Sure, America and Americans look different from what I’m accustomed to in Sweden, but what keeps striking me since we got here two days ago is what I hear. Trains whistling in the night. Thunderstorms. Cars idling in Starbucks drive-thrus. Southern accents with their “ma’ams” “sweethearts”. Store clerks offering assistance. The tinkling of ice cubes as the waiter refills my half-empty drink of his own accord. These are things I never hear in Sweden.
At first I thought my hearing had suddenly improved; I could understand everybody at the airport so well! But no, that’s just what it’s like when everybody around you is speaking your native tongue; there’s no veil of doubt.
And then I wondered: were my children being extra super duper cute? Was I too tired to see what everyone in the long passport control line was seeing? Because every third person had a chuckle, a compliment, a joke, a high five, a benevolent smile for the kids. They never get any attention from strangers in Sweden, except rarely from the occasional elderly woman.
In America, where strangers talk to one another and especially to children, it felt so special, like we were beloved celebrities. (I wonder how it feels for the kids.) And I had to coach myself to be friendly back. I had to shrug off my years of training in Swedish standoffishness and put on my Americanness again.