One of the hardest things for me to adjust to after moving here was how to interact with the Swedish people themselves. There’s a natural reserve to many Swedes, making it hard to even get them to in any way acknowledge your presence. (There are always notable exceptions to any such stereotype and my Swedish friends Roger, Pingis and Marie-Louise are just a fee of the many perfect examples of outgoing Swedes!) When I would walk my dog – a big golden retriever – people would come up to me on the street and bend down to pat Dimitri, carrying on an entire conversation with him while blatantly ignoring me. I felt invisible.
In talking to my neighbor Ingrid tonight about her recent trip to Australia, she remarked how incredibly friendly and wonderful the Aussies were. Then she asked me if it was hard for me to make friends with Swedes. After assuring her that she had always been friendly, I told her that it was something I had struggled with, especially early on. Her reply to this was interesting: “Not so long ago, we were still so isolated here. I remember after the war, Sweden was trying to get people from other countries to move and work here. There were some Italians that moved in and a friend and I would go and watch them. We were 11 or 12 and had never seen anyone except for Swedes. We were fascinated by their dark hair, how loudly they spoke and used their hands. We had never seen anything like it.”