SWEDE AMONG THE REDNECKS
I am writing this against the backdrop of cotton fields, peanut silos, and full knowledge that even in the city that I live in I am surrounded by rednecks. Of course rednecks are stereotypes just as they are real people. And is it not so also with Swedes?
What is it that makes me Swedish? I have wondered and continue to contemplate where I live in the south.
What is a redneck for that matter? A guy wearing a baseball cap, driving a pickup truck, and hanging a Confederate flag in front of his house or trailer? Perhaps.
What is a Swede? A sill-eating Social Democrat commuting to work by pedaling in toffler on a bicycle? Perhaps.
In my case, I can see the black passport with crowns that I had to turn in when I became a U.S. citizen in my mid-twenties. I also know that I have a stack of Pelle Svanslös books, horizontal, on my bookshelf. It would be too much to say that the Svanslös is symbolic of my having severed my ties with Sweden or the ability to find out what it means to be Swedish. But it is not easy to reach a conclusion about what it means to be Swedish, even what it means to me.
I wish there were some truly scientific, psychological, sociological—keep on adding the qualifying adjectives—test, a kind of shower I could step into and come out of with clean and clear answers, and be given a card with a seal of approval—the way items of food are labeled by those who are chosen to be suppliers to the King of Sweden. There would be a little booklet attached to this card and it would detail what makes me Swedish or a Swede.
In absence of such, I will try not to let my imagination wander too far as I explore the subject. I sense, too, a reluctance to provide a clear and definitive answer. Does this quality make me Swedish? I have not been "back" to Sweden in so many years, I do not know what a jury of Swedes-in-Sweden would tell me.
I know I am a fairly nice guy and I don't believe in using violence to solve things. That does not mean I can't get angry—I can on occasion—but I think my violent tendencies, if I have to conjure some, come more in the form of stubbornness. To explain, redneck Americans would be more apt to stand on their lawn with a gun and tell someone to get off their land than I would, and they would have more of a John Wayne attitude of getting this kind of work done and letting it be done with, over with, fairly quickly. As a Swede, I would find the whole matter to be festering, lingering with a need to discuss a solution. I cannot imagine a Swedish John Wayne. If there was one, he would be a comedic hit in Sweden.
Recently I brought to work a ceramic Viking and a glass rune stone. I felt a little uneasy about putting them on display. There is something disagreeable and suspicious, at least to me, about people who loudly proclaim their heritage, or focus solely or build their entire existence around one mascot, emblem or team. For example, I know plenty of redneck Americans whose entire lives revolve around the college or professional football team that will have a game once a week. Family, work, even the southern worship of God that is a such a biggie, takes a distant place compared to the Atlanta Falcons, UGA and their bull dog who has an air-conditioned dog house, or the baseball team of the Atlanta Braves. This is not to say that as a Swede I am immune to appreciating sports or being a fan. I remember watching Ulf Sterner play ice hockey in his "fading" years and my father was quite passionate about ice hockey. But I don't remember masses of Swedes (is there such a thing?) living only for ice hockey. So perhaps my reluctance to proclaim something loudly is Swedish.
I like bland foods, or rather I do not relish what is so popular among redneck southerners, food so spicy as to make you sweat and your stomach to suffer no matter how much over-the-counter medicine is taken after inhaling nachos with hot peppers, or what passes for Mexican food here in the south. In contrast, does my love for fiskbullar covered by white sauce make me Swedish?
If I add up some of the external factors or objects I have thus far assembled in my quest to find out what internally makes me Swedish, I have an odd assortment of Pelle Svanslös books, a stubbornness not to be confused with violence, a healthy like of sports, and an aversion to a diet that causes intestinal and other discomfort. And I have a few items I now display at work that are cultural touchstones. Not that it is a competition (but of course it is!), the redneck American does not fare as favorably with a Confederate flag flying history as if it were the present in front of his trailer, gut-wrenching dietary habits, and a John Wayne "get off my lawn or I'll have to shoot you" attitude, followed by, "Hurry up, I am going to miss my football game."
So as I sit eating my open-faced cheese sandwiches with a glass of milk, home for lunch from work, the silence that allows thinking hovering around the kitchen table, I draw the conclusion that I am in my definition of what it means to be Swedish for the long haul, like a Viking traveling and being kind to his family and having an appreciation for beauty, a culture hidden as it is displayed, displayed as it is hidden, a seeker, someone who does not wear his flag on his sleeve.
I have blond hair and I am tall. That does not make me Swedish, yet it does.
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