Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Sound and the (Stockholm) Fury

My doorbell clanged. Loudly. It took me a second to figure out what the noise was. I turned off my music and waited half a beat. My brain caught up with my ears and I realized I should probably answer the door.

I don't really know what I was expecting. Maybe a neighbor with a welcome-to-the-new-apartment cake. Maybe a neighbor asking for sugar. Maybe the police finally catching me for eating that chocolate covered almond from my bag of delicious nuts the other day at Hemköp before I paid. I just couldn’t resist. It was dark chocolate, too. They get me every time. Pretending to be healthy. Anyway, I was not expecting a small blonde man with a not-completely identifiable accent (German? Austrian? Swiss?) speaking English to me.

He spoke. That’s a short sentence, but an important one in Sweden. Because neighbors, by law and political legislation, are barred from speaking to each other. It's in every rental contract or mortgage that you ever sign. Just check the fine print. I’m sure it’s there somewhere. It’s the only logical explanation.

But this man spoke. He fumbled for words at first, but they kept coming. More words in just a couple of minutes than all of the words I had heard in the four months of living in my previous apartment. Seriously. I spoke, max, three sentences with my neighbors at the last place. This diarrhea of the mouth was so unexpected. I was scared. Nervous. Excited. Then confused.

He was complaining about the noise. I explained that I had just moved in. I said three days, but it had been about eight by then. I don't know why I lied. It didn't seem like a lie when it came out of my mouth. You know exactly what I mean. Don’t judge me.

The time period didn't matter though. This had been going on for a while, he explained. Between 10.30pm and midnight he often heard banging noises from the apartment above. My current apartment. He'd come up before to complain. He knew someone was home, he heard noises and saw lights. No one answered though.

He kept telling me all of this. Never making a move to wrap things up. Never making a move to leave. I told him I'd try to be quiet. That I wouldn't be slamming doors or drawers late at night. And he kept telling me the same things. Again and again and again. I smiled and nodded and reached deep into my well of politeness, eventually stifling a laugh.

Banging between 10.30pm and midnight? No one answering when he came to the door? Come on buddy, what do you think was going on up here? Put two and two together. Or in this case probably one and one. Or maybe two and one. I don’t know what the person living here before me was in to.

Despite the comedy, it was kind of fascinating. I’ve gone from a small house with ten apartments to a large university housing complex with over 100. It’s a completely different world where people acknowledge each other. Doors are held, apologizes are verbalized, I even had someone tell me goodnight after leaving the elevator. I haven’t spoken to this many strangers in Sweden in, well, probably ever.

Here in Stockholm, people joke about looking out the peephole of their door to avoid leaving the apartment when their neighbors are in the halls. It’s silly, dramatized, exaggerated, but there might be a bit of truth to it. And by might be I mean that I did it. Once. Just once. I was younger then. Experimenting. But still. I did it. Because there are stretches here in Stockholm where the silence can wend its way into your very being. The way you live your life can be affected by silence. So a noise complaint after just a few days in my new place? It was just what I needed as a remind that it doesn’t have to be like that.

Welcome to Sweden. And things that go bump, or hump, in the night.

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