First Impressions

They say first impressions are lasting.  I for one do not agree with this.  Sometimes you can think one thing about someone or something and then later realize you are completely wrong.  I found this out about Swedes.  At first glance, one could be led to believe that Swedes are a cold and unfriendly people.  They do walk around looking straight ahead and avoiding eye contact, after all.  I've gotten to the point now where I have to force out a "God Morgon" or "Hej Hej" because of the inevitable rejection when the person walks past a bit faster like they spotted a pistol on my waistband.  But I still do my greetings.  Why?  Well first of all, because I vowed to not lose my American happy-go-luckiness.  Secondly, I have yet to encounter an unreasonably rude or cold or unfriendly Swedish person.

Of course you have your douchebags.  But that's a given.  I'm not counting those people.  If you do get past the unreasonably uncomfortable greeting stage with a Swede, you will find that they are so nice and helpful.  And it's genuine too!  It's not like that fake shit that we Americans do where we give you jacked up directions because we want to seem helpful (and most importantly knowledgeable).  Then you're driving way out of the way and believing it's your fault because that helpful person seemed to really know what they're talking about.  Here, you get people that will say they don't know how to get there, but they will call somebody or pull out some app or something to help you out.  It's like your problem becomes their problem.

Recently, I was in the mood to make my mother's bangin' baked macoroni and cheese.  Part of the recipe is evaporated/condensed milk.  I remembered being here for Thanksgiving in 2006.  I made this mac and cheese and I found the milk back then.  So I know it exists here.  I was going crazy in the store looking for this.  I was walking up and down each aisle scanning furiously for this ever important canned milk.  Swedie wasn't with me.  As a matter of fact, this was going to be a surprise Sunday dinner for her.  It was important that I find this.  She loves mac and cheese.  This might end up with me getting lucky tonight.  I REALLY need to find this milk!

I got desperate.  I asked a couple that was shopping if they knew where it would be.  I cheated socially.  The right thing to do would be to speak Swedish and go through the awkward greeting phase and then ask for assistance.  Or I could ask if they mind if I speak English even though everybody speaks and understands English here.  But it's courteous.  I skip that part and revert directly to English.  I ask them if they could help me find evaporated or condensed (I said "condenserad") milk.  They snapped into action.  They discussed in a very Swedish way about where it could be.  Then the man went one way and the woman another.  I followed him.  He took me to an aisle that he suspected the evaporated milk could be.  It wasn't there.  The wife came up empty on her search as well.  I thanked them for their help and said I'd keep looking or check another store.

I went to get other things for the dinner.  I'd look some more for the milk later.  Then out of the corner of my eye I see someone running toward me.  It's the guy!  He has two cans of "condenserad mjölk" in his hand.  What?!  He had continued to search even after I had all but given up.  How's that for cold and unfriendly?  Thanks, man.  You're such a nice and helpful Swede.  And that's just one instance.  Any time I've needed help from a Swede, they've gone above and beyond.  Just like this guy.  My first impression was wrong.

I myself have left a bad first impression.  When I first arrived in Turkey for my military assignment, my future co-worker picked me up from the airport.  He was a nice guy.  I remember thinking he was a big guy.  Potential workout partner.  He had a pickup truck and listened to metal.  We made small talk on the ride back to the base.  He told me that his wife had made some dinner and I was welcome to eat there.  There wasn't much to do at the dorms I would be living in anyway.  He would drop me off after dinner.  This was one of the things I loved about the Air Force.  I just met this guy and he was treating me like family.

I got to his house and met the family.  His wife was nice and he had a one year old daughter.  He expressed concern about his daughter not having hair yet or walking.  He was actually kind of apologetic.  She was trying hard to walk.  They had a glass table in the living room and she was taking steps to navigate around the table while never removing her hands.  She was so cute and uncertain.  Every now and then she would fall back on her butt.  But she'd get right back up and back to it.  It was an adorable scene.  My host's wife brought out a steaming plate for me.  It was a blend of chicken, broccoli and rice.  It tasted as delicious as it looked.  She brought out some water for me as well.  I couldn't believe these strangers were being so nice to me.  The long flight must have made me hungry.  I scarfed down that food like a prisoner.

I didn't know the guy who was so nice to me, so we didn't have much to talk about.  He sat next to me and we tried to make small talk.  It was a little bit awkward.  We were mostly looking at his little girl continue trying to walk.  She had begun taking a liking to me.  I bragged that kids like me.  I'm good with kids.  The awkwardness must have gotten to him.  He got up to go help with something.  His wife asked if I wanted another plate.   Hell yeah!  She heated me up a second plate of that delicious food.  I just sat there waiting to eat like the greedy stranger I was.  The little girl made another slow trip around the table.  She was looking at me and smiling.

I got my steaming plate of food and resumed my prison eating style.  I mean I was going in on that food!  My plate was balanced on my left leg.  I was pushing that chicken and broccoli rice onto my fork with my thumb.  Between bites I would comment on how good this food was.  The little girl was right in front of me now.  She was taking her small steps and banging on the table.  Then she lost her balance.  This wasn't like the other times when she just fell backwards onto her butt.  This time she was falling sideways.

I pride myself on my reflexes.  If a pen is rolling off of a table, I'm the guy that catches it 9 out of 10 times before it hits the ground.  I would even go so far as to say that this is a talent of mine.  It's not to the level of super hero like my inability to get a hangover, but it's still a talent.  These people have been so nice to me up until now, so the least I can do is catch their falling daughter and be a hero.

So as she starts falling sideways in front of me, my reflexes kick in.  I quickly reach down to my left to catch her.  I kind of grab her arm.  My left leg twitches as I reach down to break her fall.  The plate that was delicately balancing on my leg flips directly sideways and falls toward the ground.  I have successfully broken her fall and she is laying just to the left of me... RIGHT UNDER WHERE THE PLATE IS FALLING.  It was slow motion, man.  I mouthed "OH... SHIIIT!" in slow motion as I watched the plate fall sideways onto this once happy little one-year-old's face.  It hits her with a clunk.  Like the sound of hitting a bell with a drumstick.  The hot, steamy chicken and rice and broccoli fall from the plate right onto this poor little girl's face.  I immediately wanted to die.  Life had been good up until this point, so maybe it was just my time.  The dad had witnessed the whole thing and he swooped in to get his only child that had been assaulted by the greedy stranger.  There was that silence that happens right before children scream.  I knew the scream was coming...

The shriek she let out pierced the bottom of my neck like a needle.  All I could say was how sorry I was.  He kept saying it's okay, but I knew he wanted to punch my dumb ass in the face.  What a nice guy.  Trying to make me feel better while wiping hot chicken and broccoli and rice from his tormented daughter's face.  His wife came in and took her from him.  She didn't even fake a smile.  She was pissed.  I wanted to go to my home that I had never even seen yet.  Why did I ask for seconds?  Why did I try and catch her?  Why was I eating from a plate on my lap when a table was right in front of me?  Why me?

So I seemed like a douche, right?  A clumsy, greedy idiot.  But we got to know each other and he started to like me.  I liked him too.  The first impression he gave was accurate.  We worked out together and I went over their place a few more times.  We even joked about the plate assault later down the line.  I'm just glad he didn't judge me on that first impression.  Until next time...


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