I know no Swedish. Okay, I know about five words, all of which I’ve learned since arriving in Åstorp. Like everything else involving this trip, I had zero preparation in the language department. But hey, I was told that most people speak English. I’ll be all right…right?
To be honest, I’ve been absolutely fine. Most people (seem to) want to speak English to practice their skills (thank goodness for the Swedish drive for excellence and generous spirit…it’s saved my ass big time). I’m also fortunate to have a friend as trustworthy and patient as AnnaKarin; she’s been my voice when necessary. She’s also highly efficient at weeding through the bullshit in conversation to provide me with an informative synopsis.
When I made my decision to come here, what I looked forward to most was the anonymity and lack of expectation that would come with knowing no one other than AnnaKarin and not speaking the native tongue. I was done with my world, as I knew it; I was over the complaining and yammering and ego and insincerity that language there yielded.
I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a crazy adjustment. To go from that intensity to its extreme opposite – hearing communication but only responding to a small portion of it – is life altering. It’s game changing in how one relates to other humans. However, the benefits yielded have been beyond my expectations. It’s been an opportunity to learn how to relate to oneself. It’s been an exercise in taking full advantage of more time for thought. Because I don’t understand the audible, I read body language to get a gist of a discussion’s context. I pay closer attention to eye contact, breathing, touching, and facial expressions. It’s almost as if I’m more engaged in conversation now, not knowing the language, because I have to pay attention to every nuance and opportunity to pick up on something I recognize. I’m a stronger listener.
I’ve been asked if I’m able to tell the difference in accents between varying geographical areas. I’m not and I don’t think two months is long enough for me to pick up on something like that. However, I’ve noticed that the Swedes in the south do this cool breathy pause (as if they’re gasping for air) when they converse. Additionally, there’s something casual about southern Swede banter; those I met further north at Christmas engaged in a way that felt more proper. I’ve been told that this is because southern Swedes inflect and gesture more like the Danes (many moons ago this area was a part of Denmark) and after visiting Denmark, I agree. (Note: Liquor stores on every corner in Helsingør, Denmark. No Systembolaget rules and regs there.)
Swedish is fascinating to listen to and I completely get why it’s one of the most challenging languages to learn. Pronouncing my “ä”, “å”, and “a” correctly can be frustrating but I try. One thing that hasn’t been an issue in fitting in: noise level. Swedes can be LOUD. That advice I received prior to my arrival about not being the loud American? Yeah…that’s not a problem here.
Or at least AnnaKarin hasn’t shared with me that it is in one of her translations. 😉