How do we come across to foreigners? Vilgot, a Swedish acquaintance not given to small talk, gives a guttural monosyllabic answer: “Funny”. Meaning humorous? He manages three words: “No, no, weird”.
Asked for examples, he’s more verbally forthcoming. “Men walk around shopping centres without shoes. If only they’d wash their feet, cut and scrape their claw-like toenails that picked up dog turd and mud. While waiting for my turn at a barbershop, two grown men walk in bare footed. Disgusting! Unbelievable!” He figures if they can afford a haircut, they can afford shoes.
The other habit he finds fascinating is the expression: “Yes, no, OK, fine”. He asks whether it’s yes, or no, or OK? It can’t mean all three. And, in his vocab, OK is the same as fine. “It would’ve confused Viking King Cnut the Great, never mind us dumb Swedes,” he says, forcing a smile.
And he spots “church people” by the way they piously enunciate their words. “And they ooze politeness, as if preaching from a pulpit. I feel like a sinner”.
He also finds our braai occasions unique. “The men stand around the fires clutching beer cans and pontificating about rugby, while sulky women sit indoors pulling their husbands apart while knitting or making salad. By the time the meat comes off the fire the men are pissed and the women pissed off”.
Fed-up with his rude assessment, I counter: “And what do Swedes do when they barbeque?”
“Simple. Everybody, men and women, get pissed - together”.
Coincidentally, I came across this piece defining a typical Swede: “They are ironically direct people. However, their directness can be subtle and hard to read. You could say in some ways this quiet directness is similar to being passive aggressive”. Hey?
I thought it prudent not to mention this to Vilgot. Instead I ask him whether he knows any Swedish jokes.
“But, of course. Like, a Swede calls the airline and asks how long it will take for a plane to get from Stockholm to Paris. ‘Just a moment,’ the clerk say. "Oh, thank you,’ the Swede replies, and hangs up”. He chokes on a guffaw, and is on a roll. “Did you hear abortion has caught on so well in Sweden there's a 10-month waiting period”. Hawr-hawr-hawr.
Sounds a lot like a Van der Merwe. Tee-hee.