Oh, wow. It’s been so long again. Too long!
The weather has finally turned to autumn. We’ve had an amazingly brilliant summer and up until very recently, an unusually mild autumn. Inevitably, the afternoons are darkening earlier every day, and there is a distinct chill in the air. It’s dull, insipid, and grey. I literally ache for the everlastingly long, warm days to be here once more. We had such an amazing summer, and I miss it. But, Christmas is creeping upon on us, bringing with it alien Swedish traditions. I don’t like Swedish Christmas fare, and really can’t get used to Santa coming on 24th, in the afternoon. Part of Christmas excitement for me has always been waking up in the morning of the 25th, and opening presents immediately – having to wait until the afternoon is beyond torturous; and that’s me, never mind the kids! I miss crappy British telly, turkey, selection boxes and slumbering relatives adorned with rustling cracker hats sitting lopsidedly on their heads. It’s hard. However, next year, we plan on spending it in the UK – and I can’t wait.
Christmas is not the only way Sweden and Britain do things differently – every now and again, I am struck by how very dissimilar we are. And this week, this has been glaringly apparent.
Firstly, customer service. Yes, it’s a drum I’ve already battered on before, but customer service is one thing Swedes do really badly. For example, we booked a high-speed train as a surprise for my son’s birthday. He’d never been on it, but had always wanted to, and so we decided to go to Göteborg and spend the night. However, 20 minutes into our journey, the staff announced that a train in front had broken down, and we would have to go via bus. ALL the way to Göteborg. As you can imagine – not happy! Our two hour journey turned into over four hours on a bus without a toilet, or any other facilities. So, understandably we complained – they offered a paltry 25% refund. So, I complained some more – they kindly offered 50%. I complained just a wee bit more – silence. Absolute silence. They obviously had enough of my complaining that they just ceased communication.
That just would not happen in the UK. What also wouldn’t happen is me giving up. By nature, I am not a complainer – I worked in customer service myself for way too long to moan in poor people’s ears unless I have to. However, when you book a special trip which you don’t get (we booked a high-speed train, not a clapped out bus), I would expect a full refund. But, for some reason, their silence speaks volumes to me. Their silence absolutely shouts that they are not going to be cajoled, badgered or shouted into submission. We get 50%, and we need to take it or leave it!
The other delight we’ve encountered this week was the clever workmen, installing optic fibre broadband cables, accidentally cutting through our phone lines, leaving us with no internet – ironic, eh? So, H happened to be walking past the workmen, the day after our internet and phone stopped working, and just thought he’d ask if they knew why there was no internet. They jovially informed him that they’d cut through the cables the day before. No apology. Just fact. So, H rang the phone company – again, no apology. Five days later – still no internet or phone. Apparently, we are not due any compensation until we’ve been five working days without them, so bet your bottom dollar that they will miraculously solve the problem on Tuesday!* It’s so irksome. I work from home, and have lost earnings because of this. Again, in the UK, they would be on it like a car bonnet! And even if they weren’t, they would say sorry!
H thinks Brits say sorry too easily. That we say it even when it’s not our fault. And we do – God knows how many times someone has bumped into me, and it is me that has apologised! But you know; I like that. I like that politeness. It is so uniquely British, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. We went to Scandinavian’s largest store last week, and it was unbearable: Swedes pushing and shoving, without a glance around them. No eye contact, just out-and-out trolley war-fare! In the UK, we do this little dance thing, when you are trying to get past someone, they move the same way as you, and when you try to go past in the other direction, they also move the same way. Brits laugh when that happens – there is a brief locking of eyes, a minute sense of connection. In Sweden – zilch, nada, absolutely nothing. I find that hard, really hard. Like there is no bond – everyone is out for themselves. Swedes are often described as cold, and in my experience, they really are. In reality, I know that’s not true – at home with their families they are as warm and open as anyone else. But on the street, among strangers? They are cold.
They also don’t know how to queue. Simply don’t know what to do. All shops have a ticket system, so that when you arrive, you take a ticket and wait for your number to be called. Take that away, and they flounder. Prime example, I went into a public toilet, and there looked like there was a toilet free; however, the door was closed. As a Brit, I waited a few seconds to see of any sign of life before pushing the door (again, we are so polite we don’t want to disturb someone taking a pee). But, just as I was about to try, a women came bursting in, pushed past me, and went into the cubicle. That would never happen in the UK. Whenever you enter a public restroom (or anywhere else that warrants queueing) it is mandatory to ask anyone stood there if they are waiting. Most of the time you know they aren’t; but you have to ask! The Swedes don’t. The way they see it is, if there is no ticket system to guide you, then you just barge right in!
I know that sometimes the Brits are a laughing stock with the rest of the world for this kind of behaviour, but I like it. I like that you can stand at the bus-stop, and everyone knows who got there before them, and silently, without acknowledging it, they let those people on before them. That doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world – but it should.
However, despite a few little niggles, rolling of eyes, and bewildered head shakes, I am still loving my life in Sweden. We are lucky to be here, and I am grateful for that every single day.
*Just call me psychic! That’s exactly what happened!