“But that’s the glory of foreign travel, as far as I am concerned. I don’t want to know what people are talking about. I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.”
Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe by Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson, I find, is a bit like Marmite. People tend to fall into one of two categories – they either love his writing or hate it. My guess is that those who hate ‘him’ have found themselves, their accent, culture, country or town the object of his comic musings. I have a few personal favourites: A Short History of Nearly Everything, Shakespeare and Made in America. But there are priceless quotes and observations in all of them – in my opinion – but then, I love Marmite too.
Bill Bryson is my way of deftly warning some readers that the following ruminations may be grossly over stereotyped, inaccurate, simplistic, exaggerated and unfair – for which I apologise in advance. Disclaimer given, I will proceed.
My knowledge of Sweden was and still is a big black hole in my understanding of geography, culture and language. I wasn’t even really sure where it was, though I did look it up on a map and thankfully British Airways has a better sense of direction than I do. This is shameful, I know.
- Stockholm in Autumn is as cold as London in winter.
- Everywhere you look there is water, small islands and beautiful boats of all shapes and sizes – I think almost everyone has a boat or a houseboat (the luxury houseboats are called Aqua Villas and I met the man who builds them).
- Doors open outwards – very strange to me – we actually got ‘locked’ in a restaurant bathroom until Hubby figured out that we needed to tryck not drag.
- All public toilets are co-ed (yes, I knew you were wondering why Hubby was in the bathroom with me).
- Meatballs and almost everything meaty comes with loganberries. The combination is delicious. Apologies for my picture of a half-eaten plate of meatballs. I got half way through, before taking up my iphone for a picture.
- 99% of the people out and about in Stockholm are blonde and tall. Both Hubby and I fitted in perfectly (apart from the tall part in my case).
- If you don’t try to figure out what they are saying, a background conversation overheard in Swedish really does sound like ‘hurdy-gurdy-hurdy-gurdy’ and the word ‘schniker-schnacker’ can be used for any word you can’t remember. E.g. “Shall we go and find some schniker-schnackers for lunch” or “What time does the schniker-schnacker arrive to pick us up?”
- Swedish people are really friendly and helpful – a man gave up his seat at a restaurant for us and then stayed with us for the entire meal chatting away.
- All Swedes speak English though few foreigners living in Sweden have made the effort to learn Swedish.
- Written Swedish can be figured out if you know any Afrikaans, Dutch or German – Spoken Swedish is impossible.
- In the west, we pronounce IKEA all wrong – it’s actually ee-KEY-ya with the stress on the key – not drawn out into 3 long syllables like we say it in England, but said quickly as if it is just 1 syllable.
- I saw more people of ethnic minority in a Sunday church service (approximately 20 people) than I saw in a whole weekend of walking around Stockholm city (perhaps 5 people) – excluding taxi drivers.
- In Stockholm they are so PC that the pedestrian crossing sign shows a woman crossing.
- Apart from exploring the waterways, the main thing to do in Stockholm is to go to museums. There are about 50 museums in the tiny geographic area of central Stockholm including the Nobel Museum, the ABBA Museum, the Skansen Open-Air Museum and the Vasa Museum. Vasa was a real highlight – a whole museum dedicated to the Vasa warship which sank after sailing about 1,300m into her maiden voyage on 10 August 1628. She was salvaged in 1961. The magnificent ship takes up the whole of the museum. The building is stylized with masts outside on the roof which represent the actual height of Vasa when she was fully rigged – 69m long x 52m high. Vasa is an absolute must see.
- Swedes are fiercely proud of their musical exports ABBA and Roxette (our new found friend who gave up his seat at the restaurant, explained all things musical), but otherwise we only heard cover versions of British and American songs played on the radio, in restaurants and by live buskers – where is the Swedish music?
- The Swedes (at least this was the opinion of our new friend, who by the way, the whole time he talked to us, had a wad of snus – chewing tobacco – tucked under his top lip giving him a rodent-like appearance) are very wary of the influx of refugees and the drain they might be on tax-paying Swedes, while being quite lackadaisical about the Romanian Roma people sleeping rough in the parks.
- When you draw money from a cash machine, you can request a minnieslapp afterwards 🙂 … I love language giggles – bra means ‘good’ and fart means ‘speed’. The förbifart is a 26bil SEK project to build a series of underground expressways. I heard this one a lot on our day of business meetings on Friday – giggles suppressed until later.
A weekend of experience doth not make a thesis, but there you have it – my 17 observations about a city and a people who remain a mystery to me.