Swedes don’t have laundry mats.
Before CAP, I took a little time to backpack around northern Europe, seeing Holland and Denmark. Beautiful places at a beautiful time of year, but the result was showing up for CAP with a rucksack full of dirty shirts, socks, and pants that are likely to stand up and run away on their own.
No Matter! I would simply stop by the local laundry mat in Malmo, pay whatever paltry sum demanded, and Presto! I’m so fresh and so clean to begin my studies in Sweden.
“Pardon?” The face of the concierge beamed and she spoke,
“Oh, we have no Laundry mats in Sweden. Perhaps you could make a friend here, and do it at their house?”
I should take time to mention that the tone of voice she used to give advice was the same tone an American would use to convey sarcasm to a 10 year old. I noticed this enough in Sweden to form one the world’s most harmless national stereotypes.
Assuming that she was making a joke, which is hard to do in a foreign language, I bellowed with exaggerated laughter to show my appreciation. Her smile widened, as by now she thought I was a complete lunatic.
“Perhaps you could wash them in the sink?”There was that voice gain, which seemed so playfully teasing.
I retreated, fearing that I had somehow offended the hotel staff. What else could have caused such brazen mockery? I scurried over to Dr. Helm, explaining my problem and my failure to communicate my laundry needs.
“No, they understood you just fine. Is there something wrong with your sink?”
There is a moral in here, somewhere. While working in Sweden, I was amazed at how often I thought someone was making a joke by their tone of voice. Conversely, I have missed the queue for several jokes told by the Swedes because their delivery was too subtle. I don’t think this was entirely my fault, as the people of Sweden have a reputation for not being very funny. This is patently false, but I can see where the impression comes from.
One notable exception is Gothenburg, which is known for being a haven of goofballs who tell really corny jokes. Have you ever heard of a city stereotyped as a place for really bad jokes, puns, and anecdotes? You have now.