Monday, August 30, 2010

That’ll Teach You, Sweden

Yesterday, I did something in the US to prove a point to Sweden. Surprisingly, Sweden was unaware of my actions. For good reason really, it is a point that is only meaningful to me. And to anyone ever stranded and ignored on the side of the road.

I am looking for new shoes. I bought a pair that I was quite pleased with back in March. I threw them away in June. They tore at the seams and couldn’t handle the slush that was the Swedish spring. Since then I have been using my old beat up tennies. They work well, but they are haggard. And to be honest, I really need a new pair of semi-nice shoes that can be worn with jeans in my new everyday life. It’s because I’m so European and stylish.

I have yet to find them. So yesterday, I went in search of some brown shoes. I stumbled upon a pair I really liked. And realized suddenly that they were the exact same pair I bought back in March. And so I left the store.

Stranded in the parking lot, sitting in an old blue Toyota of sorts was a young man with a dirty moustache. I mean just dirty. Blonde, stringy, with slight curls on the end. The kind of moustache my little brother would be proud of. It was not the moustache that drew me to him though, it was the Toyota. With the hood up. The telltale sign of trouble.

In the last three years I spent way too much time in parking lots, on the sides of roads, in below freezing temperatures, in rain and hail, looking for help with my car. I was turned down when I asked people for help. I was ignored when I asked people for help. I was in Sweden when I asked people for help.

So I asked him if he needed help. I stared at his moustache in amazement as he explained that his battery was dead. He didn’t have any jumper cables but his brother was on the way. Have no fear kind mustachioed one, I have jumper cables. See the above paragraph for why I always carry jumper cables with me. In my car I mean. I don’t actually walk around with them. Although, with my luck with any sort of motorized vehicle, it might not be a bad idea.

A quick attaching of the red and black cables and the Toyota roared to life. He thanked me profusely. Pulled away, and then stopped and yelled one last thank you as his moustache reverberated from the sound waves.

And I realized that I helped him solely because I was so seldom helped. I am not always the most outgoing person. I am more awkward than I care to be. I avoid conflict and potentially new situations. And I essentially just described myself as being Swedish. Except for the part where I helped someone jump their car.

That was mean.

Welcome to Swedish-America. And car trouble.

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  1. Actually, I can't really see swedes having the guts to just ignore someone asking for help. We don't like conflicts.

    It's a big difference between not looking at someone in the street and actively saying no to something like that.

    So, how many times did this really happen - and how was the situation - did they actually say no, or did you take their silence (=waiting for your next question) as a no?

  2. Hello,

    I've been popping in here regularly since I discovered you via another blog (can't remember which, though!) and find you hilarious. Being Swedish, I see a lot of truth in the stuff you write about - it makes me cringe, but things are always funnier if they're accurate. Because I have lived in the UK for 15 years, I'm probably almost at a stage where I'm a blend of British and Swedish and any time I'm in Sweden I feel like a bit of an alien.. I belong and I don't, which might make sense to you!

    Anyway. I'll in all likelihood check back here soon!


  3. Hej! Har läst bloggen ett tag men sällan kommenterat. Ville bara säga att jag tycker den är skitbra!

    Var lite rädd att du skulle sluta skriva då du flyttade tillbaka till USA, men så verkar det ju inte bli.. kul!

  4. Hairy, wish you were peugeot's battery is all dead!/B
    By the way, dont you know that
    'brown shoes don't make it'? (Frank Zappa)

  5. @Daniel – I have actually been turned down explicitly three times. Twice with the same battery problem. They literally said no and walked away from me. I even had the jumper cables.

    I also had a woman tell me she wasn’t sure and would have to ask her son if it was ok.

    I have been ignored countless times trying to wave people down. And I have been ignored as I began to approach someone to ask for help.

    My parents had a similar experience in southern Sweden. They were explicitly turned down by several different people.

    It was pretty ridiculous.

    @Anna – I know exactly what you mean. Ive been doing quite a bit of cringing since coming back to the US and feel somewhat alien. So it goes I guess.

    @Simon – thanks, glad to hear it! The writing will continue for a while at least. There is plenty left to say about the US and the differences I see now that I am back.

    @anonymous – well Ive got the jumper cables in the back of the Saab.

    And with my new found fashion sense, I just know that with a brown belt, I need brown shoes. And I don’t like black belts.

    ps I think I owe you an email. It will happen. I promise.

  6. I'm very proud of you for helping that young man with the unfortunate beard (*shudder*). My mom (who wasn't born in the US) has frequently commented during my childhood how generous Americans are. I, having grown up here, never thought much of it.

    Not to sound cheesy, but Americans are among the first to help when people need it. Example: Look what happened with the Jan. 2010 earthquake in Haiti -- Americans donated millions of dollars in record time to help with relief efforts. Remember the US is in a horrible recession now and that was not too long after that horrible bank bailout. Of course, other countries also contributed, let me make that clear as well.

    Another misnomer people have is that New Yorkers are unfriendly and hostile. Having lived in Manhattan for several years, I can honestly say I disagree with that assessment as well. Men have actually helped me park my SUV (I'm a terrible car-parker) when I was afraid to park in a tight spot.

    ANYWAY, my point: Kudos to you for helping another person in need (of course, make sure first they're not violent or crazy). That kid will not only remember your kindness, but I'm sure he told his family/friends about it and will pay it forward sometime :)

    -S. (sorry for the excessively long comment)

  7. Addendum to long comment above:

    To clarify the car-parking incidents: Men have actually gotten out of their cars and physically parked my car for me.

    Also: in case one might assume that the men had ulterior motives, women in NYC have similarly been helpful and kind as well :)


  8. -S: Is this you?

    If so, I don't think there's any ulterior motives, just impatience. :)

  9. @Anonymous ^

    Hey! Who filmed me and put me on YouTube???


  10. Anonymous\\
    Haha! Sorry for this comment. Im drunk. But. Americans generous (of course you're relatively generous)? Are you drunk? Us. tax vs. swedish tax?

    This is another discussion (which i would be glad to contribute to), but yet; another discussion.

    That's the main reason why i'm considering moving to the usa. The total lack of generousness. :)

  11. I have to say in all my dealings with people from the U.S the one thing I've found in common among them is how generous they have all been. I'm glad you helped this fellow, not for him, but for you. I'm sure it feels good to know that you've retained a wonderful aspect of being American, that even living in Sweden couldn't chill out of you :)

  12. Americans generous? did you see both the images of that women collapsed inside a Hospital and also that man that was stabbed trying to help a girl who was being robbed. he lay there on the sidewalk and people were walking past him....

  13. @ Mike
    Yes it is very easy to look at those isolated incidents and want to paint the whole country with that brush. I live in Canada ( interacting with people from the U.S regularly) and have travelled extensively in the U.S. There are MANY things about the United States that I could say I don't like, could be improved and even feel judgment about. They are not perfect, there's no doubt of that! However, in my experiences with individual people from all over the U.S I have NEVER encountered anything but the most open hearted generosity.

  14. Kudos to you.

    The tires on my car would often lock and I could never turn the wheel hard enough to start my car again. After 3-5 minutes of struggling, a man would usually walk by me and ask if I needed help. I don't know how I would have ever gotten to work on time without those good samaratins.

    This has nothing to do with your post (except of course it is about Sweden), I have just moved to Sweden and of course had to get my hands on the infamous Kalles Kaviar. I shudder while I type it and have goosebumps thinking about me biting into a toasted pita with Kalles spread all over it.

  15. Sweden's very offended.

    I help people bloody all the time, and I'm a Swede living in Sweden.

  16. terander: Stop doing that when you go abroad, we have a reputation to maintain. :)

  17. Good thing you helped him out. And I am sorry - but unfortunately not surprised - that you were seldom helped.

  18. does it feel super good? i bet it feels good to be home.

  19. HAHA, now I feel super guilty for the time I was late for work and my poor neighbor asked - can you help me? And I was all 'no, sorry I'm supposed to be in a meeting that started 5 minutes ago, sorry!' and it was the truth.

    I tried to make up the karma points when I saw another neighbor sitting in his car stranded and asked if he needed help. He did, but his friend was on his way so he declined...

    And all that from an American in Sweden.
    I think the attitude must be smittande.

  20. Hey, I'm a fairly new reader of your blog and I have to say your depictions of rather mundane events are both funny and well written and they're often a good source of comedy in the late evenings of long and boring days. So thank you and keep it up!

    Anyway, to the subject at hand: I'm a Swede and I definitely agree that Americans are nice people. All Americans I've met (exclusively exchange students in Sweden) have been some of the friendliest, most sociable, warm and funny people I've ever met. Americans (at least the ones I've met) definitely put Swedes to shame in many respects.

  21. @anonymous – not at all, good work with the long comment!

    @anonymous – clearly New Yorkers are awesome.

    @anonymous – well played…

    @anonymous – clearly New Yorkers are awesome… and have been secretly filming you.

    @anonymous – there are few comments better than drunk comments. Perhaps you could argue that Americans choose to be generous whereas Swedes are forced to be generous. You know, if you were drunk.

    @Juni – Im a very stubborn person. Even in the face of Swedish culture.

    @Mike – it was just a matter of time…

    @Juni – good work.

    @JUNOesnumeroUNO – give it time, soon you will learn to love bright orange cod row in a tube.

    @terander – that’s why we like you though. Duh.

    @Mazui – touché.

    @tartumaaponderings – Im sorry too, but Ill get over it. Hopefully.

    @m8 – so super good you don’t even know.

    @mittlivpasvenska – uh oh. I don’t know if the declined offer is enough to make up for that.

    @Todd – thanks

    @Max – thanks, glad you’ve been enjoying it.

    I do quite like Swedes and Sweden, but the needing help in cars was just so very disappointing. And considering I needed a whole lot of help a whole lot of times, it was kind of a bummer.

  22. Sweden is after all my home but, to me, Sweden is a really boring country and most Swedes are real boring people. I'm actually thinking about going to the US to study. It sure does seem a lot more enjoyable, even though I've heard that it's not unusual having to study for two days straight every week. But, I guess, "work hard party hard" is the creed that most American university students follow.

  23. It migth be that most people have fairly modern cars in Sweden. Haven't seen anyone around with jumper cables and a dead battery in the last 20 yrs!

  24. if you went to the US, Max, hope you enjoyed it.

    And anonymous, modern cars can still have old batteries.