Why so serious?

Does anyone remember that line from The Joker on Batman: The Dark Knight?  “Why so serious?  Let’s put a smile on that face!”

I’ve lived in Sweden for over three years now and have used public transportation for all that time.  I don’t own a car (I’ll have to blog about that some other time) so I buy a monthly SL-pass to get to work and around town.  Although it’s a pretty simply journey to my office, I like to alternate routes sometimes just to keep it fresh.  It’s nice to ride the bus since you get to look around the streets, and it’s nice to ride the tunnelbana since you can keep dry and warm during the winter months.

But why is everyone so damn quiet?  There is absolutely no chit chat on the bus (with the exception of the occasional person on their phone). Everyone looks like they are on their way to a funeral.  I’m guilty of this too – I think the “Swedish calm” (or whatever you want to call it) has rubbed off on me over the years.  I get on the subway or the bus, I either stand or pick a seat, and I stare off into space.  I don’t smile, I don’t greet anyone, and the only thing I might say is “ursäkta” when I need the person next to me to move so I can get off the bus.

I mentioned this to my friends and colleagues and everyone immediately knows what I am talking about.  Oh, it’s just Sweden, they say.  That’s how we are. We don’t want to bother anyone and we don’t want anyone to bother us.

This is in stark contrast with those who are from other large cities in Europe (Italy, Paris, London) and in the US (New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco) with large public transportation infrastructures.  In those cities, it’s not uncommon to hear people chatting about the latest football match or about how tired they are after a night of hard partying. But here, it’s dead quiet.  You can seriously hear someone’s phone conversation from 3 train cars away because it’s so quiet.

I was at dinner with some friends a few months ago and we agreed that we should get on the train and say good morning to the person next to us, and that hopefully that will catch on and people will “pass it on.”  We never did it – we were too chicken shit.  It would make us stick out, and hey, that’s not a #TrulySwedish trait either!

It doesn’t really bother me anymore.  It’s just different, and I’ve gotten so used to it that when I visit New York and take the train, I have to re-acclimate myself with the fact that people are going to be loud and talkative.  I guess I am starting to turn #TrulySwedish too.

Why so serious, Sweden?

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