Breaking the Ice in Sweden

Hey! So. We got back from Sweden a few weeks ago. They played the Bee Gees an awful lot when we were there. A little bit of Eagles. Ace of Base and, of course, ABBA. Marcus and I stopped by the ABBA Museum when we visited Stockholm. I say stopped by because we didn't actually go in. We just snuck into the gift shop for a quick look at the posters and t-shirts. The museum itself seemed kind of sad and faded like an old Kodachrome print left in a cardboard box too long. And it smelled of dust. We couldn't bring ourselves to take the tour. The 20-somethings selling tickets seemed to understand completely. Based on our experience I would have guessed that ABBA had pretty much run its course. But Lonely Planet recently reported that ABBA are opening a new restaurant in Stockholm called, Mamma Mia! It's going to be "part stage show, part role play, part restaurant." So excited for the role play.

Anyway the problem with the music in Sweden was that I knew the words. I was trying to learn Swedish and it was going pretty well. I was doubling up with lessons on both iTunes and Audible. Practicing aloud when no one was within earshot. I even had my Tim Ferriss 12 sentences perfectly memorized (The apple is red. Äpplet är röd.) But, just when I built up enough confidence to share a thought with an actual Swede, English lyrics would always creep in from the overhead speaker. "Chiquitita, you and I knowwww ..." The spell would break and I'd disintegrate into one of those inelegant single word blurters.

Everyone thought I looked Swedish, which was kind of neat. When I got my pronunciation just right, I got warm responses and felt really proud of myself. But speaking and understanding another language are two entirely different things. One day, I went for a long walk outside of town. It was along the water and mostly in nature, really pretty despite the cloudy day. When it started to rain, I raised the hood on my parka but kept walking. The locals have made their peace with the weather, accepted it as a fact of life, so I chose to do the same. Mostly, they kept to themselves when I passed. Some smiled or uttered a quick, "Hej hej," but otherwise there was little verbal interaction. When I got further out of town I came across a 60-something couple walking their dog. I smiled. They smiled. Then the man said something vigorous to me in Swedish and looked intensely for a response. Despite a head-full of language lessons, I couldn't pick out a single word of what he'd said. I smiled and searched for the phrase to say I hadn't understood. It's a sentence I knew well but, in my panic, I couldn't find it.

In circumstances like this, Marcus is good at intuiting the context and using nonverbal communication to offer an appropriate response. Nodding vigorously in agreement and hurrying on his way. Or replying in English, "It sure is, isn't it!" ... then hurrying on his way. But I'm a writer. I'm supposed to be articulate. I'm supposed to communicate with words. After what must have seemed like a very long time, I said, "Förlåt mig, jag förstår bara lite Svenska." (Forgive me, I understand just a little Swedish.) Actually, full disclosure, I probably said something more like, "Forgive! Little Swedish!" The man replied with an "Ach!," showed me his palm, and summarily dismissed me. I was an imposter and a thief of his time. Of course, I was crushed and it took me a good hour of feverish, penitent walking to get over my disappointment in myself. Then I got to my destination, a little shopping mall, and it happened twice more. On the upside, I walked nearly 16 miles that day. Suuuper Troouper na-na-na-na find me, shining like the sun ... something, something fun ... feeling like a number one. Okay, maybe I only know some of the words.