My name is not a common one in the United States. I’ve met four other Americans in my 30 years. That’s one every seven and a half years. Often my name is associated with people of color in the United States. Sometimes, after an introduction I hear: You’re the only white person I’ve ever met with that name. I don’t know how to respond. You should travel more? You need to stop arbitrarily associating names with races? Talk to my parents?
In Sweden though, my name is quite common. Here I’ve probably met that many in the last four years. That’s one every year, in case the maths are hard. It even makes the list of popular Swedish names every now and again. That being said, I am still taken aback when hearing my name.
Especially at a bar. Because suddenly, out of nowhere, a Swede. In the wild. Long dirty blonde hair, pulled back. Not the color dirty blonde, just dirty. Unwashed. Braided colorful bracelets. And a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. I was with a couple of people. Americans. Speaking English. And there he was, right in front of me. Hand stretched out ready to shake. Saying my name. Once. Slowly. In Swedish.
I panicked. Did I know him? Someone I had met before? Friend? Enemy? Frenemy? Nothing. And then it dawned on me. He was just introducing himself. We had the same name. I did not know him. He did not know me. I responded, politely, in Swedish. He attempted to introduce himself to the others at the table. He was met with blank stares. Swedish is hard.
He switched to English, claiming that he was more fluent in English than he was in Swedish. You’ll be surprised to know that he was not. Of course, that raised the question, why was a Swede introducing himself to a table of strangers. I panicked again. He kept talking. Slowly. Like he was just really tired. Or really bored. He continued to suck down his cigarette while explaining his chosen line of study. And now I was the one that was really bored. Finally, his cigarette gone, he lost interest in boring the hell out of strangers and walked away.
That’s when I realized just how strange it all was. Not the name thing. It’s Sweden. Makes sense. The strange thing was that he was talking to us. A Swede. Not an American. Talking to strangers. And early in the evening. And not drunk. Even just a few weeks in, I’ve gotten used to silence, not having to talk to people, not having to, eww, meet new people. And then this. An outgoing Swede. The horror.
Welcome to Sweden. And friendly strangers.