I had no idea how beautiful Sweden was. I expected the countryside would be beautiful, but we were staying in the city. The buildings in Stockholm are GORGEOUS. Buildings that are hundreds of years old are sprinkled amongst the newer, more modern structures, mainly because Sweden escaped the bombing that destroyed many of the older buildings in the rest of Europe. In the old town, Gamla Stan, there are buildings that date back to the 1200s.There are also buildings influenced by everything from 14th century German architecture to art deco.
Stockholm is a collection of fourteen islands, so there is water everywhere, making it even more picturesque. Unfortunately, for the most part, the water is too cold for swimming. I had thought, from my google map, that the places I wanted for visit were really far from each other, but nothing was more than a 15-minute Uber ride or streetcar ride away, even with traffic due to construction.
On the long drive from Liepaja to the Riga airport, we listened to Swedish tutorials, but we really only retained “Thank you,” which is “tak.” People seemed to appreciate it when we said, “tak,” but they may have been smiling at our pronunciation. In spite of Swedish being a Germanic language, I found it very difficult to pronounce, with many of the phonemes further back in the mouth than in English. After a few hours of repeating after the tutorial in the car, my mouth hurt. Speaking Italian made me feel melodramatic. Speaking Swedish made me feel drunk.
We were only in Stockholm for four days and we were in the business center or tourist spots, so I don’t think I got a good grasp on the culture. My two standard questions about a new place are really based on international visitors more than locals. For crossing the street, it seemed like New York City rules. Pedestrians often crossed the street in a big herd, so whichever thing was bigger, the vehicle or the crowd, had right-of-way. A lot of taxis also took Uber fares, and they seemed very impatient with any pedestrians when they were making right turns.
As for whether or not to smile at people, it was all over the place. I tested out smiling, nodding, a single blink, all to various levels of success. Sometimes people smiled back at me. Maybe they were westerners? A single nod seemed to be the safest bet, but you could also just ignore people you passed in the hotel or on the street. People were all weird in the hotel elevators and mostly pretended to be invisible, but they stood with their back to whichever wall they were near, facing the center of the elevator, not all facing the doors like in America. The only chatty strangers were English people.
Everything is super clean, including the sidewalks and streets. There are three kinds of public transportation, and they never take more than 15 minutes to arrive. It’s very quiet, and I immediately discovered from the stares I received, that I am too loud for the city, and I needed to speak in hushed tones. With free health care, education, and long maternity leaves, it’s a paragon of democratic socialism. People in America complain that they must have to pay too many taxes for all of that, but in reality, the average American pays just as many or more taxes. Sweden really has its shit together. Now, if they could only do something about the winters.
The people all seemed content, if not happy, and Bob’s mom observed, “They aren’t constantly afraid of being invaded,” which was kind of more of a commentary on Latvia.