Immigrant Moments

Sometimes life here in Sweden feels so ordinary. Things tend to be sufficiently familiar, comfortable, manageable, orderly and sensible that I can forget that I am not at home. Sometimes, however, I have immigrant moments in which my out-of-context-ness becomes plainly obvious.

1. Sometimes people ask you questions, usually for directions, and you need to first explain that you don’t speak Swedish and then tell them that you don’t have the slightest idea where whatever or whomever they are looking for is.

2. Sometimes you accidentally take your daughter into the men’s changing room at the dance studio because the word used for guys, Killar, has not yet been covered by Rosetta Stone, there was no other door with a sign that said omklädningsrum, which you were able to surmise on the basis on rum (room) and klädning (clothes) probably meant dressing room.

3. Sometimes in talking casually with a work colleague you learn what contribution folks are expecting you to make to a project and that you were present when those expectations were first stated yet you completely missed it.

I think the indecision and uncertainty of intercultural understanding are really the crux of those moments – more so than the language barrier. There are so many moments when you don’t quite know what something means and you don’t quite understand how things are supposed to/expected to/ going to unfold. You have to put so much more effort into making sense of things (straight up George Herbert Mead, if you ask me) and frequently enough you didn’t quite ferret out the true definition of the situation and you find yourself walking into the guys’ dressing room.

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