Most buildings in Sweden are filled with pine and glass. This gives the buildings a bright, clean, and modern aesthetic. The natural world thrives beyond the glass and lies dormant in the wooden furniture and window frames. This was true for the Stockholm airport. I was surrounded by pine and glass. I was encouraged by the bright sunlight streaming through the window and reflecting off of the pine beams. Many of my anxieties vanished as I entered Sweden.
Swedes respect and trust one another. The customs line was only mandatory if you had something to declare. I declared my testosterone. I was shaking I was so nervous. The officer looked at my letters, had his coworker verify my letters, and waved me through. That simple. Months of worrying, and it was over in a few minutes. Sweden is a modern society with modern ideals: respect for trans people and unisex toilets in most buildings.
Sweden is also a very colorful country. The airport was full of brightly colored storefronts filled with rainbow colored candy wrappers and fruit sodas. The most peculiar sight was a glowing mashed potato machine with cheese and chives options in a 7-Eleven in the airport. I was so overwhelmed by the bright lights glistening off of the glass and laminated floors, the onslaught of ä and ö, and the sight of Astrid Lindgren on the 20 kronor bill to comprehend the implications of a mashed potato machine. Instead, I watched with amazement as airport security personnel wearing yellow reflective vests zoom past me on their yellow Razor scooters. The mesmerizing colors continued outside the airport with lime green cars, orange and purple currency, yellow and salmon houses flashing color amid the endless green of the deciduous forests, fluorescent yellow leggings, pastel perennials and rose gardens in every public square, and dazzling magenta sunsets. I was overwhelmed by all the colors but calmed by the simple, clean aesthetic of pine and glass.
Furthermore, Sweden is a very clean country, especially Växjö where I am studying. Recycling carries national pride, and Mulle, the super hero, teaches people to not litter. From the energy sources it uses to the food it produces, Sweden maintains a clean country. It was evident to me from the moment I stepped off of the airplane. I will talk more about Swedish green pride in a later blog.
Through the streak-free windows, the colors of the city invade the indoor areas. This transparency is also reflective of the Swedish people. Swedes can seem blunt in their honesty. One of my classmates was annoyed with his school-provided buddy because she told him exactly what she thought he should do with his life even though they had only met each other a few minutes earlier. Like many of the buildings, there are few opaque walls when speaking with Swedes. You can see through the glass to their opinions.
In the same sense, Swedes are perceived as cold and standoffish. There is little comfort and coziness in a building when you are exposed by transparent glass and you are sitting on hard pine furniture. I received eye rolls, stares, and annoyed sighs throughout my journey from Stockholm to Växjö when I couldn’t read my train ticket, when I got lost in Stockholm Central Station, when I struggled to climb the stairs with my over-sized bags, and when I ate too loudly on the train. I was acutely aware that I stood out as a foreigner. I did not know the system, and I was inadvertently annoying people. No one wanted to answer my questions.
When I asked my roommate’s buddy about the claim that Swedes are standoffish, he said Swedes are shy and honest. Those are two traits to which I relate and respect. Making friends in Sweden will be difficult, but it is not impossible. As I join social groups, I will present myself openly and honestly. I will open the window and let my colors shine throug