A Strange Land Where I Don’t Have A Funny Name.
I just happen to occupy the extreme left hand side of a version of my family tree based on a patrilineal system of surnames. This arbitrary phenomenon doesn’t qualify me for anything of course (although apparently there are a handful of bizarre countries left where a version of this phenomenon might qualify me to be head of state). But it means that I’ve been carrying a Swedish surname despite the fact that my remote patrilineal ancestors left Sweden in the eighteenth-century.
Of course, what with my being a human and all, I have an ancestral connection to any number of countries across the world. But I wondered, as the plane started to circle and descend, if some version of the hereditary principle would actually kick in, if I would start to feel I “belonged” here in any primal sense.
If (so far) I feel that I “know” Sweden, then it’s because the place seems to be full of versions of positive stereotypes with which we’re all familiar. There really do seem to be lakes and forests and umlauts for as far the eye can see. I like lakes and forests and umlauts. I always knew there’d be lakes and forests and umlauts, so there’s a pleasant confirmation of the Sweden that long existed in my mind’s eye. In the hotel room, the boy gets to sleep in a bunkbed which folds out from a drawer in the wall. Some assembly required. Another stereotype, cheerfully acknowledged.
And then there’s the fact that the people are so friendly. You smile at them and they smile back. When we told the hotel receptionist that we were traveling up to Borlänge tomorrow (i.e. today) she was a bit taken aback. She looked like we should be expecting direwolves and white walkers. This was innate compassion at work I think. But then she was practical and smily again. But I don’t think it’s my surname that is getting me any special treatment. The help and courtesy I’ve received merely reflects a prevalent Swedish view of how humans should treat other humans.
There are nearly ten million people in Sweden, which makes it a statistical certainty that some of them are horrible. But we’ve yet to meet those. As we take our train trip north today, we will meet more Swedes and experience more help and courtesy.
And the best thing is, in future years, my supposed bond with Sweden will longer depend on an absurdly thin genetic inheritance and will depend entirely upon the fact that I (at least) once actually went there.