After I had lived in Stockholm for a few months, the check-out guy at my local grocery store spoke to me. I did not understand what he said at all, but recognized he was being friendly. In seeing my confusion in trying to reply, this tattooed, long-haired guy who has waited on me before repeats his remark, this time in English:
“You are always smiling. You must be a happy person.”
Contemplating his remark, I for some reason decide that I should answer in Swedish. Instead of just saying a simple and polite thank you, I want to say more. The best I can come up with is: Jag kommer från America (I’m from America.) It’s that basic sentence learned in day one of Swedish class. Even as I said it, I knew that I sounded and looked like an idiot. What I meant by that infantile statement was a rather complicated “since I come from the US, it’s in my cultural make-up to be friendly to strangers, which I realize is different from how you Swedes react to strangers.”
How it comes across, of course, is far more embarrassing: I sound like some patriotic idiot who is full of myself for coming from the US.
I am mortified. Especially so when I looked down to the end of the counter where Robert is packing our bags and see that he is laughing.
In retrospect, it was kind of funny.