Laundry times, Östermalm’s old ladies, and the fear of confrontation

Hello again, and welcome to another edition of #TrulySwedish.

Before I get started with my next post, I thought that I would say a little something about how I get the ideas of what to post.  It has nothing to do with me thinking that Swedish traditions are weird – these are actually things that I have found to be quite enjoyable.  I’ve been very open to these experiences, and I usually learn something about myself in the process.  That’s what makes it so interesting. The blog is also a good reminder to myself – maybe in 10 years I’ll look back at this blog and think, “Wow, I used to think that was weird?”

This edition is about three things that I was able to experience in more or less rapid succession: the importance (and significance) of laundry times, Östermalm’s old ladies, and a Swede’s fear of confrontation.  This one is more of a rant from an American – one that is not afraid to speak and be heard.

After living in rental properties and moving around 4 times in less than 12 months, I decided it was time to splurge and buy an apartment.  I bought an apartment in Östermalm in April 2008 when the prices were at their highest point: I paid 55,000 SEK per square meter.  I moved into the apartment in the June of 2008.

Summer came and went, and I decided it was time to throw a housewarming party in September.  I invited many colleagues and friends and was excited about having a great party.  And it was awesome.  I had about 60-65 people in the apartment through the evening, which is no easy feat when your apartment is only 5o square meters (about 538 square feet).  We had a fantastic time and it went down in the books as one of the best parties of 2008.

Well, two weeks later, I got a note from the bostadsrättförening (think of it as the homeowner’s association).  I was not that great at reading Swedish at that time, so with the help of my friend Google Translate, I managed to get the gist of the note.  The note said that I had left a mess by the building’s front door that resembled “shit” which had to be scrubbed over and over again before it came off. (I think someone must have spilled a sticky drink like a Coca Cola there — probably not even one of my guests — and people stepped all over it, so it was a dark dirty patch by the front door.)  Then the note went on to say that naturally, people are able to host parties in their apartments, “but not parties like yours.”  SCORE!  My party was sooooo off the charts that I’m not allowed to have them.  I took that as a backhanded compliment.  Long story short, I bought flowers and apologized to the board member who wrote the letter.  She accepted the apology and said that she wasn’t even there that weekend, but that she was simply responding to a neighbor’s complaint.  She was just doing her job, she said.

A few months later I met the lady that complained.  She explained that she lived one floor up and the noise in the hallway was so loud that she could hear everything through her door.  Apparently, she came down 3 times to complain, but she never wanted to talk to me, the owner of the apartment.  She just complained to the people in the hallway and told us to shut up.  Had I realized that there was some concerns over noise issues I would have lowered the music and told people to quiet down.  But she didn’t even approach me, she simply complained to the bostadsrättförening and let them do the dirty work for her.

This got me thinking.  I had heard about the old ladies in Östermalm, but I had never seen the ones with blue hair in my building so I just assumed they did not exist.  But this lady was as bitter as cough syrup.  She was so grouchy when she retold the story about my housewarming party that she started wrinkling her nose.  Further, when I made an effort to speak Swedish to her, she actually said, “Oh, stop trying to speak Swedish.  Just stick with English.”  What a bitch.

This same lady also caused so many problems at the annual bostadsrättförening meeting that the chairman actually threatened to step down.  He was such a good chairman that we naturally did not want him to quit.  He didn’t that year, but he did resign the next year, citing that he had dealt with enough bullshit through the years.  Hm, I wonder what bullshit he was referring to?

I finally connected one and one and realized that this lady was the stereotypical Östermalm grouchy old lady that people talked about.  These are the bitter old ladies that have nothing to look forward to in their daily lives so all they want to do is look for things to report and complain about.  How sad is that? Just the other day, I was at a birthday party and one of the guys there lived on Nybrogatan right above SystemBolaget.  I thought that it was pretty awesome to have a SystemBolaget right below your apartment, but he looked at me with sad eyes and shook his head.

“No, it is actually really annoying.  There are several old ladies in my apartment who have nothing better to do than to complain about things that they don’t like.”

“Oh come on,” I said, “how bad could it be?”

“I put my bike on my balcony since it’s an expensive bike and I don’t want someone to steal it.  The old lady above me saw the bike and left a note in my door saying that every time she looks at my balcony, she sees the bike.  She thinks it is an ugly thing for her to look at and she would rather I put my bike in the bike room.”

“Another lady complained that I put my newspaper recycling in a paper bag before putting it in the recycling container.  I don’t know how she managed to figure out it was mine, but she must have tore open the recycling package, looked for a newspaper with my name on it, and complained.”

Wow, right?

There is another older lady in my building who is soooo much more fun and kind.  She actually rang the doorbell at my birthday party this year (I freaked out, thinking that we were being too loud again) but she only wanted me to know that she thought it was great that I was celebrating my birthday and told me to continue.  Sweetheart.

That leads me to my next topic: Sweden’s fear of confrontation.  This lady was all worked up about the party that she came down 3 times, but she never wanted to talk to the one person who could have made things better for her – ME.  My guess is she didn’t want to deal with the fact that she would have to see me again in the building.  (True story: She still lives here but I don’t even see her anymore)  She was so afraid of confronting me that she complained to my friends and to the bostadsrättförening, but never to me.  She let the förening deal with me, even though it was weeks after the party.  And you only have a housewarming party once, anyway.

I also found out that Sweden’s fear of confrontation goes further than dealing with noisy neighbors.  It’s also used to deal with people who violate the laundry times or leave a mess in the laundry room.  Nevermind that the people who left the note know exactly who used the laundry rooms before them, but instead of confronting them directly, they take the time to type up a note on the computer, print it, and take it downstairs to post on the laundry room door.  How is that going to help the situation? It’s probably going to be another 1-2 weeks before that same person uses the laundry room again, and by then, the note probably would be gone.  Wouldn’t it have been more effective to deal with the situation right there and then?

If someone is bothering you, TELL THEM!  They won’t realize that something is wrong unless you tell them.  If the music is too loud at my party, TELL ME and I can turn it down.  Why complain about it two weeks later the party is over and will never happen again (in the case of the housewarming party?)  How will that help you?

Do you have any experiences with Östermalm’s old ladies that you want to share?  I would love to hear what you have to say.  I invite you to leave a comment or to send in a “guest post.”

/rant off.

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