2002-11-25 11:39 p.m.
Some people ask me what Swedes are like. I find that the best description is this: Imagine eight millions of blonde Swedish chefs, hurling lutefisk out the windows of their white Volvos like Nordic madmen as they drive (never faster than the speed limit) from smörgåsbord to smörgåsbord in search of pickled herring and Viking treasure.
Well, not really. But, they are like that in my imagination.
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •I went into Sjöbo last night to find a pub so I could see some drunk Swedish teenage girls flirting with guys who were mostly preoccupied with hitting each other in the face, but I had no such luck. The pub was almost empty, except for ten youths in puffy jackets. They all looked so beautifully sculpted, but the way they held themselves made it clear that they were painfully average by Swedish standards.
Strangely, I managed to locate what I imagine to be the only Swedish youth who could not really speak any English even after 15 years of compulsory English in school.
The fact that they were surely all dreadful students told a lot about their character and the character of their town. They were self–deprecating, constantly talking about how stupid they were. Many had dropped out of school. There did not seem to be the sparkle of hope in the air.
I chatted with them in my idiotic, broken Swedish and asked why there weren't any drunk people fighting or flirting. They replied in Swinglish that I was a day late. I guess Friday was the hopping night, not Saturday.
The bar closed at 1 AM, only an hour after I had arrived. My new acquaintances invited me to walk with them to an afterparty at some apartment, and I was happy to have some company and conversation so I happily obliged.
At the apartment, drunk, awkward early–twenty–somethings drowned their sorrows and chatted about things which I could not hear over the unsociably loud stereo. The music sounded like Iron Maiden only a little more recent. People still listen to music like this?
Niklas, the boy whose apartment it was, had a corn snake that he let me hold. I spoke a lot with a Finnish girl named Monika who reminded me that in Swedish the word for Finnish people is the same as the word for pimples. I already knew this, but was delighted that the conversation made such a turn in the right direction. Two identical twin girls sat on the couch. Monika pointed out to me that they were twins, and the twins nodded in agreement. I sympathized with them, "You must be so tired of that story, huh?" Again, they nodded in agreement, only this time a bit more enthusiastically.
One of the guys was so drunk that he started to pull down his trousers and wave his fists as he shouted the lyrics to the deafening music. It was 3 AM and I could not believe that the neighbors were not complaining.
The conversations I managed to have in spite of the ear–raping metal music were not surprising, though. The boys worked in blue collar jobs such as machine shops or road repair and they all had nearly identical apartments in rectangular brick buildings. The girls did not work and all had low self esteem. Everyone's parent was an alcoholic.
I left soon because the music was too loud for conversation and I could feel the high–frequency response of my ears melting away. But, I wished that I could have spent days and days with each of them, talking with them, maybe helping to dispel some of the stupid things that they believed, such as the notion that they had no self worth or that they would never amount to anything (just like their teachers tell them).
Instead I walked alone through the empty, rainy streets of a sleepy, brick–colored town that seems to barely support itself—the sort of town where the population will be the same or maybe a little less in 50 years, but never, ever more. I had to find my white Volvo so I could drive back to my cottage, so I could wake up and record again today.
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