19 Apr 2024
Love Refugee: The Long and the Short of It
Fiction Love Refugee

Love Refugee: The Long and the Short of It

The stereotype of Swedes as perpetually naked and casually chatting about their sex lives round the breakfast table, is, I’m finding… not entirely unfounded.

My flat looks directly into the building across the road, so one of the first things I discovered about Swedes is that they aren’t very into curtains. In the couple of days before my cable TV was sorted out, I very nearly could have entertained myself by simply looking out the window and watching families having dinner, couples watching TV, a woman working at a desk… and a naked guy, looking out the window back at me. Of course I jumped a mile and ducked in horror, but when I finally dared to peek out again, he was still there, now standing at a bookcase, in his brightly lit curtainless apartment, flicking through a book, in his birthday suit. Gracious.

I have never thought of myself as a prude by any stretch of the imagination, but I have to confess that I have never in my life chosen my evening’s reading material without the benefit of at least a dressing gown. Perhaps I’m missing out?

Then, this weekend, I decided to take advantage of the nice weather and the bike that a note on the kitchen corkboard had told me I was welcome to make use of, and cycle out to a nature reserve Liv told me about, called Hellasgården.

It was gorgeous. Naturally I got lost on the way approximately seven or eight times, but it was plenty worth it when I got there. I caught a glimpse of what seemed to be a restaurant/recreation area, but I spent my time hiking a steep trail that led up a hill, then down the other side to a sparkling, idyllic lake. It was reasonably busy – Swedes are evidently the outdoorsy type, I passed other solo hikers, families, couples, groups of friends – but big enough that it didn’t feel crowded, and on such a perfect day was one of those moments you grin to yourself and are tempted to do a little dance of joy at how lucky you are to live such a fab life.

Anyway, when I got to the lake – so clear and gorgeous I felt I could have a drink from it – I decided to have a little paddle… which lasted approximately 7.2 seconds until I was afraid I would lose a toe to hypothermia. So I sat by the water’s edge, closed my eyes and enjoyed the feeling of sunshine on my face and sound of the lake gently lapping.

After a few moments, a middle aged guy and his son who looked to be around late teens sat down near me, and opened up a picnic.

Normally I’m way too much of a Londoner to speak to strangers without there being urgent need, such as my leg falling off or something, but I felt all full of the joys of spring so I smiled and said, ‘lovely day’ or something along those lines.

I keep on being told that Swedes never, but never ever under any circumstances, speak to strangers, and it’s true that I haven’t had anyone start a conversation with me, but I have invariably found that when I speak to them they couldn’t be nicer. The father and son were examples of this. The son was a little quieter, but the father asked me where I was from and how I liked Sweden, and seemed to be genuinely chuffed when I told him I loved it so far.

Then, I think something got lost in translation along the way, because I made some comment about how tall people were, and the father said something about genetics and then said that his son was long because he was long. Well… thank you for sharing.

I cannot begin to imagine my dad saying anything like that about my brother, much less to a stranger, and if somehow he did I am fairly sure my brother would faint dead away on the spot, but this kid just casually smiled and confirmed that, “yes, all the men in our family are long.”

By this point I was terrified I was going to burst into embarrassed giggles, so I stammered that it was nice to meet them and took off. Even if I couldn’t quite handle hearing about it, I’m glad they are so proud of themselves and their… lineage…


Featured Image: David E Lee/Flickr (file)

Love Refugee is YLC’s fiction serial; a romantic comedy about expat and confirmed singleton Ellie, determined to avoid commitment at any cost…


  • skogsstig 9 Jun 2014

    ROFL!!!! Yep, sometimes hysterical things happen when communicating across language barriers. Swedes do refer to the length of body parts (arms, legs, etc.) *and* of the whole human body with one word, “lång” (= long), i.e. using the same expression when describing the distance from foot to head… and reserving a different term, “hög” or “högt (= “height of”) for objects taller than people, such as trees, buildings, mountains.
    … Which reminded me of the time when I worked as a camp counselor in the US and asked a girl scout, “Could you please pass me a rubber?” – and was surprised at the gales of laughter that erupted among the girls. Until one of them asked, “What do you need a condom for at a girl scout camp?”
    Navigating between British English and American English has its challenges, too. 😉

    • Claire 10 Jun 2014

      Oh there definitely are!! In fact, the exact same thing happened to me as a sixth grader in the US! I put my hand up at the beginning of class to ask the teacher if I could borrow a rubber because I’d forgotten mine… to say I never lived it down would be an understatement!!!

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  • Holly Nelson 16 Jun 2014

    Ha ha! So funny. I am almost done with your book, by the way, it is AWESOME!!

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