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Scandinavian Bewilderment

Bjarke Smith-Meyer 2011-05-08

PART III. Blending into the fabric of an alien society may present its challenges in cultural shock. However, the failure to grasp a local dialect properly can also hinder an attempt of total immersion.

In Paris, one is always reminded of being a foreigner. If you park your car wrong, it is not the fact that it's on the sidewalk that matters, but the fact that you speak with an accent.' - Roman Polanski

Admittedly, comparing the likes of Paris and Gothenburg is hardly fair. Yet there are some similar challenges in settling into a new country where one chooses to lay their hat and call home, which can be found anywhere.

Mindless football or ice hockey banter with local Swedish sports enthusiasts, can quickly change from celebrating a goal, to suspicious enquiries into one's country of origin. Thankfully, these harmless series of questions (in which the interrogators are usually intoxicated) lead into amicable back slaps and stereotypical jokes. A personal example, was once having to endure dozens of Norwegian and Danish impersonations by a very drunk Swede, while watching football in the pub.

These types of experiences are always easier to be dealt with when one of the two, or both, parties are under the influence. The harsher lessons of life are always easier to remember when in a stone cold sober state of mind.

In hindsight, I should probably have thought about how to address these types of scenarios, before inadvertently falling head first into them. In addition to that, I should also have paid attention to the numerous notice board burglary warnings around my girlfriend's apartment block, urging residents to keep a watchful eye out for unfamiliar faces. On top of that, I could have been more aware as to which apartment floor I'd wandered onto. Or noticed the different surname on the door I was trying to open, with a key that unlocks a completely different apartment. Yet, all these things deluded me, leaving me in complete disarray when confronted by the angry elderly resident of the flat I was trying to access.

It's surprising how many questions can be thrown at you in Swedish before you choose to answer just one of them.

‘Vad gör du?! Vem är du?! Vad vill du?!' (What are you doing? Who are you? What do you want?)

Once I had managed to reinstate enough composure to deliver a response, it was done in the worst fashion possible. It was done in Danish.

‘Err..Undskyld. Jeg troede at de var..' (Err.. I'm sorry. I thought this was..)

The old man's blazed with alarm at the sounds of the guttural dialect stuttering out of my mouth. Not only was I the stranger trying to open his door, now I was the strange Danish foreigner trying to open his door!

‘Jamen! Varför är du här??!' (Why are you here??!)

The damage was done. Trying to reply in distorted Swedish now would only have made matters more suspicious.

‘Jeg troede at det her var min kærster's legelihed!' (I thought this was my girlfriend's apartment!)

'Jaså?! Vad heter hon?' (Really?! What's her name?)

'Errr...' Forgetting your girlfriend's name is never a proud moment. However, forgetting it when it's needed to prove you're not a burglar is even worse.

‘Jag visste det! Om din flickvän bodde här så skulle du veta vad hon heter!!' (I knew it! If your girlfriend lived here you would know her name!!)

'Nej! Nej!' Professing your innocence is hardly advertised well, when desperately tapping the elevator button to escape with your back pressed against the cold, hard metal door.
The barrage of continued questioning refused to slow, perhaps due to the fact the only reply offered back were rhythmic repetitions of ‘Nej!', coupled with persistent headshaking.
This continued even as the elevator door closed at an agonisingly slow pace, finally sealing my escape from the old Swedish man on the floor above our flat.

The situation could perhaps been handled in a better fashion. In a way it's not surprising that the old Swede still refuses to let me into the apartment block, when we occasionally meet at the main gate. Although why he thinks the Danish burglar consistently tries to break into the same block of apartments over and over again, I'll never know. Friends and acquaintances have often told me I would have been able to calm the situation more effectively, had I spoken in Swedish. However, with my accent, I somehow doubt that.

Scandinavian Bewilderment Parts I and II:

2011-04-22 18:09
Scandinavian Bewilderment

2011-04-17 11:58
Scandinavian Bewilderment

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