My first encounter with a swede
Picture this: you loathe flying, and yet you have to fly for 14 agonizing hours. You’re hungry. You’re tired. You haven’t slept in 48 hours or so. You’re overwhelmed with emotions because only a few hours ago you had to say goodbye to your loved ones, knowing that you won’t see them again for a year. You’re excited, sure, but also riddled with doubts and misgivings.
That was how I felt when my flight landed in Arlanda airport in Stockholm, two months ago. I stepped off the plane, and all I could think of was finding something to eat and a place to sleep. A friend of mine who’ve been living in Sweden for a couple of years promised to meet me at baggage claim, and to give me a ride to my university’s accommodation office, where I can pick up the keys to my soon-to-be home.
And yes, you guessed it right! When I finally made it to baggage claim, my friend was nowhere to be found. I waited, and waited. I cursed, and vowed to scold him fervently the next time I see him. Eventually I gave up, and decided to try to get to the accommodation office all by myself.
Perhaps finding your way in a foreign city isn’t such a big deal to you. You’re a “savvy traveler”. You know your way around airports; you know how to find what you’re looking for using only your map and your intuition. I lack that skill, though. I’m the kind of guy who keeps lugging his bag through airports going back and forth looking for passports control, even though it’s right there; I always feel puzzled when I’m in a foreign city and I try to locate a place using one of those gigantic tourist maps. I hope by now you understand my predicament.
So I asked around, and people told me that my best option is to take the “Arlanda Express” shuttle train from the airport to Stockholm’s central station, and from there “reaching your destination could not be easier!”, or so they said. I took their advice, and 20 minutes later I was in Stockholm’s central station.
And boy was it big! I don’t travel much, so my perception of what’s really big and what’s not might be a little distorted, but to me that establishment was grand, and a little bit confusing. It took me a good twenty five minutes to find an exit door (I bet this came as no surprise to you), and for the first time, I took a deep breath of Stockholm’s air.
The weather was damp, and there was a bit of drizzle in the air. “Lovely” – you say? Not at all! It was blistering cold (perhaps I felt so because I come from an exceptionally hot country, where 40+ degrees temperature is the norm, and 50 degrees temperature is hardly newsworthy). Now, on top of everything else, I was freezing. “I need to get a taxi, NOW”, I thought to myself.
There was a small problem, though. I tried to hail a taxi, but it wouldn’t stop! “Weird!” I though. And in the next ten minutes or so, five Taxi drivers ignored me waving up and down at them, an international gesture – I thought – for one to signal their interest in a Taxi service.
I was dismayed. I pulled the map from my backpack again, and decided – desperate times call for desperate measures and all – to walk from my current location to the university. To make matters worse, a whiff of cold air came in and threw the map away. I had to chase my map down the busy street, dragging my two heavy travel bags with me. “I’m the embodiment of misery”, I thought.
A middle-aged lady and her teenage daughter were standing by when I came rushing after my map, and I almost hit them. “I’m sorry” I murmured in a barely audible voice, without stopping. Eventually, I gave up this futile pursuit, and stood there gasping for breath, panting. The nice lady came to me, and with a bright smile said “Hello”.
“Hello”, I replied, feeling a little awkward.
“You’re new here, I assume”, said the lady.
“What gave me away?” I said, with a weary smile.
The lady laughed, and said “perhaps there’s something I can help you with”
Fascinated by her warm-heartedness, I said “Thanks, I just want to get a Taxi, but they just won’t stop. I don’t know why”
And then she explained the whole thing to me. Apparently you “order” taxi services through a telephone call, an SMS, or a mobile application. She was kind enough to call the taxi agency, gave them the location, and told me to stay put.
The mere thought of some caring for me in this far-away land warmed my heart. She must’ve noticed that I’ve had a bad day, so she lingered, and instead of going back to her daughter she asked me “Would you mind if we stay and chat with you a little until your taxi arrives?”
“Not at all”, I said with a grin.
And we talked, and talked. She was such an amazing lady with a mesmerizing life story. A few minutes of talking to her made me feel like all my troubles and worries have been washed away somehow. I enjoyed talking to her so much that I actually felt kind of disappointed when the taxi finally showed up, forty minutes later.
“Welcome to Sweden” she said, with a radiant smile.
As the taxi drove off, I thought “Man, Swedes are amazing”
And they have yet to disappoint.