Swedish For Immigrants ―Week 7
Monday: Started with a massive Swedish cold and headache, tired from lack of sleep because of coughing half the night. But I’m determined not to miss a Swedish language session. I might not be learning much, but never miss a class, and always there at least five minutes early. What was it Woody Allen said, “90% of success is just showing up.”
I’m out the door by 7:30, time enough to make the fifteen minute drive to school. I pull into the parking lot ten minutes early, kill the engine, then can’t get the key out of the ignition. This is impossible. I pull and push and twist and curse, but nothing works. I have, of course, forgotten to bring my cell phone. I consider leaving the key in the car. I could throw my coat over the steering wheel so passersby would not notice, but that would mean leaving the doors unlocked. Leaving the key in the ignition might also keep part of the Volvo’s electronic brain working which might, in the four hours of class time, run down the battery. When the battery dies the car goes brain dead and forgets things, codes that have to be put in when it comes back to life. I gave it up and drive back home.
I explain the problem to my somewhat surprised wife who decides to see for herself. She removes the key easily, no problem as I watch. Amazing.
“Great,” I tell her. There’s no time to think about what’s happened. I jump back into the driver’s seat and wave goodbye. I haven’t missed all that much class time, but once on my way again I start to think, and worry. What if . . . ? After driving a few blocks I pull the car off road and kill the engine to see if I can remove the key. All the tricks that failed to remove it the first time fail me again. I can’t believe this as I start the engine, turn the car around and drive back home . . . again.
My wife seems less surprised to see me this time. “What?” she asks.
“I cannot get the fucking key out!”
“Let me try again,” she says. Once more the key slides smoothly out into her hand. This is insane! Or maybe I am . . . frustrated, pissed off. “I’ll drive you,” she suggests, “come back and pick you up at twelve.”
“Okay.” What can I say? We ride in silence as I ponder whether or not I am losing my mind . . . first stages of dementia?
I make it to class an hour late, not bad considering. But I feel guilty, and embarrassed. Teacher frequently mentions the importance of being on time, a new concept for some of my classmates. “Min bil är dod,” I tell her. (My car is dead.) It’s the best I could do. I want to add, “I may be next,” don’t know the words. She seems okay with my excuse. Head aching, tired and stressed I slide into my seat . . . three hours to go.
This class makes me feel younger sometimes, simply by being part of this youthful group. Turns out most are not as young as I thought. New words for the day are, oldest (åldst), older (äldre), and youngest, (yngst) plus other age words. I try to focus as teacher asks students how old they are. They respond without reservation, even the girls which is a pleasant surprise. I’ll be glad when I’m eighty. Only Swedes and people suffering from emphysema can pronounce the Swedish seven properly– sju. The six is easy – sex. I’m sjuttiosex.
She writes my number on the whiteboard and when finished with statistics asks, in Swedish, “Who is youngest? Who is oldest? Oldest is no problem. I am forty years beyond the yngst. There is laughter. Some guy makes a humorous comment about my age in Swedish. Teacher tells him it is impolite to say that. I have no idea what his remark was, and don’t ask, smile instead. The moment makes me feel uneasy. How do I seem to my classmates? That crazy guy who came here from America. Why? They must ask themselves. Sweet bird of youth has taken flight. I’m feeling older. Head is throbbing. One more hour to go.
End of Part 1 – More Follows