Monday, 14 November 2011

A Poor Sampling

I spent a quiet Monday in the coffee shop. I read newsletters from 2003 and took notes, and when I finally looked up, I found a little girl in a high chair holding out a piece of bread to me between her chubby fingers. She had figured out the elementaries of human reaction--the smile and wave. Such simple gestures speak volumes. She had blonde hair that curled delightfully around her face and large blue eyes, and she waved and giggled and clucked at me in her own primitive form of Xhosa. She spent the next half hour waving at anyone who ventured within the confines of the shop. One woman smiled and waved back, remarking in jest, "That's not a very Swedish thing to do."

It is an unfortunately accurate statement. Swedes do not venture out of their comfort zone with relish. They do not speak to people sitting next to them in buses; they do not greet store clerks; they do not have prolonged conversations with strangers. I am not an exemplary Swede, as anyone who knows me will laugh at the amount of times I have broken these unwritten rules. I once spoke to a store clerk when he was ringing up my purchases, and he looked to see if there was anyone behind him.
Today I stood at the computer terminal in the city library to look up Tintin, and a man in a Gryffindor scarf steps up next to me and says,

"You look like a person who's about to finish her business." At my non-plussed look, he continued, "I'll just wait here until you're finished with the terminal."
"I'm looking up Tintin," said I. "I want to read them. Not that I haven't read them before--I have--but I saw the movie a few days ago, and it reminded me that I haven't read them in a while."
"I haven't seen it yet."
"You should."
"My friends are really big fans of Tintin, and they were appalled the movie had combined The Crab with the Golden Claws with Red Rackham's Treasure."
"I thought it was really good. Some changes had to be made, but I thought it captured the adventurous spirit of the books. But then again, I'm not a die hard fan."

 Am enjoying this.

He was rather unSwedish, striking up a conversation like that, and before we parted ways, I briefly wondered if he too had been raised in a country far from his own and taught by teachers from a selection of countries. I wandered off into the children's section and asked for help; a kind librarian led me in the right direction, and soon the library, as all libraries do, brought out the worst impulses of greed in me. I could not leave with only Tintin in tow, and I long lingered over the children's section, deciding between The Secret Garden and The Prisoner of Azkaban. I chose Racso and the Rats of Nimh, which I haven't read since the fifth grade, when Ms. Losey read it out loud to us after we filed in from lunch break, hot and sticky from running around under the noonday sun. Paul Harvey and I, lonely, consummate readers of exaggerated proportions, kept our books low in our laps and read ahead.

Still good for a second reading.

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