03 July 2009

Oh, it's ON.

I've been hinting that I was going to write about this for a while, but rather than make it to actual text, it has been floating about in my head for quite some time.

Being "on" is related to being a guest. Related to good manners, and showing the nicer side of yourself. (Yeah, it's hard.)

While I was in Sweden with the Rotary GSE, I was "on" whenever I was awake.

For me, this meant being gracious and polite, being enthusiastic even when I felt like shit, and having an open mind to trying everything that was offered.

Being on is a little like acting. You're smiling, being cheerful, and listening intently even when you're pissed, unhappy, and bored.

I love Sweden. I love its people, its culture, its food, its language, its cities and its countryside. There isn't much I don't love about Sweden. But even someone as Swedish-crazy as I am can get to the end of their rope.

The Swedish diet is quite full of herring. Fried herring. Pickled herring. Sour pickled herring (bleh!). Herring sliced up and mixed with other stuff and baked into a casserole. Then there's the boiled potatoes, smoked salmon, low-brow caviar, lingonberry jam, and Swedish meatballs. I like all of those things, with the exception of the sour stuff. I really like Swedish meatballs and boiled potatoes with lingonberry jam. (Don't knock it 'til you've tried it, sweetcheeks.) I got really tired of the herring during this trip. Thankfully, no one served the team sour pickled herring. But the rest of it, pickled and fried and casserole-style, man-oh-man did I get tired of it.

When we would arrive at wherever we were going to have lunch, and the menu was herring again, you couldn't roll your eyes or show exasperation. You had to be polite and cheerful, non-snarky and appreciative. That's what I mean by saying that I was "on" all the time. Being a gracious guest isn't a huge burden to bear, but it can certainly get old after a while. (Like 5 weeks.)

All of this makes me sound like an entitled, ungrateful, and overprivledged brat. I am exceedingly grateful for the chance to visit Sweden on someone else's dime, and to have learned everything that I did, to have met everyone that I did. Really and truly. Being in Sweden makes me happy. Speaking Swedish makes me happy.

Not having my own space or my own stuff for five weeks isn't with the happy-making.

I got into a tiff with one of the other team members during the third week we were there; it is a long backstory, but relates to exactly what I'm talking about.

He is one of those people that thrives on having someone to pick on, to belittle, as compensation for what I don't know, but I'm assuming he does it to compensate for a tiny male appendage. He teased me about shirts that I wore, which had the logo of my employer embroidered on them. Small and tasteful, business attire (shells to wear under suit jackets. fine-gauge sweaters.) that I wore on a near-daily basis. I own eight of these embroidered shirts, which run the gamut of colors and are, as I said, tasteful. He started a pool to guess which color and style shirt I'd wear the next day.

I put up with this for a while, silently, or chuckling along with everyone else. I've had experience with his type before. Letting them know that they're getting to you is like pouring gasoline on a fire, so I kept my mouth shut even though it annoyed me. It wasn't enough to get worked up over, and it kept him from being obnoxious to the Swedes. No worries, I'm a big girl and can handle being teased.

I put up with it even when I didn't think it was funny anymore. I kept quiet when he actually drew a complicated matrix in his notebook, showing the mathematical probability of which shirt I would wear which day. I'm enough of a grown-up to admit that the geek in me was vastly entertained that he was that much of a geek too, despite the uber-urbane airs he put on.

I put up with it when he invited one of the Rotarians that we all really liked to join the pool, even when it made me feel like an ass. It made me feel small and provincial and stupid.

The point at which I no longer put up with it even came AFTER he announced the winner of one of his ridiculous pools at A FORMAL ROTARY GATHERING WITH 30 PEOPLE IN ATTENDANCE. Talk about feeling like an asshole. He explained (in English, with no translator) what the pool was about to the assembled guests, all of whom were Swedish, i.e., non-native speakers of English. Then he announced the winner. A polite round of applause followed. None of the Swedes really understood what it was all about, other than it was making fun of Lucy, ha-ha-ha, isn't Arnie Asshole funny.

I said nothing at the party. I said nothing for another two days, at which time he invited two more Rotarians, who were our guides/drivers for that day to join the pool while we were having coffee at a cafe. That was my breaking point. I'm not sure why that particular bit was the breaking point. I didn't say anything to him previously because I knew it would simply get worse, but that right there? That was IT.

As he went to hand the notebook to the Swedes for them to note their guesses, the notebook came to me on the way to them. I took it, handed it back to him, and said, "Could you please find some ONE or some THING else to pick on? Because I'm over it." My tone was nasty, but at my normal volume. My facial expression was pissed. My intent was not unclear.

{In my defense, I didn't punch him in the face, tear his stupid notebook to shreds, dump my hot cup of coffee over his smug head, or do what I wanted to most, which was kick him where it would have hurt. Bad. Real bad. I resisted those urges.}

Our hostesses for the day were shocked. Stunned silence greeted this outburst. Then he said, sounding like an innocent little boy who doesn't know any better, "Really?"

"Yes, really," I snarked back. "Enough."

The Swedes tend to be stoic. Public disagreements are rare. Shouting at someone in public is absolutely a faux pas. I didn't shout at him, but the moment was very, very awkward. Moments later, we all cleared the table, put our dishes where they belonged, and walked out.

I walked with one of the hosts, starting a conversation about something trivial. She was a typical Swede and being polite as they usually are, she didn't ask for details about what had just happened. The rest of the team followed clustered in a group behind me, whispering to one another.

Fucking fantastic. Oh, and oops.

My team leader pulled me aside a little later and didn't tell me off, but she did say that it was unfortunate that I'd chosen to bitch him out in front of our hosts. I agree; it was. Presenting a united (and happy with one another) front to the Swedes as a team was important. We specifically sidestepped political questions because we didn't agree about the president, or anything else in American government, for that matter, and we didn't want to seem fracturous.

It is quite possible that we could be the only Americans that some of the people we met would ever see. For example? If you've only ever met one Puerto Rican, and she/he was rude and nasty, you just might form the opinion that every Puerto Rican was a nasty brat. Likewise, if the entire group fought the whole time we were there, Swedes that we met could get the impression that all Americans behave this way all the time. As ambassadors of our country, we needed to act the part. I wasn't "on" in that moment, not at all.

I have yet to apologize to him for biting his head off. I have no intentions of doing so, either. He never did ask me for an explanation of my behavior, but if he had, he'd've gotten chapter and verse on what an asshole I thought/think he is/was. Nothing else was said about it for the entire journey, although one other teammate did ask later that same day if I'd thought of perhaps pulling him aside and asking him to stop before verbally attacking him. No, I didn't. Because I knew what would happen, he'd keep it up AND make it worse.

What's that? What does this have to do with routine? Meh. Not much. I wasn't following the Nice Girl Routine there.....

But there are some people who just bring that out in me. Thankfully, I no longer have to deal with him frequently. But if I did? And he was still a pain in the ass? Oh, it'd be ON then, my friend!

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