The autumn weather has hit Stockholm with all of its fury. The temperature is hovering between 6c and 10c right now. I have been out of town a lot the last few weeks, but when I came back to Stockholm last night I noticed that everyone had busted out their fall/winter jackets, and the girls were back in their boots. I like the look, so I’m glad it’s still in fashion!
I’ve been working in the UK the last few weeks on a project. My team is comprised of my colleagues from the Stockholm office. We don’t know each other that well so we had an opportunity to bond around meals. One evening, we started discussing about how Swedes behave when they get into a situation where they don’t want to do something but don’t really know how to tell you. It makes for an interesting situation since Swedes really dislike confrontation, so how do they resolve this conundrum?
I was at my local ICA grocery the other day and bought a bunch of stuff. It was pretty late in the evening so there weren’t that many people in the store. I paid for my groceries with my credit card and asked the cashier if she could break a 500 kr bill for me. She looked at me and hesitantly said, “Ok, let me see if it works. We’re not supposed to break bills.” I thanked her for her kindness and waited.
The bill was slightly ripped, but as she tried to feed it into the machine, it got stuck and ripped right in half. She pointed at the bill and told me that the machine wouldn’t take it. I looked at her in disbelief and said, “That bill wasn’t like that when I gave it to you.” She glowered at me and went to find some tape to put the bill together. She came back and fed it into the machine, which took it and spit out 5 x 100 kr bills. She gathered the bills and while handing them over to me, looked at me, shook her head, and said with an exasperated voice, “We’re really not supposed to break bills.”
Okay, so let’s review this situation. She made the point once when she took the 500 kr bill, which made me assume that she was doing me a favor and I appreciated that. But why make the point over and over again? If you really aren’t supposed to do it, then say “No, sorry, I can’t do this. It’s against our rules.” and then I’d thank her anyway and leave. But no, she went to the effort of trying, ripping it, taping it back together, and breaking it into 100 kr bills. And then lecturing me about how she’s not supposed to do it.
My colleagues laughed at this story and came with one better. One of them had asked a secretary to help order an office supply. The secretary apparently wrote an email back and explained that he should order it himself, and went to the effort of documenting a step-by-step guide which included screenshots and other details. Then, at the end of the multi-page instruction list, she concluded with, “But I would be happy to help you place the order if you need my help.”
Do you think my colleague asked her for help? Hells no.
We concluded that Swedes just liked to let you know that you were in the wrong, while at the same time helping you out. It’s an interesting way to avoid conflict. You can’t really get angry at them since you got what you wanted, but at the same time you had to accept their lecture about how many rules and regulations it violated. In the US, they’d either do it for you or say no, but it would never be both at the same exact time. This has got to be #trulyswedish.