it was an "open" country. Fair enough, but how will it change next year when you have to pay.

  64. @HairySwede,

    you're right, it's not very in your face from my perspective of nationalism, but quite noticeable. Tradition is always followed, jänte law seems quite scary to me.

    @Victoria, you probably have a point. I never thought about it like that. Some girls get off on how many guys try to flirt and whatever and some seem to act so rude off the get go. I just notice and laugh and go about my business.

  65. The last anonymous said : "I never thought about it like that. Some girls get off on how many guys try to flirt and whatever and some seem to act so rude off the get go. I just notice and laugh and go about my business."

    You just proved my point.

  66. @Shawna - Cool, my lil sis went to UNC-C but I spent half of my growing up years in Chapel Hill...love when the world is small.

    @Hairy - Yes, despite the shyness of the average person it has begun to grow on me since this summer. I don't know why, can't explain it. I'm definately developing some sort of surprising attachment. And I don't know what to make of it yet. Kind of like a new lover...

  67. @anonymous – free does play a big role. Agreed.

    @anonymous – exactly, it exists, but bubbles just under the surface.

    @Victoria – well there we go.

    @m8 – Until that lover throws you into the dark of winter…

  68. what a bitch!

    i cant do that to someone, even if they creep me out. god! Do unto others as you would have them do unto you......

    mean people need to be punched in the face.

  69. seriously, it just seems like it would have been so easy to respond...

  70. I live in a town in northern Illinois with a very large population of Swedes. The elderly and middle-aged Swedes can often be very cold and say very unkind things. Many seem to be angry and unhappy. A good example would be today, when I was ringing the bell for the Salvation Army, most everyone I had contact with was incredibly kind. But as I was leaving with my folding chair, an elderly couple with a "Proud to be Swedish" bumper sticker asked me why it was necessary for me to sit during the two hours of ringing the bell (implying that I was lazy). I responded that I have early M.S., and am just recovering from bronchitis and an ear infection - they just scoffed. It's just so typical and I just pray for people like this. I don't know why so many of the older Swedish people are like this, but it's truly sad for them that they are refusing to enjoy life and spread cheer to others.

  71. it really is sad when people get so involved in their own lives that they forget other people are around. its so easy to just flash a smile at someone or offer to help.

  72. I am really struggling with this attitude in my new home, Sweden!

    I have to say this has come as a big disappointment to me. I expected more from Swedes! Coming from North America you think of Sweden as a country that welcomes so many is open minded and liberal.
    Maybe my definitins of these words is a little too high but experiences such as this one I have seen in my time here and are seriously annoying.

    What a bitch!!

    I apologize for being maybe harsh, I am closing in on my 8th month here and I still get very surprised by this type of attitude.

    Oh Toronto, how I miss you and your friendly people!!

  73. its amazing how much you end up missing the friendliness. swedes say its fake. thats fine. even if it is, I prefer a smile than a cold stare.

  74. It is so funny because I know exactly what you are talking about. Those scenarios are always absolutely appaling, where people don't have the slightest bit of decency in them. Either way, I'm so sorry that you have to face all of this. Just know that you aren't alone, we are in the same boat! :)

    (actually my mother was a victim of Liza Marklund.)

  75. damn that Marklund and her evil ways...

  76. I sort of have to defend the girl on the tube. If you are a Swedish girl who travels alone on the tube that goes to suburbs with a high rate of immigrants (ie the Blue line north or the Red line south), you always have immigrant men hitting on you.
    They start with a perfectly innocent question about where to get off or something like that and when you answer politely they will continue to ask where you live, if you are married, if they can see you again, if they can have their number etc. And they won't take a simple no for an answer. I have had to basically tell them to f* off to get rid of them.

    And that alone doesn't always help. I have been followed home from the tube station, they have grabbed my ass or my tits when I try to walk past them in the train, I have been called ha whore when I no longer want to talk to them.

    I have had some REALLY horrible experiences on the tube, almost every time I have travelled outside of the central part of Stockholm. So nowdays I always ignore immigrant men who try to talk to me on the tube. I don't want to get dragged into something and if that makes me rude (it does), then so be it. I have good reasons to not talk to anybody I don't know on the tube. Sorry, but that's how it is.

    And I am not the sexy type, I don't dress in a "daring" way and I'm not flirty at all. I'm just an average looking Swedish girl in my 20's who wants to go from one place to another.
    But since I can't do that without being harrassed I no longer take the tube when I'm alone "utanför tullarna". It's really sad.

  77. see and that's just one of those things that being a relatively large man, I will not have to deal with. so maybe she ws just conditioned to it.

  78. While I understand that the girl was perhaps a little thrown by the request (and I say this as a relatively petite white girl Nykr who grew up taking the subway and getting rudely hit on/groped by weirdos from all nations back before NY became tame and suburban) I still think racism and rudeness were at play.

    I have gotten into discussions with many European friends and acquaintances about their standard perception of the US as a hotbed of racists. I have time and time again seem much worse accepted as normal behavior in Europe. The US is much less racist overall than many places that look down on America. Even the racists will give people directions come to think of it...

    It wouldn't have killed her to be polite and answer a simple politely put request for directions. Regardless of color. If he was trying to hit on her, just shut him down and go back to your book. Simple, really. Oh, and I am a shy, relatively introverted person myself, just not rude or mean.

  79. I think that was exactly the reaction I was hoping for.

  80. Options:

    A.) She was engrossed in her book

    B.) She's mean

    C.) She thought he was a beggar (and most Swedes will avoid communication with beggars)

    D.) She thought he was going to proposition her. Something not uncommon with certain African immigrants - often students - who want to find a Swedish girlfriend as a path for citizenship. Most Swedish girls (especially Stockholmers) will choose to ignore young African men who try to talk to them in a non-social location like the Underground for this reason. Don't laugh - it's true. As for most Swedes starting a conversation with someone is showing an interest in them, and if you start a conversation with such a person you may not be able to get rid of them. ;)


  81. all good options. I just would have liked to have seen some sort of acknowledgement. But I am not a Swedish girl who often gets propositioned so I cant put myself in that situation.

  82. Dude I'm an immigrant in Sweden. I came to Sweden from an Asian country at the age of 12. After spending many years here, I somehow didn't get the joyful life I wanted, and I couldn't figure out why. Until the day I went to US for a year. So I got to Cornell in Ithaca and studied there for one year. Despite the high workload and immense pressure, I had a blast nevertheless. The people were so friendly. As long as you have a positive attitude and be cool, you'll get to know a lot of people. When I went to a lab to work on a project, I could chat up anybody and get to know them since day 1. However, these feats are simply impossible in Sweden. After coming back to the home of IKEA, I worked at the research division of a multinational corporation. My colleagues there were all educated, so it should be easy to talk to them, so I thought. But I was wrong. During my first week working there I probably talked to 6 people. I sorta knew 5 of them since earlier, and the sixth one was my boss. During the coffee breaks, nobody tried to get to know me. In Cornell I'd be approached by people asking me where I'm from, what I'm working on, etc. But in Sweden, nothing f%#king happened. Trying to talk to them was yet another Mission Impossible. The engineers only spoke to their closest co-workers. The conversation always slipped into talk-shop that no one else could understand. In the states I was a social creature. In Sweden, I'm shackled at best. Now that I know there's something wrong with this country, I want to move abroad again, perhaps to US.

  83. it can be ridiculously frustrating. and it takes a long time. I think one of the reasons I had such a hard time was because I was coming from that culture you discuss here in the US.

    all I can say is, good luck!

  84. The worst thing about Swedes, I think, is the open display of jealousy, coupled with the fact that they STARE at you! Fashion, being chic, does not exist in Sweden, and if one as a foreigner dresses up as one would normally dress elsewhere, then one will be met with everything from intense stares to rudeness and even aggressiveness! I've seen foreigners who looked prima when they set their foot on Swedish soil for the first time, but after a few months they look like shit, because they just can't stand this sick harassment! Terrible! I don't want to live in such a country!

    And to the person who said that Swedes "are really good at speaking English": Everything is relative, but let me put it like this: Swedes THINK they're very good at speaking English, and most of the time don't realize that they make a lot of grave mistakes, and that their accents are very heavy. "Åvär där" that sort of thing.

  85. Also: Swedes are hypocrites and racists! Don't let them fool you with their fake "liberalism"! They're also pretentious, and like to think that they're better than others while they at the same time love to use the word "ödmjuk" (Humble) BS! They really have some kind of inferiority complex which causes them to behave as if they think they're better than others. (Complicated....) They're boring like hell, and color-less and uninteresting! They most interesting thing a Swede will have done in his/her life is to have lived in Thailand for a while! They think that foreigners are loud, and then when they have a few drinks they scream like Tarzan and behave like Tarzan's chimpanzee! I have never seen a people screaming more - and it's mostly just senseless animalistic sounds! And the worst thing about them is their habit of talking shit about Americans, while in reality they are the biggest wannabe-Americans in the whole wide world! They love to boast about that they can speak English, but they sound ridiculous when they do! And even worst than that is that they really seem to be under the illusion that they're very attractive, while they actually are amongst the most ugliest people I have ever seen! Sorry Swedes - someone has to tell you the truth!

  86. The U.S. worse than Sweden when it comes to racism?? No way!!! Sweden takes the price by far! Swedes think of themselves as not being racist, but in their actions and their behavior, they're amongst the most racist people in the world, without even knowing it! I have many Swedish friends, and VERY few of them ever become friends with any foreigners. It's as if it's dirty to become friends with immigrants, unless of course they're American or English. This is certainly not the case in the U.S., where immigrants of all colors have a great chance of becoming fully integrated in society!

  87. @anonymous – well, Ive noticed the staring thing quite a bit, the fashion thing also, but the English. Swedes think they are good at it because they are good at it. Damn good at it.

    @anonymous – so much anger and bitterness.

    @anonymous – this may have more to do with Swedes being somewhat insular and shy.