It’s cold and flu season in Sweden, so it’s not uncommon to be a little sick right now. After a month or so of not being able to shake this kind of strange feeling, though, I decided to go ahead and book an appointment with the doctor.
I took the morning off work and took the bus to the office. Once I had slipped on those omnipresent disposable shoe sleeves, I shuffled in and sat myself down next to two obviously pregnant women who looked at me, looked at my stomach, looked at me, then went back to sipping their glucose mixtures.
A little while later, the doctor came out to the waiting room and called my name: Katreeen Reuterswärd? (Never Katherine, always Katreen. It doesn’t bother me because I love it when my first name sounds like latrine.)
Together we went into the examination room and she did all the usual things: took my blood pressure, calculated my BMI, listened to me describe what symptoms had led me to book the appointment. Finally, she sat back in her chair and just looked at me with some pity in her eyes.
I got nervous.
She sighed and gave me the news.
Katreen, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but there’s nothing I can do. You’ve got a fairly common complaint among foreigners that have been here in Sweden for awhile.
I looked at her, not sure what I was hearing or whether it was bad news. She continued.
Oh, Katreen. There’s no doubt about it. You show all the typical signs of “Swedification,” which is, I regret to tell you, an irreversible process. And as long as you live here, there’s no way to counteract the effects of Swedification.
Swedification is not fatal, but your way of life and normal patterns of behavior will undergo some significant changes. And in the end, you will be totally or nearly totally Swedified.
I felt the world spin around me.
Suddenly, it all made sense: my recent attachment to my day planner… the mix of confusion and rage when the train is late… even my diet. I can’t remember the last time I had a meal without some dairy included in it.
Even more shocking, just last week, I suggested to friends that we hang out again soon—not in a few days, but “in a couple of weeks.” Who am I, and what have I become?!?!?!
As it turns out, my condition is a fairly common one.
If you spend even just 6 months to a year in Sweden, you run a high risk of being Swedified as well. The risk of contracting Swedification only increases the more time you spend with Swedish people, engaged in Swedish activities (including but not limited to [a] standing in orderly lines [b] shopping at Ikea [c] enjoying government-subsidized healthcare).
Prevention is the Best Remedy
If you detect the disease early enough, you may be able to stunt the Swedification progress through a number of prescribed behaviors.
One of the most reliable ways to prevent Swedification is to speak as loudly and attract as much attention to yourself as possible while in public areas. Another way to prevent Swedification is to cut in a line (that is, try to skip ahead of people already standing in a line), although this may have dangerous side effects, including but not limited to serious injury or death.
The behavioral changes I’ve experienced in the last year and a half of living in Sweden have been gradual and nearly unnoticeable on an individual basis. Taken as a whole, however, they paint a frightening picture of an American woman transformed, bit by bit, into a Swe-merican conglomerate.
Oh my God, I’m a CYBORG!!!!!
Here are some of the changes I’ve observed in myself. If you find yourself nodding your head in agreement with a significant number of them, you may want to consider some of the preventative behaviors listed in the section above.
- I’m never “fashionably late” to social events anymore (at least, not usually), and I plan my commute so that I’m on time even if my train is delayed.
- I schedule social events several weeks in advance.
- I only wear one kind of jeans anymore—skinny jeans.
- I make weird vocal sounds in the midst of normal conversations: a non-committal “mmmmm,” a questioning “ååååh?,” and a surprised “OY-doh!”
- I am filled with rage at disorderly conduct getting on and off the train, but I will never say something about it.
- Yesterday, it was 45°F and partially cloudy, and I described it as “a fantastic spring day.”
- Dairy composes 30% of my weekly diet… and it’s all the full fat kind.
- The volume of my voice is way lower than before. In fact, when I was in the US last May, a friend of mine and I were talking on the bus. He kept leaning in and giving me funny looks, so I thought he wanted our conversation to be even more discreet. Finally, he gave up, and said, “Kate! You’re speaking at a European voice level, and I can’t hear you! SPEAK UP!”
- I booked an appointment with the doctor for preventative health care. Because I can.
- I make stereotypical Swenglish mistakes without thinking just because I’ve heard them so often (this is the worst one, especially since I’m an English teacher). The mistakes I’ve made include “take a drink”, “what is that for food?” and “what a weather!”
- It feels weird not to take off my shoes when I enter someone’s house.
- I get super annoyed when the train is late, even when it’s not late by much.
- Swedish people have started to look normal to me instead of mind-bogglingly beautiful. Similarly, I no longer feel the urge to whip out a camera every time I see a man pushing a stroller.
- I have given up buying shoes that don’t work on cobblestones and skirts that don’t work with bikes.
- When I cross the street, I’m more concerned with checking over my shoulder to see if any bikers are approaching than watching out for cars. (The bikes are way more likely to mow you down than the cars are.)
There’s hope for me, though. Even though the process is supposed to be irreversible, I still maintain some behaviors that have defied Swedification.
I still laugh way louder than any Swedish person will (at least in public), and I love starting conversations with people wherever and whenever I am. I don’t really care about Melodifestivalen or Allsång, and I still HATE salt licorice.
Perhaps most tellingly, I walked into the library yesterday and wanted to talk to someone at the help desk. After 5 minutes or so of being carefully ignored, I realized my mistake: I hadn’t taken a number. I walked two steps over to the machine, took a number, and Beep! “How can I help you?” says the librarian with a smile.
I will never get used to taking a stupid number for a non-existent line.