Thursday, July 29, 2010

Adventures in Middle America

I have a blister on my hand from the steering wheel. My right ass cheek is still numb. My elbow is angry and my back is screaming. This is the result of driving about 2500 miles over the course of four days. That’s over 4000 kilometers.

I had never driven east of McCook, Nebraska until Sunday. In fact, I’ve been to more countries than I have states. I don’t really spend much time east of the Rocky Mountain states. It’s safer that way. The mountains make me happy and for some reason calm me down. Which I’ve needed a lot of lately. So driving east into a bunch of flat nothingness kind of stressed me out.

But away I went. I had things to do and people to see. 2500 miles later I have realized just how Scandinavian Middle America is. I passed signs for a Danish windmill and Danish museum. I passed signs for Little Norway. I passed signs for Gothenburg, Nebraska. I drove on Sorensen Parkway and Kronshage Drive. I saw enough Scandinavian names as dentists, doctors, and real estate agents to make me forget where I was. Despite all of this, it had a distinctive Americanness to it all. And not the good kind of Americanness like a root beer float, but the bad kind of stereotypical Americanness.

A woman told me she thought Swedish was just English with a Swedish accent. I cracked a bad joke about that only being the Swedish Chef from the Muppets. She didn’t laugh. Not because the joke was so bad, but because she was serious. She actually didn’t know Swedish was a different language. First I felt bad because it seemed like I was making fun of her when I cracked my joke, then I realized that she probably deserved it.

Welcome to the US. And Scandinavian-America.

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11 comments:

  1. Hej Harry
    Swedish is just English with a Swedish accent...that's really rich! That is really appalling and speaks volumes of American's view of the the rest of the world. How embarrassing for us. Miss your swedish posts, stay in the mountains it's safer

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  2. So were did you go? Somewere east of McCook I guess.

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  3. I'm going to Sweden for a year at the end of next month. Each time I tell people this they always ask what language they speak there. I've started to get a real kick out of their face each time I say "Swedish." No one seems to realize that it's a language. I was even talking to a Linguistics student the other day who was dead sure Sweden was a country that spoke a bunch of different languages (German and such). I couldn't convince her otherwise...

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  4. I literally just finished root beer float when I opened my computer and read this- gave me a smile. I'm amazed at how far and wide the Swedes have traveled and puzzled by how little people in North America know about them.

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  5. Clara, I think she was confused between Sweden and Switzerland - something I have sadly heard before...

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  6. Yeah, in Switzerland they speak both German, Italian and French.

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  7. Yeah, I knew this growing up as a midwestern kid. I was born and mostly raised in Greeley, but my dad is from Iowa and my mother's family lives in Chicago. I've driven through the midwest, to my calculations, probably about 50 times round-trip. I know I-80 pretty well.

    I've met people in Kansas and Iowa who speak very, very old Swedish that has obviously been through a generation or two of Americanization -- particularly Swedish with cute, old Värmland accents. They have laughed at how fast I speak when I speak Swedish and asked me what some of my slang vocabulary means. I almost had little patience listening, but at the same time, it was so cute and melodic that I couldn't stop listening! It's really the same with Germans, too, but has survived better with Swedish; it was not politically incorrect to teach one's children Swedish during the times in which most European immigrants began populating the midwestern United States. That's why my grandmother never kept as much German as her mother spoke.

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  8. OMG, you drove 2,500 miles (and in FOUR days)?? That's quite a haul. What an insane adventure that must have been, but I'm glad you're safe and sound.

    I've never been, but I heard Minnesota has lots of Swedes (as does Illinois). Sometimes when I leave the city I realize how rural much of our country is. I don't know, I kinda like it, even though my ancestry doesn't go that far back in the US. Glad you had such an adventure!

    --Samantha

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  9. @halibutboy – unfortunately, I think poor little Sweden gets glossed over a lot. And despite the safety of the mountains, Im heading east soon.

    @anonymous – I headed out to the great state of Wisconsin.

    @Clara – the frightening thing there is that someone who studies languages was willing to argue that Swedish was not an actual language. Oh higher education, you make me proud.

    @Juni - root beer floats are pretty amazing. I have had two in two days and am pretty sure I am a better person for it.

    @Michelle – oooh good call, I hope youre right.

    @anonymous – I envy the Swiss. So many languages.

    @Jennifer – it is interesting to see just how much influence Scandinavia and Germany had on the region. Im excited to learn a bit more about it.

    @anonymous (Samantha) – yeah, it was pretty ridiculous. Just way too much driving in such a short amount of time. Ive also heard about the population in Minnesota, I haven’t been either but have a friend moving out there so will definitely have a reason to go visit him.

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  10. I dont get it, I can speak a bit of Swedish but why do so many Swedes get defensive if people dont know much about their language? I mean ...really...why would we learn Swedish? With a population of approx 8.9mil thats the same as my home state. Say we had our own language there would I expect the world to know much about my state language? NO. Besides when I try to speak Swedish in Stockholm they hear my accent and reply in ENGLISH...its like a little kick in the face instead of a pat on the back.

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  11. there is a difference between knowing the language and knowing that the language exists. tat someone doesn't know that the language exists is frightening. that someone doesn't know the language is not a big deal.

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