Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Da Swedes

KT works at the American Swedish Institute, which over the past couple of years has undergone a major transformation and expansion.  It's a stunning expansion and the cafe has quickly and deservedly become one of the hottest eating spots in town. Consequently, I have been spending an increasing amount of time attending events at 2600 Park Avenue South.  From grand opening galas to royal visits (King Carl, Queen Sylvia and I had an engaging conversation regarding birch trees, but I digress), I have had the opportunity to observe and interact with numerous Swedes.  I've picked up a few observations.

1.  Science be damned, their genes are the dominatrix of genes.  Every high school science student can tell you that dark hair and dark eyes are dominant traits.  If a person with brown eyes and brown hair has a baby with somebody who is blonde and blue, the odds are that the children will have dark features.  For example, my dad has startling blue eyes and once upon a time had platinum blonde hair.  My mom, on the other hand, has brown eyes and brown hair.  So, as science tells us should happen (something about recessive genes or chromosomes or blahblahblah), both my brother and I sport the brown and brown look.  KT, and her dominant Swedish genes, weren't interested in science, however.  Both Al and Audrey popped out blonde and blue and haven't looked back.  They could be dropped in the Mother Country and immediately be indistinguishable in a police lineup.  Inexplicably, this seems to be the norm with Swedes rather than the exception.

2.  They have invented everything.  Within the course of a week, I will be informed or reminded countless times that the Swedes are responsible for inventing basically everything.  I cannot put on a pair of jeans in the morning without KT informing me that the zipper was invented by the Swedes and without them, I would be continually soiling myself as it would take hours to unfasten the cryptic puzzle of contraptions that previously existed in pants.  I cannot mention the name of a plant without being reminded that the Swedes invented the classification of botany and without them, all flora would simply be called "green things".  I cannot operate a computer without being reminded that without the Swedes, the computer mouse would not exist and computers might have just been a passing fad without them.  If I light a candle I am reminded that the Swedes invented safety matches and without these ingenious devices one in every four homes would be in cinders.  Additionally, it has been reported to me that about 50% of the population would be dead if not for the honorable Swede that invented the pacemaker.

3.  Swedes aren't "mean", they are "direct".  My Germanic sensibilities have a difficult time distinguishing between the two, but I have been assured by KT and others that there is indeed a difference.  So, if you were to spend hours painstakingly preparing a gourmet meal and a Swede's reaction was "I've had better", you shouldn't be offended.  They weren't being mean, they were simply being direct.  Similarly, if a Swede were to say "you are fat" or "wow, you're an idiot", you shouldn't feel insulted.  I have two perfect real-life examples, both courtesy of KT's Grandpa Marlin, whose parents were fresh off the boat.  The first time I met Marlin was when KT was pregnant with Al.  As KT introduced us, Marlin first words were, "How do you spell your last name?"  After I spelled it out for him, he responded, "Hmmm....German, eh?  Boy, you sure are a warring people."  Being we were just pups and I was the guy responsible for the giant bulge in his granddaughter's belly, I took it in stride.  Flash forward 20 years.  Grandpa Marlin is in town and we are having lunch with him at the American Swedish Institute.  KT introduces Marlin to a co-worker with the last name Marsala.  Marlin ponders the name for a while and then asks for the origin.  When informed that it is Finnish, Marlin pauses a second and says, "Well, at least it's better than Kruse".  Keep in mind, this is two children, two dogs, a cat and five homes after the first time I was introduced to him.  I think it's pretty safe to say that I'm not simply knocking up his granddaughter and running.  Later, when recounting the incident with KT (she didn't notice anything at the time), she explained that he was simply being direct.

4.  Norwegian things don't exist.  This one puzzles me to no end.  After all, just over 100 years ago, Norway and Sweden were one country.  Only by the good grace of the Swedes did they allow Norway to form their own independent country (that's how the Swedish history books explain it anyways).  Today, however, Norway and it's customs are as exotic to the Swedes as a lost tribe of the Amazon.  In social settings, when KT will respond to a query about where she works, inevitably lefse gets mentioned.  Sometimes it's the very next sentence, sometimes it is a few moments later, but it is without fail mentioned.  However, go to the Swedish Institute, say the word lefse and you will get nothing but vacant stares.  They have absolutely no idea what lefse is.  Or so they claim.  I'm calling bullshit.  I don't live in Canada, but I still know what a Labatt Blue is.  I find it impossible to believe that they don't know what lefse is.  Here is a more maddening example:  The Swedes love their lutefisk.  The Institute throws a giant party every year which revolves around eating loads of the slimy crap and washing it down with enough alcohol that you don't actually taste it.  The Norwegians eat lutefisk as well.  However, if you were to ask anyone at the Swedish Institute when the "loot-a-fisk" party is, the unanimous response would be "I have no idea what you are talking about".  See, in Sweden it is pronounce "loot-fisk".  It is the same disgusting inedible substance, spelled exactly the same, but the extra syllable the Norwegians add to the pronunciation make it undecipherable to the Swedes.  Again, I'm calling bullshit.

5.  Swedish women, once they reach a certain age (usually in their 50s), cease visible signs of aging.  I'm not sure how they do it (perhaps one of their famous inventions that haven't yet graced the rest of the world with), but the majority of Swedish women look identical from the time they hit their "age" until they die. This isn't an assertion that they all look alike, just that they retain their physical features for a freakishly long period of time.  Also, and perhaps related, they develop (or maintain?) the ability to be outstandingly flirtatious.  KT once came home with a birthday gift for me from a friend at the ASI.  It was a tiny wooden Dala horse with a note attached that said, "Paul - a lucky Dala for you.  Put this in your pocket and rub it and maybe it will grow."  Then there is Sigbritt who, upon learning I had arrived on bike, asked that I pick her up and give her a ride the next day.  Tempting as it was, I didn't and Sigbritt has not stopped asking KT when I am coming by on my bike to take her away.  Nothing makes me blush more than spending a day with the ladies at ASI. It's awesome and I am clearly developing a fetish which is probably a good thing considering what I married.

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