måndag, maj 30, 2005

Notes från Sverige

A older French gentleman told me once, "The reason you hesitate to speak a foreign language is because you are a perfectionist (a/k/a uptight prig of a girl) and unless you believe your spoken words are absolutely correct, you freeze. If you freeze, my dear, you cannot learn." I do not know if I agree with his theory, but I can tell you that it has been almost impossible for me to step off the edge and speak to Swedes in Swedish. My face burns, my brain synapses misfire, and my blood pressure peaks.

On my trip there last week, I got a hair.

"Jag har en liten mjulkglas och en mellen mjulkglas," I asked the ice cream vendor; a small softy for my youngest, a medium one for me. I had stalled in the line, waiting until it was only we two and another couple left standing there. Only then had I made my simple request.

"XODRO eller SODIFL," she said in reply. "Something" or "something else" she wanted to know. She stared at me. I stared at her, hoping that somehow I could put it into context. Yet she did not point to a descriptive picture and the words she had said had long past escaped my cauliflower ears.

"Ohh, I don't know," I finally admitted, mostly frustrated that such a simple transaction would lay me low.

"Cone or cup?"

Jeepers. I mean, "cup" is "kopp." How could I not hear that? Well, actually, I know why. Because when I heard her first say "strut" for "cone" and I did not know what that meant, my brain did what it does best: it turns word analysis to tie dye.

But that is not the entire picture. Imagine what must have gone through her mind as I stood there clueless as to what she wanted to know. It is Sweden. I am blond. My daughter is blond. I spoke in Swedish. I was not wearing a loud track suit, ugly walking shoes and fanny pack, thrusting dollars into her hands insisting, "You take Amurcan money, dontcha?" When she asked me a simple question and my eyes searched hers as if I were begging for mercy on my soul, she must have wondered, "What? For crying out loud. What I am doing with my life serving these nitwits?" Certainly she did not think I did not understand her. So what was she thinking? After she left to fill my order, I began pounding my head agains the counter, uttering, "I am such a loser, such a loser." My youngest just stared.

The French referendum on the ratification of a new EU constitution headlined the news during the week, and yesterday's thumbs down result is analysed in the BBC article here. My husband put it more susinctly: The Polish Plumber Fear. The working class imagines a France where a plumber from Poland will come over and fix water leaks in Parisian flats at 1/6 the hourly rate.

Not much has really changed from nursery school. It is hard to share.

To come: Bad TV and Prayer.
But first, I must unpack.

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