tisdag, oktober 16, 2007

An Encounter

Stockholm Central Station, from my hotel window.

On the first full day in Stockholm, I wandered about a bit then returned to my hotel in mid-afternoon when I realized I had reached the edge of my neighborhood again. I decided it was best to sit and write a bit rather than get lost again and be late back for dinner with my parents.

So I wandered around the corner to the hotel's restaurant. It was a warm day and the avenue was crowded, as was the restaurant's patio, though I managed to get the last of the tables. It was right along the street.

Nearby was a teen center, and here and there young people appeared. They wandered up from a public plaza. The stairwell emptied out just next to the restaurant. A young woman passed in tears and we met eyes. I felt bad for having seen her in that state; or, more to the point, for her having seen me seeing her.


I believe it was William Matthews (and later Rodney Jones) who opened a poem with the line, "Once I was drunk in a foreign city." I wasn't drunk, but I adore those words.

So there I was sipping a Spendrup's and feeling pretty good. I was writing notes about the people passing by: manners, clothes, expressions, etc. I was writing notes about where I'd been that day.

Then it happens: I'm approached.

A young man of, I believe, Indian origin wanders over to me. A friend of his, also from India, waits 10 feet away and observes. They are carrying large bags and I assume they've just come from the Central Station around the corner.

He asks for directions, but I miss something in the broken English.

"The Central Station?" I ask.

"Yes," he says. "The free bus."

I recall having read something about a free bus in a travel guide, but I can't recall where it went to or where it left from. Undoubtedly from one of the main transportation depots. (I recall reading that one takes the bus and then most likely cabs.)

He says something about the tunnelbana (metro).

"The tunnelbana station?" I say.

"The free bus," he says.

"I'm not sure where the free bus leaves from," I say. "I just got here today."

Normally, that's a lie. I've told people in my own neighborhood I'm new simply because I don't recognize where they want to go and "I don't know" seems so incomplete and lazy. This most entertainingly happened when a couple asked me where Bethel--an assisted living home--is. I said I didn't know, I was new to the neighborhood. Ten minutes later, I realized it was around the corner from my building. I'd been standing outside my building when this poor couple had asked me for directions.

Now the second Indian man approaches.

"What is the course of this discussion?" he asks.

I love that line. I wish English that polite and direct occurred to me, but as a native speaker it is, of course, my fate to simplify sounds, word length and manners in conversation.

"I'm not from here," I say. "I came to Stockholm today."

"I understand," the second man says. He nods politely. "Thank you for participating in this discussion."


Blogger Night Editor said...

Nice post. I love sitting in new cities, watching people, taking notes. And the line "What is the course . . . " is a great line.

I know a crew of 13-yr-old St. Paul hockey players heading to Stockholm Wednesday to play some bandy. One teen said he's working on the phrase, "How can I get your phone number?"

6:59 fm  
Blogger cK said...

Perhaps it's best if he fail in Swedish with that line. It's probably best you don't tell him that nearly everyone under 60 in Sweden speaks English. (It's been mandatory in education since the 1950s, I believe.)

Of course, if he gets that number, I hope his family imposes a YOU PAY rule on the call!

I hope they take the kids to the Vasa Museum. Wonderful place. It's a big old ship that sank in 1628, was pulled up from the harbor in 1961, and a museum built around it. They even have preserved skeletons found on board.

7:35 fm  
Blogger Lollie said...

Hey cK, can you tell me where Tulipan is...?

1:41 em  
Blogger cK said...

Tulipan! Guave and cream cheese pastries...cafe con leche...

2:15 em  

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