It really got on my nerves if someone asked me about the lives in Sweden.
For the past two years I had been in pursuit of the master’s degree called Human Ecology in Lund University of Sweden. During this span of time, I studied and partied as other international students did. However, I also moved around. I had stayed in seven different places in Lund / Malmö, which was very rare to be seen among the things happening to students. Owing to the nomadic life style, I got few chances to dive into Swedish culture. Besides, the mates I lived with and the friends I got close to were nearly from non-Nordic countries. Namely, what I or we learned could be very superficial and stereotypical. Even though I attended cafe multilingual, where I got to know some nice Swedes, it was hardly found even only one piece of jigsaw to complete the picture.
Maybe language barrier made one of the obstacles. Because I didn’t plan to stay in Sweden after finishing the degree, Swedish class became so secondary; meanwhile, I was busy…and lazy as well, all these factors – or you may call them excuses – led to my illiteracy in Swedish. Language doesn’t guarantee that an outsider could be like the fish in the water forever and ever, but it at least paves the road – no matter how far it can actually reach – for a newcomer to step forward.
Emotion also played important roles in making my excuses. I would say that this was the Lucifer among others. In the beginning, the idyllic scenes of Skåne province as well as the tranquil of Lund did fresh my flesh which had been exhausted by the social ties and mainstream values back in my home country Taiwan. I could still recall how fragrant the air was when I opened the window of my first home I stay, which was located on 10th floor of a flat, enabling me to overlook the south of Lund. Even the opening chapter of snow – though a bit early at the time – didn’t render the coming difficulty winter foreseeable given that I was obsessed with the white would for the first time in my life.
The good days did not last long. The Nordic put on a cruel face when northern hemisphere moved closer mile by mile to the sun as it has done since the earth emerged. The endless darkness, accompanied by tones of falling snow breaking the record in years, was beyond the mental preparation I have made and transcending all the alarms I had got from my friends. The rural quietude ironically appeared as the once-excited drug that ended up enervating your body. No matter how hard I had tried, it was super difficult to uproot the melancholy planted deep inside.
This very first winter I experienced made me unreasonably critical when confronting any single unpleasant stuff; the accusation of racism in particular. For instance, one day before 2011 Valborg I was hit by an egg-like object thrown from a car passing by. It happened so transient that I didn’t know how many people were in the car, not to mention what they looked like. As I said that this happened when the crazy Valborg was coming, this could be done by someone who couldn’t wait and thus got drunk earlier than other Swedes have always done. In addition, the driver might come from Denmark or other member states of EU. Well, you may say that it was not so cynical attributing this event to racism since the possibility was there and it did cause uncomfortable reaction. OK, there were more. There was a lady in the supermarket across from Lund main station seemed to dislike checking the tag attached to every single apple, which meant that different tags referred to different prices. Under this situation, I didn’t always pay what I got. I perceived this as racism every time the same case happened. Furthermore, the other day I went to a cafe to read the literatures for my thesis. After I finished my drink, a waiter came to me and said that he felt sorry to ask me leave but only the customers who were going to have lunch would be served. I looked around the not-so-crowded space and found that I was the only one being asked to do so given that there were others who ordered drink only. And I also realized that I was the only Asian at that point while others were Swedish, or, at least white.
|the Valborg in Lund, 2011|
Both of these cases could have some reasons rather than racism. The lady might simply not enjoy her job, and perhaps the man in cafe went asking other customers to leave later when I was not present. However, I was too negative to look at the bright sides. Even the fantastic summer here couldn’t emancipate me from the prejudice built upon my subjectivity and shallow knowledge of this Nordic country. Under this condition, my words with regard to the lives in Sweden, or to the country Sweden, were relatively harsh. Every good part of Swedish life would lose its luster when my bitter experience loomed and then took over the stage.
After finishing my master’s degree, I went to London to take a break from academia. This trip manifested that the life in Lund eventually had come to an end, maybe temporarily, maybe for good. This was my second time being in London. I was still enchanted by its glamorousness and colorfulness. In my case, London is like the antithesis of Sweden. There are many things for sure that can easily disfigure London’s gorgeousness, such as the unpredictable weather and the crazy tourists springing from every corner of the city. Nevertheless, I am still obsessed with it. Every dark side of London would fade its gloom when my fantastic experience shined on the stage. In other words, one can love or hate a place with or without any reason.
How London was highly rated (by me) sometimes, only sometimes, made me want to examine how the life in Lund was underrated. The prejudice and complaints appeared to obscure every single piece of good memory. Was I going to leave Europe with so many unfair comments on Sweden? Did Sweden, or Lund, change me in any good way?
The other day, my friends and I were planning to go somewhere by bus. As soon as I got on the bus, I smiled and said hi to the driver. After a while, I found that I was the only passenger in that queue who had done this. At that moment I saw Sweden in me. In fact I don’t know if it was like an unwritten statute all over Sweden. At least people in Lund / Malmö do so, with heart or not. It was possible that this polite manner was simply a routine. Nevertheless, I still believe that six or seven out of ten times people conduct this with their thanks.
From this event onwards, the good parts of the past two years started to emerge, or, to be recalled; the deadline of paper which did not exist indeed, the F which can possibly be nominal, the men with baby trolleys, the space design which fully embodies gender equality, the second-handed store that can be seen everywhere…etc. All these things represented the alternatives I could have in my life, or served as the mirror which reflected what I can learn from and what I should cling to in order to change, or fight against, the main stream society in Taiwan. Of course all of these values were possibly my shallow observations as well, but at least I started to look at the surface which glowed in the Nordic sunshine.
I do apologize, Sweden. Well I still have to say that the winter is no doubt horrible. Nevertheless, I would like to say thank you for the company. I also appreciate the things you have taught me for the past two years (oh...less than two years since I went to so many places during the stay in Europe); I do change in a positive and subtle way, as you have always done when you stand out in front of the world.