When traveling I play a game. It’s dress up. Any sense of nationalism I’ve ever felt is forgotten and my goal is to look and act as a native. If that demands a new haircut; no problem, traditional clothing; so be it, symbols of cultural affiliation like African neck-rings or Islamic head dresses…haven’t tried that yet. There isn’t an absolute way to win, but if people start asking me for directions I’ll feel as though I have.
In Hungary I did ok. In Russia a man asked if I were, “on that Russian celebrity dance program” (he asked in Russian – we clarified I wasn’t in English). German mothers have mistaken me for their own sons. In Italy I wasn’t tan enough. And around the Israeli Jews…I never stood a chance.
I’m now playing the game in Sweden. It helps being tall, but I’m not blond. And after many hours walking Gothenburg on my first day there were two Swede characteristics that stood out to me. The first – footwear, the second – a Swede knit cap.
The knit cap is a simple small beanie that’s worn like a large yamaka. I associate it with maritime industrial fashion – as if inspired by the Billy Elliot’s of the shipyard workers. I’m not exactly one who identifies with Billy…but I like the style.
The prominent footwear is a specific style – the Chelsea Boot. It’s constructed with leather and elastic to be easily slipped on – and synonymously worn with it is your pant legs rolled up near the top. Silly as it is, this had me excited, because I hate shoelaces. Plus, NEVER is something so convenient fashionable.
With a grey knit cap and new Swedish brand Reiker boots the game began. And since we are speaking about fashion, social media is an incredible thing…
The other day I posted a several word status update to my Facebook. It read, “Couchsurfing in Sweden, so far so good”. A friend who lives in Istanbul, Turkey [Kaan] saw this and messaged me his Swedish friend’s names and suggested that I reach out to them.
One of these friends ended up being a Gothenburg local, and by connecting with her [Amanda] I had a fresh couch for my last night. She was extremely friendly, took me out to see how Gothenburg students live, and trusted me with a key to her apartment for my convenience.
Often I fall for believing that social media has deteriorated human interaction, or some other cliché complaint. Experiences like the one I just described though restore my faith – and remind me of how useful services like Facebook can be. From my simple status a friend in Turkey was able to learn I was in Sweden, instantly reach out to Swedes he knew, and find me both a place to stay and new friends to go out with. That is incredible – I only hope I’ll be able to do the same for my friends traveling.
My flight back to London landed an hour ago, and I’m surprised to say that I could have happily spent more time in Gothenburg. The off-putting weather when I first arrived influenced me to believe that I had flown to a cultural desert. When the storms ended though, allowing blue sky and people about, the city revealed a true charm.
Autumn’s colors rattle the reputation of those in Vermont. Boutique cafes themed cottage sheik, each one exuding an inviting atmosphere, overrun the streets. The prominent neighborhoods are busy, but not crowded – both bikers and pedestrians navigate their ways harmoniously. The style is very, very hipster. And even though expensive, each experience has been memorable.
My time in Sweden was short – too short. And I excitedly anticipate my next visit.