Monday, March 16, 2015

Avoid Your Neighbors Like a Swede

I have attained near-native fluency in avoidance tactics. It’s a skill, really. One that can be learned quickly, but takes years to master. Just like Pong.

But here in Stockholm, every day on public transportation gives you a chance to practice your craft. Thank goodness for cell phones, newspapers, books, even fingernails. There’s always something to stare at rather than looking awkwardly to the side so as not to make eye contact with the person in the seat across from you.

The Peephole: A Swedes best friend.
Use it liberally.
Of course, you have to get through your apartment first. There could be, gasp, people in the hallways. That’s what the peephole is for. Not to see who might be knocking on your door, but to see if there is anyone at all out in the hallway.

Sometimes though, despite your best efforts, someone will pop out of nowhere. This is awkward. You have a few options. Ignore them. Nod and say hello. Or make terrible Swedish small talk about the weather as you walk out together.

If you choose option three make sure that you do not ask them anything that could lead to friendship. Stick to the weather. Maybe Melodifestivalen if the season is right. You could even get away with asking about vacation. Not necessarily details, but just that you’re looking forward to it. Because it’s Sweden, no matter what time of the year it is, you’ll be getting close to some vacation.

There’s a small chance that the person you’re making small talk with will be going the same direction as you. Maybe even to the subway. It could be even worse if that person is taking the subway in the same direction. Small talk can only go a couple of ways at that point: big talk or awkward silence talk. That’s why you’ll need a back-up plan.

It’s a lesson that a friend learned the hard way as she found herself walking out of her apartment with a neighbor. Making small talk. That’s when it hit her; they were going the same direction. She thought fast though and told an eensy-weensy lie. She turned down a different street. Did she need to turn? Well, need is such a hard word to define. She needed to turn if she wanted to avoid talking to the neighbor. But she didn’t need to turn to get where she was ultimately going. You be the judge.

It’s a good move. Take a different route. If you do this though, make sure to walk slowly. Give the person some time to pull away. There’s no need to hurry and end up meeting them further on down the road.

If you want to put even more distance between you and your terrible, horrible, no good, very bad neighbor, just lie to them. Oh no! I forgot something at home. I’ll have to run back. Have a nice day! And then run back to your apartment and count to one hundred. They should be gone by now.

Or maybe as you were walking you realized you forgot your lunch. Better pop into the local grocery store to pick something up. Or find a different errand that you just have to run. Stamps maybe. Or a pedicure at 7:30am on a Monday morning. Whatever it takes. Just not coffee. Chances are your neighbor likes coffee. Then you’d have to invite your neighbor, they’d have to say yes or no, there’d be some hemming and hawing, and suddenly you’re stuck at a café waiting for coffee with this person. Once inside the nail salon or grocery store, count to 100. Or treat yourself to a lovely mani-pedi. You earned it.

If all else fails, just look them straight in the eye, raise your eyebrows in fear, and run away.

Welcome to Sweden. And blending in with the locals.

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