There is a unique adrenaline rush associated with trusting someone. It’s different from playing sports, a survival scenario, or something sexual. Instead it feels like gambling. You put forth trust as your bet, believing the other person will hold up their end of the deal – and doing so makes you vulnerable.
Trust is an emotion that feels quantifiable. Everyone has a trust gauge on those they associate with. Subconsciously, and consciously, they allow each interaction to bother that gauge. But what about before you know someone? Would you trust a stranger? If so, what would you be comfortable trusting them with?
It was 2:30am on the day of travel when I committed to taking a short trip to Sweden. At 2:31am I felt that it might be worthwhile figuring out accommodations. Gothenburg is Sweden’s second largest city – and knowing that fact led me to assume that hostels would be everywhere.
I was wrong. There were only a few (with open rooms), none of which had shared dorms. The most affordable room I found was £30 per night – and even though that is reasonable, I didn’t want to pay it. For a hostel in the middle of the week during off-season, it just seemed like too much.
By 3:00am I had logged onto Couchsurfing.org, followed the Gothenburg community, and posted the following snippet:
My name’s Sebastian Scholl. I’m a blogger and student who is currently studying in London…but just moments ago spontaneously bought a cheap ticket to Gothenburg for this evening and need a place to stay! You can check out my writing and photography at www.mynamessebastian.com – I swear I’m a good person. I’ll be in Sweden until Friday, but even one night would be amazing! Please let me know as soon as possible: my email is email@example.com
No more than ten minutes later…I was asleep.
The next morning – after struggling through an exam on international relations – I was able to check my inbox – empty. It was just noon and my flight was to leave at 7:00pm. While packing there were a few moments of weakness. My mouse cursor would casually find its way over a reserve button for that over priced hostel. I didn’t let myself click though. I had trust – I’m not sure in what…but I had it.
Twenty minutes before an arbitrary time that I set as the housing deadline my phone vibrated. It was an unfamiliar address from a man named Alex, and read, “[I’m] quite busy this week so cannot stay awake till late, but [we] can of course have a beer in the city.” I promptly responded, and soon after he accepted my couch request.
A short flight and few hours later I was shaking hands with Alex. A man I had met on the Internet just hours earlier, and who was now offering to house me for a few nights. He kindly said follow me – off we were.
I felt equally excited as I did nervous. Almost like a travel entrepreneur – instead of signing a typical contract with the hostel, I made my own deal. It was a five-minute trip from the central station to his flat. In that time I learned that he was a Northern Cypriot who came to Sweden as an engineer working at Volvo. But more importantly, I learned that Alex hosted travelers so he could help them explore as much as he has.
He had only one request – that I leave the apartment in the morning when he did. This was both reasonable, and understandable. So bright and early I woke up on his plush living room couch, showered, grabbed my camera, and wished him a good day at work as we split ways.
The weather behaved in a scheduled like manner – ten-minutes of rain and twenty-minutes of hope. Such conditions encouraged me to hop from café to café, store to store, protecting my camera from each inevitable down pour. By stepping in a shallow puddle while seeking shelter, I learned that my favorite boots for the past three years had been corrupted by small holes in their soles. I was a walking squeegee, but told myself I could deal with it.
I could have dealt with it, but after glimpsing at a young Swedish girl that worked in a nearby shoe store I decided it was time to do some…shoe shopping. Her name was Rebecca, and along with new boots she gave me a Gothenburg “to-do” list and her number. I’ll have to save it for my next visit to Sweden though, because she wasn’t free until Friday.
Sweden’s reputation for beautiful women is everything but wrong. Tall, blond, and blue eyed is a standard – from bus drivers to business professionals. However, what has particularly caught me by surprise is how people greet one another, saying “Hey!” Yes, it is the same as in English. The Swedes say it with a high-pitched voice inflection though, and that inflection suggests that you are old friends and they cannot believe the coincidence of having run into you.
In many interactions I almost instinctually responded, “oh my god, how are you!?” Their demeanor was so friendly, warm, and inviting I did feel as though we were old friends. Unlike anywhere I’ve ever traveled, I’ve never found such beautiful women to be so approachable. For a kid my age, that is reason enough to travel here.
During the rain’s periodic intermissions, I did make my way away around the city of Gothenburg. Keeping my eyes keen for any intriguing scenes worth capturing. It is autumn. And the colors are brilliant. However, the city itself wasn’t particularly picturesque (this may easily be attributable to the weather).
What Gothenburg is though is well behaved and the people seem content. It’s well kept, organized, and easily navigable. Alex had explained to me the ways in which Sweden is a socialist country – and, honestly, it is the first country I’ve visited that gives that system a good name. Sweden has a very manageable population of less than eleven million people and is home to an impressive number of global companies. There are very, very few homeless and the “breaking news” is often innocent.
Not that my opinion matters, but in no way do I see a similar system appropriate for the US – we are not as obedient, not as comfortable being simply content.
Never did I imagine myself saying this, but I wish I were back in a less expensive city…like London. Amazingly, shopping and eating in Sweden (with the exception of H&M and fast food) does make London seem like affordable living. During my self-guided tour, never was a coffee sold for less than 35 SEK (almost $6 USD) or a T-shirt less than 300 SEK ($50). For an industrial city like Gothenburg this came as quite a shock, because it was clearly locals who supported these businesses – I found very few attractions tailored to tourism.
I still have another night, and will save the rest for another post.