I’m talking, of course, about children. And this week our class, which, as far as I know is for adult education, was dominated by a child. Manuela’s eight year old, Javier, joined us for the evening.
Irritatingly, he spoke better Swedish than all of us. Perfect, in fact, since he was born here. He’s an eager young swot at school and the Pavlovian effect of being in a classroom made it very hard for Manuela to stop him from blurting out the answers as we went through last week’s homework.
He started off politely enough, stretching his hand up so high that it looked like it was doing its level best to escape from the rest of his body while his arm struggled to keep it on the team.
Rositza, our teacher, humoured him by letting him answer a question or two. Unfortunately this only encouraged the little imp, so she tried to distract him with some tasks while the rest of us got stuck into our exercises. Instead, he got it into his head to wander around looking at people’s work and giggling.
A stern rebuke from his mother quietened him down for a few minutes, but then he noticed some mistakes in Gregor’s work.
Gregor, frankly, isn’t very good at Swedish, and this clearly bothered Javier. So he started correcting him.
Now, I don’t know about you, but having a cocky halfgrown pointing out my basic spelling mistakes would have displeased me. Gregor, on the other hand, was just glad of some one-to-one tuition.
“But I don’t understand,” I heard Gregor saying, as I left for the coffee break. “Why should you put inte after the verb here, but before the verb here?”
“You just do, Gregor,” said Javier.
Rositza is something of a linguistic pedant and would probably have launched into the complex grammatical background to the apparently pointless switch. Gregor, though, was quite satisfied with Javier’s answer.
The next day I was reflecting on our new member (he’ll be there regularly from now on) as I was on my way to a meeting, when the presenter on the radio announced his next guest: some musical star whose name I forget…. and his two year old daughter.
Interviewer: So, great to have you here, Musical Star, thanks for coming in.
Two year old girl: Papa?
Interviewer: Ha, ha, what a little cutie – what’s her name?
Musical star: Alice.
Two year old girl: Papa?
Musical star: Yes, my little plum pie, daddy’s doing a radio interview. Sit over there and pull the producer’s hair.
Interviewer: So tell us about your new musical – it must be great to be back on stage?
Two year old girl: Aaaaarrrghhheeeeiiiiigghhhh!!!!
Interviewer: Oj. That was loud.
Musical star: Alice! Don’t touch that!
Interviewer: And it’s playing in Stockholm before touring the country, is it?
Two year old girl: Papapapapapa!
Interviewer: Thanks very much, I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got time for.
I daresay the performance went down well with a certain section of the radio audience but I doubt whether the Musical Star’s paymasters were particularly pleased with his promotional work.
One thing is certain, though – they would not have complained. Because in Sweden, just like in ancient Egypt under Tutankhamun, kidz rule.
On the whole, luckily enough, Swedish children seem to be benevolent rulers. They’re quieter than the average child – but perhaps that’s just because they are confident of their power status. No need to shout. A few soft words in the right ears gets the job done.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for children. Childbirth is clearly a big plus for humankind, and Sweden’s unmatched public investment in childcare is no less miraculous than the big arrival itself.
But what worries me is that the gap between children and adults, or at least the parallel worlds they inhabit, is being steadily erased. I wouldn’t advocate the ‘seen-and-not-heard’ method of child-rearing, but surely it’s better for everyone to keep kids out of the workplace. (Unless, of course, you happen to be a teacher.)
That, however, is a heretical view in Sweden.
My meeting was in a swanky open plan office and as I chatted to the people I was hoping to impress, I became distracted by a bizarre sight. Not more than a couple of metres away, a three year old boy was sitting at a desk.
I didn’t like to say anything, just in case he was the boss. For a good few minutes he just sat there swinging his legs and fiddling around with as much office paraphernalia as he could reach, until his father came back and resumed his work.
The boy toddled off, staring at a slightly older girl who was sitting in a push chair near her mother’s desk.
Next time I think I’ll suggest we hold our meeting in a kindergarten. See how they like it.