Hej Hej

Zur deutschen Fassung.

Sweden is beautiful. Very beautiful. Gorgeous. Lots of forest and water and colorful wooden houses. Like in Bullerby.

Nevertheless, there will be relatively few stories from here. Because my stories thrive on encounters with people. And there aren’t any. Well, there are people, ten million of them. But they don’t talk to you. That’s not because of xenophobia (which is forbidden here). Swedes don’t talk to each other either.

I have a tried and true method for getting to know people: I sit down in the park, read a book or the newspaper, write, smoke a cigar, all of which signals that I am relaxed and communicative, that I have all the time in the world and (because of the book or the newspaper) that I am interesting and intelligent. This works everywhere in the world: Sooner or later someone asks what I am reading, what I am writing or if I have a lighter. Then I move on the bench to make room for the newcomer, people start talking, and soon we are discussing the new James Bond movie, Max Weber’s misinterpretation of Protestant ethics and whether there should be raisins in Kaiserschmarrn or not. Older people talk about the war, the younger ones about problems at home or at work.

In Sweden, though, that doesn’t work. Nobody speaks to me. As soon as they catch sight of me from a distance, people panic and pull an electrical device out of their pocket, playing around with it or speaking urgently and importantly into it. You have to imagine that: People here are such sociophobes that they carry a small TV or whatever it is around with them all the time, just to have an excuse not to talk to anyone.

If you are smart yourself, you don’t need a smartphone.

All right, then I’ll go for a walk instead. After all, it’s green and beautiful. I have already mentioned that, I believe.

Swedes also like to go for walks. When they’re walking, people are relaxed, have time on their hands and look forward to a bit of diversion. It’s easy to strike up a conversation. You ask where you left, where you’re heading, and share your snacks.

That’s what I thought.

But it doesn’t work like that.

Nature in Sweden is apparently not for strolling, but for purposeful running, jogging, mountain biking and rolling around on cross-country skis. Sometimes, people in colorful outfits run across fields as if chased by a mad duck. That’s an orienteering race where participants have to check off certain points and snap off a piece of paper.

People who are not training for the Olympics have dogs. Sometimes one, sometimes two, sometimes eight. The latter are professional dog sitters. In Sweden it is forbidden by law to leave a dog alone at home for more than 6 hours. If you can’t take your dog to work (e.g. train drivers or sailors on submarines) or if you want to go on vacation without your dog, you have to put your dog in a dog hotel or hire a dog sitter. I came to Sweden for similar reasons, but I take care of a cat. And of a sourdough that I have to mix and stir every week. By the way, Sweden does not only have dog hotels, but also sourdough hotels, where you can deposit the dough, which is often in its third generation of family ownership, while you’re on vacation. Seriously. (Because you’re not allowed to divide the sourdough, Sweden still has the fideicommissum, an arcane institute of Roman inheritance law.)

But I’m already digressing again, like in the last great orgy of digression that brought me to Sweden in the first place. So back to the dogs. People with dogs find people without dogs, walking through the woods without an apparent purpose, suspect. Because people in Sweden read a lot of books about crime, murder and manslaughter, they think I’m about to bury a body. Because I have recognizably no corpse with me, they probably fear that they are meant to fill that position, which is why they move on quickly and without uttering a greeting.

Speaking of greetings, I am of course always friendly, smile and say “hej”. That’s Swedish for “hello”. Sometimes another walker also says “hej”, and older people even look friendly. But then they are already gone again.

When Swedish couples go for a walk, they don’t talk to each other either. In fact, no one talks to anyone in the whole country (except to their electrical appliances). Honestly, here you can sit next to someone on a bus or a train for hours and they don’t say a peep. After a bus ride in Bolivia, you know the entire family history of all fellow passengers. After a train ride through Canada, you understand the country much better. On hikes in the Balkans, you are invited everywhere until you can no longer walk in a straight line. In Sweden, you can share a prison cell with someone for two years without learning more than their name.

The ultimate emotion so far was when someone said “hej hej”. “Hello hello”, oh, someone is really talkative, I thought to myself. But he was already gone again. At home, I discovered in the dictionary that “hej” means not only “hello”, but also “bye”.

As I said, Sweden is a beautiful country. Very beautiful. But after my stay here, I need to go somewhere where people are open and warm. Siberia or Minnesota or something.


About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a writer, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in Photography, Sweden. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Hej Hej

  1. Pingback: Hej Hej | Der reisende Reporter

  2. Carla Madruga Gomes says:

    :D :D I am sorry, but the only Swedish person I know is very much outgoing and very cool, and we became friends instantly. I came across her in Mozambique and she perfectly fill in the role of bodyguard for a day :D Since then we met in other countries… ok, to be fair, she was far away from her country :P In any case, I am not sure your signs are the best ones… some people could interpret newspapers and books as “leave me alone, for God sakes!”. I guess it also depends on the cultural context. Now I know that, if I ever come across your person, I should not interpret the book as a barrier. Which is great, because for me it is the best conversation start ever. ;)
    Last but not least, it seems you found your ideal place! ahahah

    • Once, I saw an elderly couple in the forest in Sweden. Both of them reading books. And both of them wearing huge headphones, which for me are a sign to keep away.

      But I do get the point about ambiguous signs. Come to think of it, some people might also be put off by cigar smoke.

  3. Carla Madruga Gomes says:

    Oh the caption for the cat is :D :D :D You don’t need a smartphone, but you may need a cat after all

  4. Aprille says:

    I could totally relate with experiencing Canada by going through one of their transportation vehicles. When I was still studying Toronto, it takes two to three hours for me to go to school. Whether by bus or the subway, you can experience the culture. One time, when I was at the subway, a young man had the audacity to smoke weed in front of everyone. Sure, he was confronted by fellow passengers; but he was confronted more politely (Canadian politeness) than what I would have wanted. In Toronto, a lot of unwarranted interaction can happen during commutes. Your take on Sweden sounds like a treat for people who prefer solace. Engaging as always. Thank you!

    • Yes, if you like solace and nature, this is a great place! For me, it is for a few months, but then I miss conversation and interaction again.

      The best thing about the train across Canada was the absence of internet. It really forced people to talk to each other. And even if you are very shy, after three days of staring at the prairie, you’re a bit more receptive to someone chatting you up.

  5. Pingback: Hej Hej — The Happy Hermit – ° BLOG ° Gabriele Romano

  6. Beautiful photos! Thank you.

    I don’t know how bad COVID was/is in Sweden, but I wonder if that had any effect on their friendliness to strangers. It appears you got all of your excitement in the first days when the two girls went swimming😂

    I usually prefer the company of a cat (or dog or even a Bearded Dragon) to humans anyway.

    • List of X says:

      Sweden got hit by Covid19 pretty bad, judging by the death numbers – a lot worse than its neighbors Norway and Finland, but not nearly as bad as the US or the UK.
      So Sweden became a banner story for anti-lockdown activists worldwide (because Sweden didn’t have as much of a lockdown as other European countries and yet fared not worse than many of them). However, if Swedes generally don’t talk to each other anyway, there was probably no need for lockdowns there.

    • Interesting… thank you.

    • Like Mr X said, Sweden got hit pretty bad, but nobody bothered about it.
      For example, I hardly saw anyone wearing a mask. If I hadn’t been vaccinated myself, I really would have been worried.

      So, it didn’t look like Covid-19 was on anyone’s mind, and quite a lot of people have confirmed that it has always been so anti-social.

  7. Please remember that we need to use an electronic device to read your “digressions”… :)

    • For me, it would be much more romantic to copy the articles every month, put them in envelopes, write addresses from around the world, lick and stick hundreds of stamps and mail them off to distant continents.

      But I do hope that people at least read my blog on a proper computer, preferably at work and at their company’s expense, and not on one of these tiny electric readers that they take to the toilet with them.

  8. Denzil says:

    At least there are plenty of trees to talk to. Come to think of it, maybe that’s exactly why Sweden is so full of trees.

  9. Ana says:

    Beautiful pictures of Sweden, that’s so cool you finally got to visit this gem.
    That is true, Swedes are not known for being talkative at first but once you establish a connection or a friendship they do talk and Swedish is also a beautiful language to listen to I could listen all day.

    • For me, there was a huge disconnect between written Swedish (which I can often decipher, because many words are similar to German words) and spoken Swedish (of which I could hardly pick up anything).

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