Friday, May 28, 2010

An Over-Served American

My younger brother is in town, with one of the more glorious beards I have seen in some time. He’s even been staying with me. Because he’s been staying with me, we’ve been trying to get out and about, clearly being out and about is better than being stuck in my tiny little apartment. Especially considering he managed to pop the air-mattress and instead has been getting to know the quality that is IKEA futons.

Being out and about though puts me in contact with new people. And I am a judgmental and impatient person. It happens. I go with my gut and make snap decisions on people very quickly. As a general rule I don’t really change my mind after that first impression which I’m pretty sure makes me a bad person. Interestingly enough, I have a habit of saying awkward things while chewing on my foot so I am actually quite thankful that people aren’t nearly as judgmental of me as I am of them. Again, I’m pretty sure this makes me a bad person.

Last night was no different as we ended up being stereotypical tourists and grabbed a drink in Gamla Stan. There was plenty of English being spoken at the surrounding tables and we ended up sliding on over to another table making friends. Which is when I realized I didn’t really want to make friends.

Because I was met with one of those stereotypes that I try to avoid dealing with. The American stereotype. Brash. Obnoxious. Oozing better-than-you-ness. I admit, I am more than capable of those qualities. However, I work my ass off when abroad to not exhibit those qualities. I work my ass off to not give people a reason to dislike America based on the actions of one person. I know it doesn’t make a big difference, but I like being American, and I want others to feel the same way. Fulfilling those negative stereotypes does not help. And he wasn’t helping.

Outside he began yelling for lighters at random passersby then freely admitted to doing so only to be “loud and obnoxious.” Notice the quotes. They are there for a reason.

At one point in our limited conversation, his better-than-you-ness really came shining through with his discussion about working for a well-known company. Which turned out was not well-known. And was run by his mother. That was about enough for me. Luckily, it seemed enough for him to as he stole a cigarette from an unguarded pack and immediately ran out the bar.

I know that booze can turn normally good people into assholes. I know that one too many stor starks will lower the inhibitions and raise the volume level. I know that. The difference is that as an American those actions become very visible. Maybe more so to me, because three years of living here has made me very sensitive to that visibility. But you’re not helping. You are not helping.

Welcome to Sweden. And an over-served American.

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  1. Well, I also have been known to be a loud talker when alcohol is involved. And lots of times even when it's not.

    But one thing that kinda stung was when I was at a very small party with only Swedes. Swedish engineering students to exact (I point that out be cause they are their own breed). I was talking to this guy who I've met a couple times before and he told me that "I'm aggressive" and that Swedes don't like that.


    I honestly was acting as I normally would if I was at a party in Canada trying to make friends with new people. And I certainly was not hitting on him (married) so I guess it was my tone? Body language? Too much eye contact???

    My point is - this American guy sounds like a dick. But sometimes the timidness of Swedes, even while drinking, makes me feel like an outsider who will never be in the cool club.

    Is there a good balance somewhere?

  2. Will comment on this later. But I had to head on over here as fast as my fingers would take me when I saw THIS article in the Local...
    Film company seeks hairy Swedish nudists
    A Swedish-Norwegian co-production is close to completing its recruitment drive for 70 naked, hairy extras to fill the backdrop of a new movie to film in Trollhättan in June
    They're calling your name HairySwede!

  3. Thank you for making me laugh during my American work day! I suffer these idiots on a daily basis. If my luck is good I hope to be working in Stockholm by August (thanks for the tips btw).

    On several occasions I have had Europeans (in Europe) tell me that they thought I would be much louder and more excitable than I actually am since I am from USA.

    It is always one bastard that ruins it for everyone else!

    Kay (Tampa)

  4. I love to hate this subject. Oh how many times I've written about this very thing. "Loud and excitable"..that's me. But I'm Canadian. It's tough, that's for sure. I do try to sedate myself in certain situations.
    @Swedishyogi: Oh boy do I ever feel for you. I'm finding people are just accepting me "as is" (though they also aren't Swedish engineering students..ha!) Hang in there. You won't change the culture but they'll learn to love you for you.

  5. Every single Östermalm girl I know I would describe as loud and excitable. Maybe you're just looking in the wrong hoods?

    Interesting post. I have never met an American here in Sweden that falls under the category of "loud and obnoxious". You people, (love saying that) in general, seems to think that leaving a good impression is pretty important when travelling in Sweden and/or other countries in Europe. The spoiled brat character you met is after all very universal. Hopefully people can distinguish that, and not link his traits to a certain nationality.

  6. I feel your pain. Sometimes I just get plain ol' embarrassed for some people. Like please, be quiet, that really is enough. I don't like feeling like a traitor or anything, but damn, the loud idiot Americans are just not as cool as they like to think they are. Bottom line is I have learned if you are outgoing and talkative but know where the boundaries lie and how not to be inappropriate, the swedes will love you for it. They usually just don't like the kind of idiots you wrote about. I usually get told my personality is refreshing....most of the time anyway....

  7. I'm American and I had traveled to Sweden for a couple weeks. I was so appalled by other Americans we met while traveling and their behavior. It was embarrassing and I don't wonder why people have a negative impression of us. One lady was loudly complaining/whining about how expensive Stockholm is and in general acting ungrateful, it was really trashy. Another guy we met was really full of himself and he was asking the museum ladies really ignorant questions. So yeah, I feel your pain. =/

  8. @swedishyogi – there is a good balance somewhere, its hard to find but its there.

    @SwedishJenn – oh don’t worry. Ive seen it. And e-mailed already.

    @Miss Au Courant – seriously, its rough. Hopefully people realize that the one does not represent the whole.

    @SwedishJenn – See loud and excitable is ok, I think the things gets me is when people are well aware of their actions and accentuate them as if they are hoping to validate the bad stereotypes.

    @the urban achiever – possibly, but I try to stay as far away as possible from the bars around östermalm.

    I am glad to hear though that you haven’t been running into the loud and obnoxious americans. Makes me feel much better when I run into the exceptions like I did the other night.

    @m8 – and that’s the key. Knowing where those boundaries lie.

    @anonymous – I am always torn about that sort of thing, because on the one hand it is exactly those people that should travel so they are exposed to new things, on the other hand, it doesn’t make things look very good…

  9. OMG, I died a thousand deaths reading your entry about loud, "ugly American" behavior. As an American, I feel so apologetic about it. Although, to be perfectly frank, I've also seen Europeans exhibiting similar type of supercilious behavior both in the US and abroad. But I agree with you: Somehow, when an American does it, it seems more visible and déclassé.

    Ugh. Just ugh. -S.

  10. Always nice to re-visit your offer us new and old insights and viewpoints of life of a foreign born in Sweden. I myself am coming back for a visit after a couple of years absence...and it will surely be an interesting experience: too see changes there and changes that I've gone through myself as part of my onward migration to North America.

  11. I'm coming in late here I know, but I had to add my two cents before you ran out of posts to write. Anyway, the last time I was in Sweden I have to say that I was guilty of obnoxious American behavior, but the swedes I was with were just as obnoxious. I can only conclude that this was due to the location--Gamla Stan. We did awful, awful things such as singing the national anthem at the top of our lungs every time Zlatan came on the screen, and asking all the visiting Irish football fans if they liked, "degs". Clearly unacceptable no mater what your nationality. But clearly unavoidable if you're drinking in Gamla Stan...

  12. @anonymous - yeah, I think it might be because so many people understand english so it is much more obvious. the finns can act up in finnish and there just arent a whole lot of people who would realize what they are saying.

    @anonymous - it is fun to see how everything changes, especially your own ideas and views.

    @Tod - someones got to do it right?

    @the good doctor - Gamla Stan may be a bit of an exception. although, football games are most definitely an exception.

  13. I lived in Stockholm for almost twelve years before returning to my native U.S. in 2005.

    One day, when I was working as a volunteer conductor on Djurgårdslinjen (the tram line that runs between Norrmalmstorg and Waldemarsudde), I had a fellow volunteer on the tram with me. An admittedly quite loud and brash family of Americans boarded, paid their fares and took seats.

    "Amerikaner är väldigt högljudda eller hur?" came out of the mouth of my Swedish colleague.

    Feeling offended by the obvious insensitivity (he knew I was American, after all!), I couldn't resist: "Inget går upp mot en tysk turist eller en full svensk."

    Did someone mention stereotypes? ;)

  14. Ive been guilty of the off the cuff defensive comment when I just throw their own stereotypes back at them. happens to the best of us!