Monday, January 7, 2008
First Days in Sweden Part 1, Day 5
Wednesday, I woke up expectantly. Phil would take the bus, leaving Hunter and I to explore in the car. And that we did. He was the perfect angel (you all know this is unusual) just because we were seeing new things, going somewhere and not sick! The Landlady had told me about a grocery store with better prices , called “Toppen,” which means “Great!” I thought it must surely be in a larger town South of here, so I tucked my newly formed list in with the camera, scarves and gloves and we were off.
At the mouth of the driveway, I decided to drive the opposite direction that we’d let the GPS take us. The houses were fine—obviously set up for summer days because of the many outdoor “rooms” with varying outdoor furniture themes, glass atriums, screened rooms, special landscaping and lighting options—very fine. We saw a sign with a head bobbing above waves and interpreted that to mean a swimming area, so we followed the sign. Saw people giving and taking horse riding lessons and found a parking lot full of directions we couldn’t read. I parked and we thought of getting out, but we were surrounded by stucco buildings with orange roofs and I saw a sign reading something like biljettmatiserat (I am spelling this terribly wrong), which I knew to mean the need for tickets, but I wasn’t sure for what—parking? entering? swimming? Ignorant, again, we left toward a more familiar part of the sea.
We parked across from the sea and crossed the big highway (there was a crosswalk). I wanted to get photos of the huge white swans. The wind was tremendous enough to keep us from lingering and the water so choppy that no swans actually floated there, as they usually do. Instead, we saw a flock of large black and gray birds (they may have been large seagulls, but I’m not sure) bobbing on the waves. Somehow that picture did not meet my sense of aesthetic, so we let the wind sweep us back to the car. Hunter and I were practically giddy with our freedom.
We headed south, past our little piece of the sound, past a little marina, past more farming fields, a campground, a nature reserve (a brown, muddy field surrounded by nut and birch trees), until we reached the little town of Falsterbo. This town was so small the Volvo felt like a wide-load on its narrow streets. A few people crossed streets and walked their exotic dogs (there are a lot of exotic dogs, here—like Afgans, tall poodles, and those black tongued shaggy dogs.) Bicycles seemed to have the upper hand. No big grocery store, no Toppen. I kept running into streets-turned-walkways so the only thing I could do was turn around and head back (unless, of course, I had gotten out of the car, which would have let Hunter loose, and I wasn’t prepared for that). We headed back to the highway where we could drive freely in the spaciousness. What I have since discovered is that Falsterbo is a tiny finger jutting into the sea. We’ll be going back, that’s for sure—Phil needs to see it, too!
Back in Hollviken, we simply drove through the main street until we reached the other side. There, standing in all of its glory, was Toppen. The parking lot looked like what you would see at Burger King (in fact, there was a Burger King, there), not like what you might see at a small to medium-sized mall. There was a tiny play area between the Burger King entrance and the mall entrance, so Hunter had to try it out—frightening the mother and grandmother of a two-year old who played happily nearby. Hunter is much more aggressive than the Swedish children we’ve met. They think he is wonderful—some kind of free they are not. If he runs, twirls with his arms out, they try it too--the matrons and mothers’ faces look filled with Swedish consternation.
I urged Hunter to come in with me so we could look around the mall and get groceries. We started our exploration with a Burger King burger and fries.
Both Hunter and I entered the bigger grocery store with a sense of gleeful anticipation. This would be fun. Hunter wanted to play with the automatic entry arms, to grab the hand basket or a rolling hand basket, but I already had a cart.
It was easy enough to grab a loaf of bread, crackers and a bag of coffee, but I needed some staples. There was a baking aisle just inside the entrance and this is where it got interesting. It is not difficult to purchase recognizable things like a piece of fruit or a loaf of bread, but what do you do with an aisle of white bags, all resembling flour or sugar, when you can’t understand what they are? Even spices. They had changed the names of the spices on me so that I was dumbfounded to figure them out. I had to go into slow motion, to read everything just to see if anything looked or sounded familiar.
Hunter, not slowed by Swedish illiteracy, ran circles around me, around the baking island within the aisle, further down the aisles, in front of carts practically causing cart accidents. He was not responding to gentle urgings to come back to me. I found the word Vete and decided that would work well enough for Wheat flour (because the back felt like that kind of heft and not of the actual grains) in a smallish bag and Sokker in another bag just like it. Go down the aisle and grab Hunter. I found baking powder alright, by the shape of the can, but no sign of baking soda.
We moved on to another section. Soaps, cleaners and cleaning items. Recognizable items—even to Hunter. An artistically dressed elderly woman with a green walker turned toward me and asked something in Swedish. I expressed my inability to understand and she switched easily into English, “Can you tell me where the soap is? I’m looking for something for my granddaughter.” At first I was nervous, because this was my first time in the store. I took a deep breath and looked around. From my vantage point, I could see that she stood very near what she was looking for and mentioned she might find it behind her. Sure enough. She was satisfied.
This event gave me a little more courage—until I realized Hunter was nowhere around me. Like a terrible mother, I gathered what I needed from that section before I went in search of him again. He was running the aisles like a maze. I found him near the spices. So I told him to stay with me or I’d never be able to take him with me to the store again. He sulked beside me, kicking the wheels on the cart.
I began the nerve wracking process of trying to find the spices I needed. For some reason, it had never occurred to me that I might not understand the names of spices. Even their colors were illusive. How, exactly, do you tell the difference between cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom if the lids are twice sealed? How do you tell the difference between the green spices? One thing was for sure, these people liked their pepper because there were dozens of papperkorewhatever on the shelves. I found Basilika, Kardemmuma and citronpeppar. Hunter whined and tried to sneak a foot in another direction, but I kept him near me. It occurred to me that if I could just find the whole form of cinnamon and cloves, I would be closer to finding what I needed. Sure enough, I found the word Kanel for cinnamon and nejlikor for cloves and was on my way to finding other necessary spices by the same method. But by then I was literally sweating with the sense of how long this was taking with a three-year old.
I had to grab an employee to help me find baking soda. It was in a tiny zip-lock bag with a picture of cooked fish and some white stuff sprinkled on it. Bikarbonat. Of course, that makes sense. But in a row of tiny ziplocks, it doesn’t jump out at a housewife like it would a chemist, that’s for sure.
We moved onto the meat section. Hunter gladly skipped beside me, ready for more adventure. I found two packages of meat before he announced, “I have to go poo.” My cart was full of hard-earned treasure and Hunter urged, “really bad!” I asked the college aged woman at the deli counter if there was a restroom in the store. She said the only one was at Burger King.
Before I could panic about what to do with my cart, the young woman said, “I’ll keep your cart behind the counter with me.”
Just getting out of the store for a moment was insanely liberating. I dreaded going back, but wanted to accomplish what I had wandered the countryside for. In the restroom I realized one reason I was sweating so much was that I still had my scarf, coats and hat on. Hunter went reluctantly and I, resolutely, back into the store, with an armful of winter gear and retrieved our cart. The young woman offered Hunter a piece of sausage, saying, “These are usually for if you buy something from our counter, but I wanted to say, ‘Welcome to Sweden.’”
Hunter was forever impressed.
I will not go into what it was like to see thousands of neat little milk-like cartons and wonder which really was milk or why some read “yoghurt,” or how hard it was for me to understand the difference between the words for orange and apple (aplesiner and apple). We did finally get out of the store, but not before I was completely out of my mind with language frustration not to mention contemplating murder.
Believe it or not, it was a relief to go home, put groceries away and put dinner in the oven, knowing that it would be finished just about the time Phil got home.
I told Phil about my difficulty understanding the road signs and the ingredients at the grocery store. About Hunter staring at cartoons in Swedish and how we were surrounded with reminders that we seemingly didn’t belong here. He said, “Wow, you guys really are getting a different experience than I am. At work, everyone speaks English and the place is completely quiet, otherwise, all day.” Quiet! How nice.
During the clean-up after dinner, I was nodding off over the sink. It had been an overstimulating day.