“People try to put us down.”
September 8, 2016
There is one grocery store here on the island, (pictured.) For some reason, it brings out my shame, this store. Not always, but often. It’s a small, well curated, local grocery, and I try to act local. Without fail, I show up here with catastrophically low blood sugar, which never helps.
Today something noteworthy and rather funny happened. I had bicycled (25-30 mins) to the store, and part way there I realized I still had three bags of our garbage in the plastic crate on the back of the bike. These are the things you don’t think about, when you transition from, say, Manhattan, island of 10 million, to Runmaro, population 270. (Or maybe 271, now that I’m here.)
In New York you’re always holding your garbage before you toss it, down the hall. It’s never on the back of a bike. So of course I found myself traversing the island with our garbage, 3 bags, and one of them was the cat litter. I shopped without incident, but made the mistake of asking if I could leave the garbage in their dumpster. “We can’t receive it,” the shop owner, a fastidious, and by all accounts good man, told me. “But you can leave it at the garbage dump up the hill.”
So far so good.
Oh wait. I did not shop “without incident.” I always give my Chase card and my NY Driver’s license, and they write down my whole ID, and it holds up the line, but it’s not too bad. This time, they had a new cash register, and my American Bank card crashed the system, somehow. Everybody was good natured about it.
I went back in the store after I left to ask a very low blood sugar question about the garbage thing again, but thought better of it, when a white-haired man on the line said, with a smile and a twinkle: “This was all your fault.”
Back outside, an elderly woman spotted my red bowling bag as I attached the garbage, the groceries, my two sweaters, etc, to the bicycle. “Is that your bag?”
“Don’t forget it.”
“Thank you, I’ve got it.”
She walked over, and I was thinking, are we going to break protocol and talk to each other?
She said something about how hard it is to bike with a lot of heavy stuff. A favorite Swedish expression is:
“Det är inte lätt.” (It’s not easy.)
So I said that.
I sound Swedish more or less, which is exactly what gets me into trouble. Åke and I made an executive decision last night that even though I am fluent in Swedish I should speak English when I leave this house, so they don’t expect me to know the exact way everything works, and instead treat me with kindness, like a tourist.
Anyway, this woman, she and I got to chatting. She told me she and her husband had bought a golf cart, though they don’t golf. Out here, there are extremely few cars. People bicycle, or use various motorized forms of bikes and tractor like vehicles. I told her about Åke, and that I had moved her from New York City which I come from, and was about to spend my first winter here on the island.
“I hope he’s worth it,” she said.
“He is,” I said, and smiled. (It’s September 8, but mark my words he will still be worth it on Dec 8.)
She said she and her husband sometimes had American friends visit. I braced myself, unconsciously. “They are so impressed when they come. And my God do they talk. They really are a talkative people. They never stop talking.”
I was thinking about my plummeting blood sugar, but me, I never leave a conversation with a stranger unless there’s good cause.
“And another thing about Americans, they cut their food and put the knife down and then eat with the fork.”
I suddenly felt like an ape. Oh no. Another thing I never even thought of that I don’t do as nicely as everybody here does. Shit. You’re supposed to hold onto your knife?
“They were so impressed with us, the way we eat, those Americans, they couldn’t get over how we ate with knife and fork,”she continued. I’d gotten her name, by the way. Birgitta.
“Like the saint,” she told me.
I leapt at the chance to demonstrate my inferiority and willingness to improve.
“I am not sure, but I think I might do that,” I said, eyes widened, tiny beads of sweat forming. We were standing in the sun, and it’s actually hot here these past few days.
“Well,” she said, “it’s not very European., that way of eating,” she said.
“If you want to impress Åke, sue knife and fork. Eat properly.”
(“Ordentligt,” in Swedish.)
I said I sure would.
Her husband came out of the store and I tried to come up with somebody good about my people, Americans.
“We’re more about communication in a public sense,” I said. “We’re like an entertainment based people.”
I stopped short of saying, “Like clowns!”
We bid one another goodbye and she said, “Good luck!”
As I biked home I located the correct garbage cans.
I wish I had said to the woman: “One thing about Americans, we don’t spend all that much time figuring out what’s wrong with everybody else.”
But you know what?
I also thought: I really appreciate that tip. I plan to eat like a European from now on.
Knife and fork, all the way through.