Boston Blatte

Raised in Boston, remade in Sweden

Archive for September, 2012

Stockholm steely street smarts: “I grew up in the suburbs”

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

I had an irate father in my face this morning. Real aggressive and invading my personal space. Knowing the background and having checked my facts, I stood secure and cozied on in to his face. To be fair, I was only staying put and not leaning in. But I’ll admit, a little confrontation on a brisk September morning gets my blood flowing. And you get so little confrontation in Sweden, so you take what you can get.

In brief, it’s a tiny matter between our sons. My 8-year old said a mean thing about his 9-year old’s shop project. His son bawled his eyes out. But they’re kids. Mine was clearly wrong and had already apologized. I thought the matter was closed. But no, back to the school yard kids.

The little spat carried on in most uneventful manner (well, in proportion to its being an overblown altercation over boys being boys and that this was literally in the school yard and he even threw out a F-bomb) until the father used an interesting expression to indicate that he was a bit street smart, hardened around the edges and ready to go the 15 rounds.

He expressed the thickened skin on his nose as, “You know, I grew up in the suburbs.” It completely caught me off guard because I understood what he was trying to articulate but I was confused by the reference. All I could do was think about my Watertown, MA upbringing at the time and say…”Me too.” And then the irony struck me; we were IN the suburbs. Both his and my kids are growing up in the suburbs. But that’s not what it was about.

He was referring to one of the “undesirable” suburbs. The ones around Stockholm classically associated with a tougher breed of folks, immigrants. The places where things are viewed as not all peaches and rose petals. Places with names like Rinkeby, Akalla or Sk√§rholmen which are districts of Stockholm outside the center.

Reflecting back on the event after it simmered down I giggled at the contradiction. What we Americans would attribute to an inner city upbringing, i.e. tougher, wilder and more savage streets, he characterized as [specific] neighborhoods in the suburbs of Stockholm. Because unlike most American cities, the inner city of Stockholm is the most desirable property and consequently, the priciest.

So, if in Sweden you want to indicate that you can handle the meaner things in life, you tell people, “I grew up in the suburbs.” That ought to get their knees knocking.

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