I’m a white girl with fair skin living in Sweden, let’s just say I ‘pass’ pretty well here. Throw in the fact that I have a rather odd accent when speaking Swedish (people have asked if I am from Gotland several times) and most immigrants assume I am Swedish – and many Swedes have said it took them awhile to realize I am foreign. Fine. OK.
But then I had Little Swede – and I went from speaking a large percentage of Swedish all day, to speaking English out in public ALL the time. After 10 years of passing, I stick out again. And it is weird. And people’s reactions are weird.
There are those who are freaked out – like the librarian who went around telling everyone in Swedish that there was a play in the other room if they wanted their children to attend. The one who avoided me at all costs until everyone else had left the room. (We knew about the play and were not planning to attend). Now my dilemma – do I say something off-hand to her in Swedish to relax her? Finally she came up to me, after walking back and forth to our table 3 times before she said in English that there was a play going on.
There are the frustrated Iranians – Seriously, I don’t know if it is only me, but many Iranian men want to stop and talk about politics when they hear me speaking English. This is not a bad thing, I love talking politics. And I am always interested in hearing their stories. It is a strange thing to be asked ‘Are you American?’ after 11 years of living in Sweden, but when I answer yes, I am always surprised by the stories they tell. Most are Mujahidin disappointed in the lack of American support.
Scaring the other foreigners – I don’t know what it is about speaking English, but I speak it louder. And when I am speaking it with an American other than my son, I speak it much louder. And sometimes, when I am totally relaxed and letting my Swedish social guard down? I speak it like I would at midnight at a diner, where we have stopped after having a few drinks, over a cup of coffee and some curly fries. That is pretty loud. This behavior sometimes gets me some odd looks from other foreigners. Or they markedly lower their voices and thus, I am reminded ‘I am STICKING OUT’ again.
It is strange to ‘become American’ again – and as much as I try to ‘keep my voice down’ it is who I am.