Monday, January 24, 2011

How's it Going?

For three years I listened to the stereotype that American relationships are shallow. The evidence? Greetings. Like “how’s it going?” Clearly, because the person asking the question doesn’t care about the answer, the question is shallow, thus the entire relationship is shallow, thus all American relationships are shallow. Ipso facto, case in point, if then, told ya so, hah!

But while back at home I realized just how ridiculous it can sound. I was on the phone with a buddy of mine, who just one day later would relate a story as way of introducing me as to how I once ate a piece of bread soaked in food coloring for a dollar in 8th grade. My teeth turned food coloring brown. I told everyone not to worry. A swig of Coke and my pearly whites were pearly white again. You may ask, how does an 8th grader stupid enough to eat a piece of bread soaked in food coloring for a dollar know that Coke will clean his teeth? You would be right in asking that. The answer? Uncle John's Bathroom Reader. An amazing tome filled with useful knowledge. The point of this was not to get you to buy Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader (although you should) but to show that I clearly have known said friend for quite some time. Our relationship is not shallow.

That’s why the greeting was so ridiculous. It went something along these lines:
What’s up?
Not much, how’s it going?
Not bad.

At this point, the questions were actually repeated in full form with the intent of actually asking and actually listening.
What are you doing?
How are you?
What have you been up to?

That’s when I realized just how shallow it actually does sound. There was no intent of being shallow; it was just taking the place of the formal hello. But to the uninitiated, or someone who may not have English as a near native language, that nuance may be lost.

Even when speaking with people you don’t know, salespeople at a store for example, I find myself saying how’s it going. Not because I know them, or care to know them necessarily, but as a replacement to hello.

Looking back though, I found this happening to an extent in Swedish too. Not as widespread by any means, but the use of "läget" as a greeting amongst friends was quite common in the circles I found myself frequenting. There was no real need for an answer; the meat of the conversation came later anyway. I never once saw it as shallow. Probably because it fit so well into my English way of speaking. I suppose not picking up on that nuance could be said for someone just learning the Swedish language. I had my English language skills to fall back on, so it never seemed strange to ask a question and not necessarily need an answer.

I’d like to think I solved the mystery of this American stereotype. Probably not, but I do think this plays a big role. It just took me three years in Sweden and six months in the US to figure out. No problem right?

Welcome to Swedish-America. How’s it going? No, really, how are you?

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Get(ting) Fuzzy

I went to the eye doctor a couple of days ago. It hadn’t been that long since my last trip, but my left eye only has one contact left, and it just so happens that contact is being used. By my left eye. At the rate I rip contacts; it was time to get a new box of them. Taking advantage of my glorious health insurance, I figured I would get an exam done as well.

Eye exams are always a bit of an adventure for me. Not the fun kind either. But I’ve got the routine down. Bring contacts. Bring glasses. Bring prescription and contact brand. Bring sunglasses in case of dilation. I actually walked in with my manly computer case filled with eye care products.

For some reason, the people behind the counter who are the first line of defense before I see the doctor, never actually believe my inability to see without assistance. And so they ask me to take out my contacts. And so I put on my glasses. And so they ask to see my glasses. And so I am blind. Fuzziness descends on me. Which is all fine and good if they allowed me to sit in one place and not move until my glasses were returned to me. Instead, having removed my only means of sight, they ask me to perform mundane tasks. Like tell them the brand name of my prescription. Or maybe fill out some paper work.

Because I have become more Swedish than I care to admit, I begrudgingly, but silently, attempt these tasks. Blindly. Apparently, when holding a box of contacts three inches from your face, the optometry gate keeper will take pity on you and return your glasses. Or it just so happened that she was done with them and never realized that their office had become so very fuzzy.

For those of you wondering, my eyesight has, in fact, continued to deteriorate. My contacts have, in fact, become even stronger. And every eye doctors I see has, in fact, laughed awkwardly when I ask about the continued decline of my eye sight while telling me not to worry. But a steady decline in eyesight for the past 20 years is cause for concern as far as I’m concerned (see what I did there?).

Welcome to Swedish-America. And my continued descent into fuzziness.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Winter in Swedish-America

It wouldn’t be winter if I wasn’t having car trouble. You know, because when the temperatures fall below freezing, I want to be spending my time trying to get a car to work.

It started a couple of weeks ago around 11:30. At night. The temperatures had decided to fall below zero. That’s zero Fahrenheit. At this point I had managed to clothe myself in some glorious bright orange sweat pants as I was brushing my teeth. For about 15 minutes, an alarm had been going off outside. Somewhere. I think we all know where this is going. It’s going to be my car. And so, after 15 minutes of a screaming car alarm, I decided to throw some clothes on and investigate. It was my car. Of course.

Everything I know about cars, I have learned because I buy old cars and at some point, something goes wrong. And a screaming car alarm at midnight at zero degrees is something going wrong. While in Sweden, I owned a Saab. A Saab that had been imported from France. With a manual written in French. I do not speak French. I tell you this because despite the hour and the temperature, I was surprisingly excited to be able to read the manual. It was in English. It’s the little things really.

The manual told me to hold a button for a few second and the alarm would shut off. I did. It did. I went inside and commenced in brushing my teeth. Only to hear my alarm scream again. Awesome.

Because I am an impatient person, I decided the best course of action would be to remove the battery. Completely. Without a battery, there would be no power source. Without a power source, the alarm could not scream. It was perfect logic really. Except Saab is smarter than me. Not much to brag about really, but a fact nonetheless. Having removed the battery I was somewhat surprised to hear the alarm still yelling.

There is no way I could sleep with that noise. Not to mention that I have neighbors. Granted, I have delved into my Swedishness and not actually talked to them, but still, there is really no need for others to have to suffer through a night of car alarms. So back to the manual. The English manual.

I needed to find the fuse. Because the fuse for the alarm was not in the main fuse box. Because that would just be silly. Instead, it was the fuse the size of a ladybug hidden in the dark recesses of the engine compartment. I have fat fumbly fingers. They are of no use. When the temperature is zero, they are essentially frozen sausages. The whole opposable thumb thing? Worthless at those temperatures. Trying to pull a ladybug from an engine with frozen sausages is not easy. Finally, after a string of words that my mother would be ashamed of, I removed the fuse. And the alarm stopped. Sweet release.

A part of me was pleased that the alarm is so extensive that my battery could be stolen, and still the alarm would work. That part of me was yelled down by the fact that my alarm was angrily reminding me of its ability that late at night.

Since then, I have been driving around with no working alarm. I’m not worried. Pretty sure not too many people are interested in stealing a Saab station wagon with 170,000 miles on it. And a spare tire.

Welcome to Swedish-America. And my annual car trouble.

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Wall-to-Wall Carpet and the United States

I live by myself. After four years in college with roommates, I was of the opinion that roommates were a good thing. They helped pay rent. They put food in the fridge that you could surreptitiously steal. They gave you someone to talk to so you didn’t talk to yourself. All good things really.

Then I moved to Sweden and after a while became a horribly selfish person that lived in an apartment the size of a large bathroom and talked to himself. Something needs to break the silence right? And admit it, talking to yourself is awesome. You always agree. You’re always right. Granted, you should never do it around others, turns out people look at you funny. Who knew?

So when I moved to the great Midwest, I did not look for a roommate. I found an apartment three times the size of the one I had in Stockholm for less money. I had room to move. Of course, I could no longer sit on my couch and cook all at the same time, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

The problem is I have carpeting. Wall-to-wall carpeting. Something that I never realized was so ubiquitous in this country until three years in Sweden. There I could get away with a broom and a dust pan. Everything was some sort of hard floor. Whether it was wood or nasty linoleum, a broom would suffice. Here, carpet is everywhere. While it is quite nice on my feet, it causes a cleaning problem. One which can only be solved with a vacuum cleaner. A dust sucker if you will.

I have been in my apartment for well over four months. I did not own a vacuum cleaner until about a week ago. You do the math. I have never been more excited to vacuum. Ever. I had begun to use my feet as vacuum cleaners, walking barefoot to let whatever nastiness may have accumulated on the floor to stick to my feet. Did I mention that I was single? Seriously, I’m a catch. I would then stand over the trash can and wipe my feet off. It was strangely satisfying, but not at all effective.

Technology is amazing, and an old vacuum cleaner donated by my parents made its way to the great Midwest. Finally. Since, I have vacuumed twice in hopes of fighting through the accumulation of gunk. It’s working. Slowly, but surely. And I am assimilating to the carpeted ways of the US.

Welcome to Swedish-America. And the single life.

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