Thursday, August 30, 2012

Culture on the Rooftops


I had my first real interaction with Swedish students the last few days. Obviously it has been the political science department that is apparently bringing the party. Yesterday we spotted them when we were barbequing near the ekonomikum. All of the students were wearing costumes ranging from the 1960s Soviet uniforms to Robin Hood. Oh and they were practicing some sort of choreographed dance routine. The German and Californian delegation obviously wanted to go and check out the festivities and integrate into the native Swedish culture so that is what we did. We hopped up on to the outskirts of tribal dance circle in attempt to integrate. We were slightly weary that  the dancers were all part of some sort of Swedish cult and that we would soon be drinking Kool Aid to take us to our alien fathers. We all agreed it would be best not to drink anything the costume wearing swedes brought us.  They were teaching everyone the dance moves to a Swedish dance song. I didn’t understand a word of the instructions about how to dance but as I learned in Korea dancing is something that you don’t need language to explain.  This was the second time in as many months that I was in a foreign country trying to learn their synchronized dance moves I should probably keep this trend up and hit the Serbian Turbofolk clubs in November.

It turns out that the students were dressed that way and dancing because it was part of their university orientation called nollning. When we left the dance circle we figured it would be the last we would see of the costume wearing dancing Swedes… but we were wrong. The next night when we were coming back from an International Orientation Barbeque we heard music and saw lights coming from Flogsta building nine. Spinning LED lights and loud music universally attracts students like cats to canned tuna. When we got to the roof we were greeted again by the costume wearing Swedes dancing on the roof. As we are standing around observing the odd visual spectacle in front of us a couple of costumed Swedes a group of the participants came up and promptly said in perfect English “Oh you are exchange students right?” I first surprised that they could recognize us as foreigners so quickly. Then I realized it was because we were not dressed up as refuges from World War II or whatever the ecliptic theme of the night was.

It was very interesting to converse with the Swedes. My experiences with the Swedish people had at that point been mostly in passing.  Whenever I would ask a question I would get a very detailed answer. The interactions were very polite but very businesslike.  For some reason on the rooftop of the student dormitory the Swedish students were much friendlier. Some may point to the cartons of wine that they were all drinking like water. But I prefer to believe their friendliness came from excitement of international education.  

Pretty much everyone asked me why I chose Sweden. I think they were kind of shocked when I said I wanted to go to a place where nobody made small talk and it snowed during winter.  They were very modest about their country, almost to the point where it seemed they did not like or that they were not proud of Sweden. The few that I talked to also would apologize for talking too much or anytime they would stumble over a word or two.  I think this was a display of The Law of Jante, which is the social idea that discourages being boastful, self-absorbed or cocky. This has a result of people being scared to have any modest pride about achievements. It is the complete opposite of the American cultural philosophy which encourages uniqueness and to stand out of the crowd. But then this has the extreme effect of the cocky arrogant American.

One of the students on the roof actually studied at Santa Barbra City College. Obviously she had a great time. She did say that she found the classes to be easy and most of the students not interested in learning but much more interested in how drunk or high they were the night before. That she found that there is much less of an interest in things outside of intoxication and socializing. I tried to explain how Santa Barbra City College is not a very representative sample of all American university students but she does have a point. When I am here socializing with the International Students I can have a forty minute long discussion on the Eurozone crisis and discuss the American political system in great detail. If I tried that at a party in Sonoma I would get blank stares and then everyone would go back to chugging Jack Daniels. But then again my experiences here have been mostly with International Students who have an interest in going abroad and learning about the world so it would be a silly generalization to say that all European university students are much more interested in the world compared to American students.

Ignoring any comparisons about cultural differences my last week and a half here has been a blur of meeting new people and doing new things. I have met people from all over the world and it is incredibly fun just asking questions about their culture and where they are from.  Most of the international students who study at Uppsala actually chose Sweden so they could practice their English. This means that all of the international students speak English and makes communication a breeze. I sometimes forget I am not with native speakers and get blank stares when I say things like “I am hella down”. I also have started to speak slightly differently when I talk to non-natives. I don’t dumb down what I am saying but rather try to talk in a more formal way, clearer and less “jumpy”. It is good for me because I tend to speak quickly, slur my words jump around to multiple tangents of a conversation.  Being the native speaker also has its perks, it is fun to try and figure out a word when someone has forgotten a word. It is almost like a game of charades.

I will post more pictures of Uppsala and the different places I have been going soon. It has been a blur of fun and it is hard to find the time to write updates.

  

5 comments:

  1. Sounds like you are having just an absolute terrible time. Do you ever get any attitude when people find out you're from 'Merica?

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    1. Yeah this place is horrible I wish I was back in Moraga for sure. At least there I could go to Safeway all the time! I think I am going to make a post about the top things people say when they find I out I am from the land of freedom.

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  2. Sounds pretty awesome dude. That's really interesting about interacting with non-native english speakers. You need to teach them awesome Amurican phrases like "biddiez", "heat" and "social sense".

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    1. People from SoCal were getting mad because I was trying to teach people to say "hella".

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    2. Dude. Hella is hella lame!

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