The sounds of America

9 June 2013

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.


9 Responses to “The sounds of America”

  1. Mina Says:

    I have come back from holiday and was so surprised to have everyone fawn over my children, and smile instead of scowl when they did something age appropriate. I think it must be the nordic/germanic gene that makes some people be so… different?! Anyway, enjoy your time among your own. :-)

  2. Alyssa Says:

    Have fun and enjoy every minute.

  3. a Says:

    A vacation for your ears and your mind too! Enjoy your stay – and when you’re back in Sweden, you might appreciate some peace and quiet.

  4. Hemborgwife Says:

    I will be in the states in a few short days and I cannot wait for this!

  5. alejna Says:

    I love this bit of perspective.

    (When I came back to the US after a semester in Rio as an undergrad, things were a lot quieter here! I kept thinking I’d get hit by a car because I couldn’t hear them coming.)

    Enjoy your visit!

  6. Sara Says:

    I know just what you mean. Koreans don’t talk to strangers, so I was overwhelmed (in a good way) when I got back to the USA. Have a great trip!

  7. Annika Says:

    I remember thinking, getting off the plane in Chicago for the first time as an exchange student, “wow, people LOOK the same here but they SOUND completely different, like jibberish” :) . Hundreds of voices speaking in a language I could barely understand. And I always reacted to the fact that there are many MORE sounds in America than in my Swedish hometown growing up: heaters, AC, fans, crickets, sirens, cars, TVs running, and people even speak more loudly, or at least more penetratingly. Now, when I go back to Sweden, I notice the deafening silence in my parents’ house and on their street. Though I find that kind of restful on the ears.

  8. TheSwedeLife Says:

    After living in Sweden 4 years, now back in the USA, I sometimes miss the Swedish way of leaving people alone. For the first time in life. I have been called a snob several times recently, I think because i have not shaken that Swedish insularness when out in public. But when I am in humid 100 degree weather on a buggy Florida play ground with two grumpy kids, I would rather skip the small talk and ignore the other moms and their kids who I never plan to see again, okay? But it is sure nice to understnad the people around you all the time, it helps you respond to cues of a crowd, and have easy access to your whole self at all times.

  9. Claire Says:

    I always read that swedish is quite a bit standoffish but is it really as pronounced as what everyone says it is? I feel like most of the time strangers keep to themselves naturally, but is it exceptionally bad in sweden?

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