02 June 2009
The "Yes, I do TOO speak your language" game.
Oooooh, one of my favorite games to play.
For a reason that is unknown to me, many Swedes that I met in Skåne simply didn't believe that I speak Swedish until they actually heard me talk. I don't know if there's been a rash of Yankees there that couldn't or wouldn't learn the language, or if they've been told so by their educational system. We filled out a massive amount of paperwork prior to leaving. In the space provided for "languages other than English spoken" I wrote Svenska. I wrote several e-mails in Swedish to various people who contacted me before we got there. Even after all of that, if I had a dollar for every time I heard the following sentence, I could retire.
Men Gud, du pratar otroligt bra Svenska.
But, God, you speak unbelievably good Swedish.
I heard it so often that I got tired of hearing it, and had to contain my urge to roll my eyes. I wanted to say, 'yeah, srsly, it wasn't that hard' or blow them off somehow, but that would be both obnoxiously rude and incorrect. Learning Swedish WAS hard, took me a long time, and has been a struggle to maintain. But I got tired of being complimented for something that comes kind of naturally to me, like being complimented on riding a bike well. It just got ridiculous. I realize that this is petty and a very inconsiderate attitude.....and that doesn't change it a bit.
Because I got fairly tired of explaining how and why and when I learned Swedish, and how I've managed to keep it up over the past 17 years, sometimes I just didn't bother to inform someone new that I did, in fact, understand everything they were saying.
We visited a very special secondary school, a high school that is a boarding school for students who want to major in agricultural studies in college. We were given a warm welcome by the school director, and then spent time with the two sub-school directors, one who dealt with animal husbandry and the other who handled the crops. The school is huge. As we were touring campus, we were ferried around by 4 horse-drawn carriages, each driven by a student. Each time we stopped, two additional students would hop off the carriages, and keep the horses still while we were shown around.
The two students riding along with me had no idea I spoke Swedish. I have a hearing problem, and mostly I wasn't listening to their conversation because it was windy and I couldn't hear them. However, when I heard the words, "han är snygg" (he's cute) I listened a little harder.
Turns out they were talking about one of my colleagues, another Yankee team member.
It is possible that we are the only Americans some of these people will ever meet, and I hate for them to have the impression that we're all rude, obnoxious, loud boors. (See my previous post for further info regarding my opinions on that.) But I also enjoy tweaking the occasional nose!
As I looked around, a question occured to me. I saw a parking lot, a small one, and I wondered if students were allowed to have cars at school once they had their drivers' license. So I asked. In Swedish.
Both girls blushed a lovely rosy red, having been caught like a kid with their hands in the cookie jar. They answered, in the negative. They are not allowed to have cars at school, even after they get the license. But most students wait to get the license until after graduation anyway, because getting a license in Sweden is difficult, expensive, and time-consuming. (That's a story for another time.) They're far away from Mom's (or Dad's) car, and don't have the time.
After they answered my question, they started whispering to one another. The wind had died down a little and I could hear them if I strained. The conversation they had after they found out I speak Swedish....well, let's just say it makes me laugh thinking about it.
"Ooh, that's embarrassing," said the blonde one.
"I feel a little dumb," said the brunette. "Did she tell you she spoke Swedish before we got in the carriage?"
"No," said the blonde. "I wouldn't have talked about that cute guy if she had, or maybe I would have asked if he has a girlfriend. Is she Swedish, or is she one of them?"
"I don't know," the brunette said, looking at me out of the corner of her eye. "She doesn't sound American. Do you want to ask?"
"Absolutely not!" The blonde replied. "We already look like idiots, let's keep quiet."
I didn't interrupt them, but I was having a hard time contining my giggles, and reining in the few motherly urges I have. No, he does not have a girlfriend, but he's also much too old for you, young lady!!
I've pulled that trick, explaining only after the fact that I speak Swedish (and even once or twice English) to someone, and it never gets old. Never, never, never.