The International Language

One of the odd things about staying in a Youth Hostel is the uncertainty of which language to use. Over breakfast this morning, for example, I didn’t know whether to “God Morgon”, “Good Morning” or “Guten Tag”. Any one of these greetings in themselves would have been fine, it’s knowing which one to use to which person. Mostly, I’ve found people have resorted to a word that sounds something like “Hej” and “Hi”. The same goes for “excuse me”. Do I say “forlot” or “entschuldigen”? Mostly, I’ve just smiled in an “excuse me” kind of way. Most people are assuming I’m Swedish, though I hardly have the typical Swedish features. I am, however, developing that lightly slightly sunburnt look many Swedes develop at this time of the year.

Sometimes my attempts at the Swedish language have been successful, other times not. Today, I concluded however that I must be speaking Swedish with an Australian accent. At the Tourist Centre, I purchased one of those electricity converter plugs, saying hello, paying for it, and then thanking the attendant in Swedish. He responded with “Thanks Mate” in a broad Aussie accent.

The most difficult experience I’ve had with language, though, was today in an Italian cafe. The owner spoke mostly Swedish and a little English, but I couldn’t understand either, due to the presence of an Italian accent. And, she couldn’t understand me for exactly the same reason. Thank goodness, her daughter was able to translate.

As I mentioned yesterday, my German language skills have also come in extremely handy. On the downside, remembering all this German has sometimes confused my Swedish, due to some similarities between the languages.

It came in handy last night, though, at Torget. Torget is a gay bar attracting a more mature crowd just across the road from the Gamla Stan metro station. It was like no other gay bar I’ve ever been to. On the left-hand side as you enter, there were seats and tables for dinner, in the middle was a large area for standing, and then on the right, there was a raised seating area.

Seated along the raised area, like a bunch of wall-flowers looking down on the passing parade below was a group of mostly middle-aged men. I sat on a chair just below the raised area, but still close enough to listen in to the conversation of a couple of German blokes checking out those around the bar. It was very amusing, especially since they seemed oblivious to the fact that I, and probably others, COULD understand what they were saying.

Although the Swedish have a reputation for being alcoholics, I didn’t see much evidence of it last night. There was only one bloke in the bar who I would describe as “blotto”. Clearly, white wine is the choice for the young and dandy about town, while the older crowd mostly drinks beer. I drank beer, choosing Carlsberg Hof as the only brand of beer I actually knew. I was also pleased that it was actually reasonably priced. In all, I spent about $20 for the entire night.

When I ordered my third beer (in about three hours), the barman gave me a strange, slightly disapproving look. “Heavens”, I thought to myself, “that’s not even binge drinking in Australia”.

And so after that third drink, I caught the metro back home and hit the sack within minutes of arriving at the hostel. In a room of mostly middle-aged independent travellers, like myself, there was only one who snored. I was pleased because I had fears of being known as “the fat old bloke who snores”. Thankfully, that reputation goes to someone else.

I sighed when I saw the weather this morning. The beautiful “Svenska Sommaren” had turned into the wet and windy Swedish summer. “This is a typical Swedish summer”, according to a bloke I met this morning. He was in charge of the tour boats and was doing his bit to meet and greet some of the customers. “When I was a young twenty five years ago”, he said, “We used to have very hot summers, and now it’s sometimes warm and sometimes cold and wet”.

Even though the weather was pretty shitty, I decided to go on the “Royal Canal Tour” anyway. While the crowd of mostly older couples sat inside rugged up, I walked out to the back of the boat. While they sat with rain-soaked windows, I had a great view and could still hear the commentary.

It was just as interesting as yesterday’s tour; maybe even more so, as there was a lot of discussion about how Sweden had changed dramatically in the last twenty or thirty years. The tour emphasised many of the debates about development policy, and there was a wry comment about how there was a “working shipyard which HASN’T been converted into apartment blocks”.

It might sound odd to say this, but in some respects, the tour reminded me of the trip between Perth and Fremantle. Obviously quite different landscapes, but similar in the sense there’s still a lot of parks and gardens along the riverside which haven’t been developed.

As we toured, the guide specifically mentioned us passing “the house of a member of the pop group, ABBA”. I can’t be sure, but I suspect it was Bjorn’s house we passed. And if that’s true, I’m reasonably sure I saw him jogging along the riverside. He was dressed in black, wearing a cap, but I recognised the beard and the facial structure. Of course, I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am. Stop stalking me!

We made it back in time for a quick look at the Dance Museum, which was interesting enough, before heading off for a tour of the Swedish Parliament.

Swedish Parliament

In many respects, the Swedish Parliament is a bit like most modern parliaments. They have a prime minister, a government, an opposition, something resembling a question time, parliamentary committees and so on. Interestingly, though, they have just one house, with the bicameral system abolished in the 1970s. Also, interestingly, people sit in the parliament according to where they’re from, geographically speaking, not along party lines. They have this characteristic in common with the Norwegian parliament, and I think it’s a very interesting response to modern democracy. Perhaps, just perhaps, it goes some way towards promoting a cooperative, less adversarial approach to government?

I struggled with the weather for a while today. It got really well and really shitty for a while. And you know how in Sydney when it rains, every other shop has umbrellas for sale? Well, not in Stockholm. I looked everywhere for an umbrella to no avail. For a while, it was starting to get me down, as I became soaked through. Thankfully, the microfibre towel which Colin gave me before leaving came in extremely handy.

As the weather improved, I wandered around the back streets of Gamla Stan. I came across some really amazing little streets and took some great photographs. It was then, approaching the Nobel Museum (very interesting, especially the speeches by previous winners which you can listen to), I had another ABBA experience. I noticed some of the buildings which they had famously been photographed in front of during the 1970s. It was a lovely moment.

Early in the morning in Gamla Stan

Finally, I found a good internet cafe this afternoon, Cafe Edenborg on Nyra Storgaten in Gamla Stan. For the cost of a couple of soft drinks, I was able to check my email, upload some photographs, and post my diary entry from last night.

I don’t know what I’m going to do tonight. I’m back at the youth hostel right now. We’ve watched a kid’s show, the news, and after much channel swapping, the room has settled on “The Simpsons”. Truly international.

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