I've lived in Sweden for two years now. In that time no Swedish person has ever gotten angry with me face to face. I don’t think that I am the most agreeable or easy to get along with person. I'm often late and quite forgetful; sometimes I even forget to eat. So I know the lack of confrontation is nothing to do with me.
I believe it’s down to the Swedes being Swedish.
They are the most polite (though some say passive-aggressive) people I have ever met.
I once stood on a Swedish man’s foot whilst in a queue at a supermarket and he apologised to me. “I'm sorry, I did not know you would stand there." A Viking would never do that, and it’s hard to believe Swedes are direct descendants from those ferocious longship warriors (although I can see the Viking influence in the neighbouring Danes).
The only times I've ever encountered angry Swedes is through notes.
When I got my first angry note, I had no idea just how incensed the person who wrote it was. I know now that they must have been seething.
These days I know that if a Swedish person writes a note it means they are angry. Oh, and if they write a note without personally addressing the person who slighted them, it means they are super angry. Infuriated even. The angrier the Swede is, the less personal the note will be.
After three weeks in my adopted city of Malmö, I inevitably needed to do laundry. The guy I was staying with had not explained the tvättstuga (laundry room) to me, except that it was in the basement.
So I went down with an Ikea bag full of dirty clothes and saw all these numbers and little things that needed keys. I figured they had something to do with the laundry room, but it didn’t make sense to me, and there was no one in the room, so I assumed it would be okay to use.
I loaded both washing machines and sat down on a table to read my book. Back then I didn't know that you could just leave your clothes in the machines and go back upstairs and get on with your life.
Yes, I thought that you had to stay with your clothes – what if someone tried to steal them? This was quite a silly thing to think because, looking at how I dressed two years ago, there was never a fear of my clothes being stolen. If anything, people should have worried about me stealing their clothes.
After about an hour, a woman came into the room, but she didn't say anything. I was only in my underwear, as I wanted to get all my laundry done, but she didn't seem to care one bit. She just looked at me and left.
For the next two hours I remained in the laundry room and got all the clothes clean and dry before going back upstairs.
Within 24 hours there was a note in the elevator. A Swedish note. Obviously I didn't understand it, and it never occurred that the scribbled words were meant for yours truly. But that evening my host came home with the note in his hand, laughing.
"Yo, Irish," he quipped. "You know what this says?"
"Em, no," I responded.
He giggled some more.
"It says, 'Will all residents please respect the laundry times, and please wear clothes in the laundry room as we wish to live in a morally decent building.'"
Then he chuckled a bit more.
"Now I know this has got to be for you because I've been here five years and never ever seen a note like this before. Were you naked and doing your laundry?" he enquired with a dose of sarcasm.
"No," I said dead serious. "Sure I had my underwear on."
Cue more laughter and hysterics.
"Oh man. What happened?" he chortled.
"Some lady came into the room and left again," I said.
"Your pale skinny body must have scared her good," he guffawed.
He kept giggling as he walked away.
"I’ll show you how to use the time slots later," he said, "But only if you promise to keep your clothes on."
Since that note, I have not received another, but I have left several of my own. And I must say, I actually enjoy writing them. It can be challenging for me not to curse in the notes and not to name who it is that I am mad at, but now I'm starting to get the hang of it.
In fact, some of my notes are so impersonal that if I were to read them myself, I would be scared into thinking that a psychopath was living in the building, and I'm guessing that some people have started to think that too.
Oh and the tvättstuga is always clean now and nobody steals anyone else’s time any more.