I think I get Swedes. Sort of. Kind of. Still working on it, really.
I’ve been at it for nearly 2 decades and the learning curve has been tumultuous, but any good ride has its ups and down. However, it can be a hit or miss for most “newbies” to Sweden. And if you read the pages of The Local, you’ll find there is often “someone” with their knickers in a twist about Swedes. This popular article on TL comes first to mind.
Now it’s quite true that striking up conversation with the random Swede on the street is not always forthcoming. Swedes are a little skittish and they (particularly 08ers aka Stockholmers) are molded from that normal “big city aloofness” you find in any big city which does make them hard to reach. But reachable they are. Warm and loving too. But yes, also, terse, stoic and reserved.
I’m gregarious. I talk up everyone and anyone and it took me a long while to realize that I’m pretty odd in Boston too. New Yorkers and other Americans regularly complain about us Bostonians being uptight and unapproachable. When I first heard it, I was shocked. Taking a look at it with open eyes I realized that there’s truth to it. Your average Bostonian won’t strike up random conversation, not the kind of polite conversation the people in the article are talking about. BUT, if YOU strike up conversation with a Bostonian and work at it by all the unwritten social/cultural rules of Bostonianism, you can be chatting away for hours.
Stockholmers are like Bostonians: tough nuts to crack (and Swedes have slightly tougher outer shells.) But inside that outer crust it’s all warm and gooey.
I feel sorry for the couple in the above article. They think that because they were brown Swedes didn’t want to interact with them. I’m brown (more so now after a sunny summer) but I chat up Swedes regularly with the fitting success one can ascribe to chatting to Stockholmers.
But maybe I “hear” Swedes better. So much communication among Swedes is non-verbal: a nod of the head, a crook in their smile, a twinkle in their eye.
As for the staring, I have heard people complain of this, but in all honesty I’ve never felt it myself (do Bostonians stare a lot?).
So take heart. If you want to speak to Swedes. Make the first, gentle move. Wait. And then listen…they’re talking to you.