Monday, August 08, 2016

First journey to Sweden

Some sixty years ago, in the mid 1950s, my father made his first trip to Sweden, accompanied by two pals from Oxford. One was called Richard, I forget the other's name. They were on their way to visit the beautiful girl from Sundsvall that my father had met the previous year in Eastbourne.

Visiting Sweden was more of an adventure then than it is now. English was not yet so widely or fluently spoken. The minefield of Swedish formal manners was still very much alive.

His friends' faith in my father's grasp of the Swedish language was soon shaken. At a restaurant, he confidently ordered what he believed was three steaks, but what they got instead was three plates of fried herrings ("stekt sill").

At breakfast he went to fetch milk for their cups of tea. He correctly translated "mjölk" on the notice above the jug, but didn't realize that this was filmjölk, a soured milk most unsuitable for adding to tea. (On this occasion, his embarrassment was spared by a friendly waitress who stepped in after spotting what was going on.)

Richard, somewhat unusually for those days, had Swedish relatives. The three students went to visit Richard's cousin (in Linköping, my father thinks). She was a friendly, personable girl, but her husband's taciturnity was off-putting.

But after dinner was over, this silent man  unexpectedly produced a lute and burst into song. It was a summer evening. My father sat spellbound listening to the flow of folk-melodies. At that moment he fell in love with the whole country as well as the girl from Sundsvall.







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