Swedes and the Weather
I'm learning that small talk is different in different cultures. I'm a small talker myself (blame the south) so I've been working on chit-chatting in Sweden. I do my normal "How's it going" with customers at work. They seem shocked at first. This guy can't be Swedish. The accent only confirms it. They always say something like:
- Det är bra, tack. Själv då? (I'm fine thanks, and you?)
Which is pretty normal. Then I say:
- Bra! Hela tiden! (Fine! Always)
Most people chuckle at the ridiculousness of my response. How can everything be good all the time for this guy? Doesn't he know that is impossible? Of course I know that is impossible. But no matter what, I will convey a cheery, American, wholesome, happy attitude. I like to try to bring - or keep - all spirits up. What I've noticed is my little comment opens this slightly awkward situation up for the Swede I'm talking to. I'm fine with it all ending here. Where I'm from we just say "hi" and "fine" and go on with our business. A conversation can continue or not and it makes no difference. But not for a Swede. It's like they have to show that they are socially capable as well. Now there is this silence of anticipation. A tension of sorts builds between us. The Swede feels like it's their turn to say something. The conversation must go on. The default now, I have found, is the weather. Every Swede will talk about the weather. Sometimes a more friendly one will make a joke about how it's amazing that I am doing great all the time. Or they'll say I'm just bullshitting (in a nice way). But the conversation will DEFINITELY go directly to weather after the greeting.
On a rainy day:
- Tråkig med vädret. (The weather is boring/terrible.)
- Helt blött utanför! (It's soaking wet outside!)
On a sunny day:
- Vad fint det är idag! (It's so nice today!)
- Det är varmt och fint ute. (It's nice and warm outside.)
On a sunny day after a streak of bad weather in the summer:
- Äntligen sommar! (Finally summer!) This is where one is legally obligated to say "Eller hur!"
Mind you, I never ask any of these people about the weather. Occasionally I get weather updates from customers.
- Det kommer bli fint över helgen. (It's going to be nice weather this weekend.)
The thing is, I don't really care. I'm not really bothered by the weather. I come from a tropical climate. The weather here won't match that. That's not a complaint either. That's just to illustrate my perspective. When you tell me that it was so nice today that you were able to go for a dip in the lake and it was 19C/66F, I shiver! That's COLD! How did you say that with a smile? I understand I'm here. I still find the weather beautiful at times. But I understand that it won't be ideal most of the time, so I don't let it affect me emotionally. Maybe that's why I'm "bra hela tiden".
This summer has been a tough one, though. You can feel the worry setting in. I used to wonder why people took vacation in the summer and then complained the rest of the year about the weather and longed after summer weather. My first two summers were beautiful. Stockholm showed me her best! It was warm and sunny and nice 80% of the time. Then this alleged summer came and is almost gone. I can count on one hand how many "beautiful summer days" there have been so far this year. That's not a good sign, considering the days are slowly getting shorter. The sky has been overcast. The temperature has been low. I wore a jacket to work yesterday. Now I understand why people here take vacation in the summer. It's because "summer" is not guaranteed. The season is, but the weather isn't.
I'm starting to get this Swedish weather culture now that I've been here for over two years. Now I get the small talk going by mentioning the weather. Especially if I haven't checked on the forecast. Swedes know! I'm thinking about what short trips to take next summer. I haven't gone all in on leaving for the entire summer, but I'll try and go to some summer weather if possible. Weather like this year's summer is completely unpredictable and frankly not that fun. All of the restaurants and bars are set up for the summer. Tables and chairs outside. Music blasting. It can be great when the weather cooperates. However, it can be the worst thing ever when you're dressed for the summer, but the summer took the day off and you're running to the subway in freezing rain with shorts and sunglasses on. Pleasure to be here, Stockholm! Until next time...