We spent last weekend visiting our friends in Sollentuna, outside of Stockholm. We decided to head in to Gamla Stan (the old city) on Saturday morning. We could have walked to the train station but it was raining so we decided to wait for the bus. The problem was that we hadn’t added 3-day passes for our SJ (transit) cards. While waiting for the bus I determined that I would explain to the driver that we were headed to the station where we would buy the 3-day pass. Could we please take the bus even without value on our cards?
My Swedish ability is sufficient to handle such a conversation. I have been trying to use Swedish when I am out in the world in situations like that because, based on my past experience in China and Russia, routine interactions with bus-drivers, waitstaff, etc, are great for practicing. As the bus arrived, however, I decided that I should talk to the bus driver in English. Here’s why:
An American tourist has higher social standing than an immigrant who speaks only basic and heavily-accented Swedish. The fact of the matter is, the bus driver would be much more likely to accomodate my request if it was delivered in English (by my white, Western, secular-looking self) than in my poor Swedish.
There are so many things to be said about the social status of immigrants and about the hierarchy in which people like me are often seen as a different type of immigrant and how, sometimes even when I am not seen that way, I assert my anglophone, white, American privilege to be seen as special and unproblematic (even if demanding and annoying). I will save all of that for future posts.
One other thing that struck me about Saturday’s choice to be a tourist instead of an immigrant is the fact that the social landscape here definitely makes it more difficult and acts as a disincentive for me to acquire the native language. Given that heavily accented Swedish would in many ways be more detrimental than speaking no Swedish at all, it feels that I need to practice in private/secret until my Swedish is really excellent. But how can I learn Swedish without the opportunity to try it out?