It is now cold beyond acceptable outside my dorm. But there’s a silver-lining, the outdoor is now painted with a pretty mix of yellow and orange ― it’s Fall season! Back in Hawaii we have one and one weather alone, that is tropical rain. There’s varying degrees of that, from a soft drizzle to a monsoon. Now that I get to experience a different weather, it’s indescribably awesome! I’ve been obsessed with the orange/yellow leaves and to be honest, I feel like I’m shooting a music video whenever I’m walking through trees with falling leaves. My photo album has been filled with nothing but trees. I know this isn’t going to last forever so I have to keep this precious memory stored, before winter comes.
On to the story…
This past Sunday I had a strange encounter that even after a week later I still don’t fully understand what happened. It was like any other Sunday I’ve spent in Uppsala, Sweden: sleeping-in till 9am, eat breakfast, and leave for church. This is a church that I’ve been going to for about a month now so I’ve familiarize myself with the service sequences and the people to a comfortable level. After the service, there’s usually a fika that the church offers downstairs but because I was behind on some of my class assignments, I decided to skip the fika and go home early. As I’m walking down the steps from upstairs (where the service was held) to downstairs (where the exit, and the fika, is), there was an elderly-looking lady walking in front of me. I was in a bit of a rush so I politely walked pass her and gave a little bow as curtesy. A side note though, when I was in school in Thailand, we were drilled on manners and respecting our elders and teachers. One of the things we were disciplined on was to always lower your heads when walking pass an adult or someone older than you. After years of doing this, it became a habit of mine that’s hard to shake off. Anyways, so I walked pass this lady with a bow to show my respect and continue stepping to the bottom floor. But a few moments later I hear a voice coming from behind me. I looked and realize the elder lady was talking to me…in Swedish.
Now when people speak to me in Swedish, usually the first couple phrases are simple enough for me to use context clues and understand what they’re trying to say. For example, if I’m in a coffee shop trying to order a to-go and the cashier asks me “Do you want [Swedish word I don’t understand]?”. Usually they’ll be pointing at a bag or something and I’ll say “Nej” for “no”, assuming that they’re asking if I want a bag. And the transaction usually continues smoothly. However, I couldn’t understand want the elder lady was trying to say. Before giving up all hope I quickly focus on the words that I knew, context clues, her tone of voice, and body language. It’s quite clear she’s upset about something, which threw me in a slight panic. I assumed I must’ve done something wrong, but what was it? I tried listening in on key words and at one point she asked “Var kommer ifrån?”, which I knew means “where from”. I wasn’t sure if she was asking where I’m from because she didn’t use the pronoun you in her question. Before I could answer, she continued to vent her apparent frustration at me but this time, with more visual clues. She started pointing at my pants and says “kläder, kläder!”, which means clothes, and pointed back at her own clothes. I’m assumed that she was trying to point at my pants in comparison to her skirt which was what she’s wearing at the time.
At this point I was pretty lost, was she trying to ask where I got my pants from? But why would she sound mad and frustrated? Luckily, there was already an usher downstairs who was standing to my left and was hearing all of what this Swedish lady was telling me. I looked at him with my best befuddled expression in hopes that he would help explain to me what the lady was saying. But he just smiled nervously like he’s trying to take in this awkward situation as politely and calmly as he can. The elder lady finally walked down to the last step, still sounding upset, turns to the usher and starts talking to him instead. I assumed she’s still talking about the same thing as before and tried listening in again. If I did something wrong, I want to know what it is so I can fix it. I can’t just leave, this is going to bother me for rest of the day! So I continued to listen, at one point the lady says something about an Italian girl and her clothes too. Then, out of nowhere she spoke English and said “Lady, your jacket! Your jacket!” After hearing this my thought was, oh so she can speak English. It was already too late to tell her I didn’t speak Swedish and ask her to repeat what she said to me in English so I just stayed silent.
After a while, she shook the usher’s had and walked pass me to the exit door. The usher quickly spoke to me, again in Swedish. I thought it was pretty clear I didn’t speak Swedish! Everyday at church I’m basically the only one (not really there was one other girl too but she wasn’t there that week) that asks for the headset with live English translation during the service. I thought the headset was a big enough of a clue I didn’t speak Swedish. But he proceed to shake my had as if to say “good job surviving through that.” I don’t know if he actually said that but he profusely shook my hand, gave a big smile, and spoke in a much softer tone of voice than the elder lady. If I had to guess, he probably said something along the lines of “don’t mind it too much. What you’re wearing is ok.”
Let’s try to break this down…
Now I could be wrong, I could’ve interpreted this whole situation from the wrong angle to begin with. But after I got back to my dorm, I sat down and put on my detective hat for one last attempt to solve what just happened.
- The elder lady was upset at my clothes, why? ― I was in a church setting, perhaps she was upset I wasn’t wearing a skirt to church? I’ve been to a couple church in Thailand where they’re strict on ladies wearing skirts/dresses and men wearing pants to church. Maybe she was asking “What country did you come from? Why aren’t you wearing a skirt to church?” Personally, I would wear one if it wasn’t 0℃ outside. Plus, I’m an exchange student, I didn’t have much of a choice on what clothes to bring from my home besides the essentials.
- The usher shook my hand and spoke in a rather apologetic way, why? ― Maybe he was trying to console me after what happened? Assuming that the lady did criticize my clothes, did he try to comfort me by saying my clothes are ok? Or was he just trying to say “don’t mind too much” about what happened?
I think the elder lady was upset at my pants not being a skirt. I’m not too sure. But it’s Sunday again tomorrow so I can either ask the same usher or go rebel-style and wear pants again into the congregation. I shall see through to this issue.