Taking Stock(holm) Of The Language

, , , , | Right | January 31, 2019

(I’m Canadian, currently doing a study-abroad semester in Stockholm. It’s just before Christmas, when I’m set to head home, so I’m browsing a well-known department store for some gifts. I’m looking at a display of scarves when an elderly woman comes up to me with an armful of items.)

Customer: *speaks Swedish*

(Although I’ve tried to learn the basics, I’m nowhere near fluent in Swedish and have no idea what this lady is saying.)

Me: “Um… Jag kan inte… pratar svenska. Um… sorry.” *I can’t speak Swedish.*

Customer: *scoffs and rolls her eyes, and keeps speaking Swedish*

Me: “I don’t speak Swedish. Um, I’m sorry. I can’t help you.”

(I turn back to the display of scarves, but she forcefully grabs my arm and tries to pull me back. I can’t stand random people touching me, so I give her hand a brisk slap.)

Me: “Please don’t touch me! I have no idea what you’re saying and I can’t help you. I’m very sorry! Now, please leave me alone!”

Customer: *starts screaming at me in Swedish*

(Her expression makes her look like she wants to claw my eyes out. Thankfully, an employee comes over and tries to defuse the situation. It doesn’t help much, and eventually, the lady has to be escorted out by security.)

Employee: “I’m so sorry. She thought you worked here and was trying to get you to give her a discount. She’s actually done this to so many people that she’s not supposed to be in the store, but we have so many entrances it’s hard to keep her out. But you’re American, right? No one from here would’ve stood up for themselves and caused a scene.” *pauses* “Not that it’s a bad thing. We Swedes just don’t like drawing attention to ourselves.”

Me: “Canadian, actually. But thanks, I think?”

Employee: “Aha! Well, that explains how you can stand up for yourself and be polite at the same time. Good for you!”

(He went back to work, and I was left there thinking, “What the heck just happened?”)

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