“There are rules in Sweden!”
This is a phrase we have begun to say quite often. I believe it was coined in 2009 by Amanda’s stepfather, the Swedish Björn Söderberg, a notable figure in chemistry, wine drinking, good humor, and a savage but gracious ping-pong player. Sweden, perhaps owing to long periods of cold and darkness, devised many rules to guide their social lives and generally make things more complicated to pass the time. Some rules are as simple as couples may not sit next to each other at the dinner table, or one may not drink before the host has raised his or her glass first. Some are much more complicated and require a deep working knowledge of mathematics, phrenology, astrology, and divining to comprehend and execute. No matter what your level of cultural perceptiveness and sensitivity is, you will most likely be judged by someone as being obnoxiously inconsiderate and uninitiated in the myriad rules of Sweden. It is important to note that many Swedes feel many of these rules are truly idiotic and a waste of time. However, even those who rebel against them still occasionally find themselves unconsciously implementing them, while others relish the opportunity to draw from the depths of some convoluted past an obscure rule that others ignored or forgot. Amanda’s grandmother slips into this category, and perhaps not without a smile.
Märit is a well educated, kind, and patient woman who worked as a pharmacist and ran the local chapter of the Red Cross. She has crush on Colin Firth, likes whiskey, dislikes all birds, and has a full working knowledge of Swedish rules. Märit is nearly 85 years old, she knows rules that virtually no one knows or follows. Her world is one where old is constantly battling new, and she holds firmly to the old way of doing things, at least when it comes to rules. I have learned many obscure rules from her, such as one may not begin a letter with “I” even though most of the letters in my Swedish textbook do so (“hmmrmmph, that is NOT correct”).
Also I learned that one must never put their keys on the table, and when I moved my keys to the counter I miraculously imbued it with the same table taboo. Recently I made the mistake of not immediately taking my hat off after coming home to Märit’s apartment. The hat I like to wear is a wool English style cap. It’s very popular right now and very effective at concealing the lack of vigorous hair growth on my head. In the US I wear this hat all the time, and this seems to be a totally acceptable thing. This is not the case with Märit. A few short minutes after I had entered the apartment and she had decided that I had purposely not removed my hat the first questions came.
“Are you cold?”
“No” I replied
“Then why are you wearing a hat?” she asked, the lines between her eyebrows wrinkling in displeasure.
“Oh because I like this hat and I usually wear it all the time” I said.
“In Sweden you must NEVER wear a hat inside” she triumphantly responded.
“Ah ha, but even a nice cap like this?”
“You may NOT wear a hat inside, it is a RULE” said Märit, her shoulders rising.
“But I see many people wearing hats inside, even my Swedish teacher”
“hnnmgghh, these young people…”
“My teacher is not that young, he is probably 40” I said
“Well it is not right!” she said with a quick jerk of her chin sideways.
Not willing to give in to old rules I replied:
“Well I like to wear a cap like this because I am losing my hair, and the cap makes me look much better.”
“You may not wear a hat; you should get one of these things (motioning around her head with her hands)”
“A wig?” I said.
“Yes that’s right, a wig, why don’t you get a wig?” she asked matter-of- factly.
“You want Aaron to wear a wig?” laughed Amanda.
“A wig? I don’t want to wear a wig!” I said also laughing at the ridiculousness of this plan.
“Should I get a long white wig like judges and politicians used to wear?” I jabbed.
“No! You must get a real wig. A wig is good and you can wear a wig inside. I used to have a wig, it had curly brown hair and was very warm,” said Märit authoritatively.
“I prefer to wear my cap.”
“Well it is not right to wear a cap.” She insisted.
I wore my cap for another hour or so and then took it off. With as seasoned a rules-warrior as Märit, one cannot hope to change her mind or convince her otherwise. Perhaps I should start looking for a nice warm wig.