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Sweden is a teenaged girl. She’s moody and broody with a killer taste in music and a black-packed closet. Experience summer in Sweden—when the sun shines all day long—and then winter—when the sun sets at two in the afternoon and temperatures rob you of your nipples and all hope in the future—and try telling me that the nation isn’t violently PMS-ing. No sooner than I set foot on the tarmac of Stockholm Airport, I was reminded of that one time I asked my sister about her day and she simultaneously cried, screamed and shattered a crock pot over my head.
I look back on my own teenaged years with a weird mix of fondness and humiliation. I found people who kind-of understood me and had teachers who inspired me and didn’t murder anyone during drivers-ed. But I also wore girl’s jeans freshmen year and started more than one journal entry with the phrase “so, I was listening to this Sinead O’Connor song when I realized…” All in all, I would rather watch George W. Bush paint puppies than be sixteen again.
But when an article about “Swedish life and culture” was assigned in my journalism class a few weeks ago, the second thing that came to mind—after I was told that spending a day in the city hockey team’s locker room wasn’t totally legal—was the daughter of my Swedish contact-family. Her name is Ami, she’s 17 and her hangnails are cooler than my entire existence. At that point, I had only spent time with her once—but it was long enough for me to walk away from the experience hating everything I’ve ever worn, said or done. But that’s just a usual Saturday afternoon for me.
With the sudden understanding of what it must feel like to ask a girl to prom and have it actually mean something, I worked up the courage to ask Ami if I could follow her around at school for the day. I told her I wanted to find out what it meant to be a Swedish teenager. What I didn’t tell her was that I wanted to find out how to cuff my jeans without looking like a gay farm boy and knew Swedish teens have mastered that art.
Wearing my “coolest” outfit—I left the Birkenstocks at home—I met Ami outside of her school. She’s not very talkative but it adds to her mystique—she speaks in eye rolls and curled upper lips, instead. She was wearing black creepers, her lips were cherry-red and her hair was platinum blond by means of a green dye-job. I was wearing wool tube socks, my lips were chapped and my hair has been growing into a “style” that I’ve titled “I’m never getting laid.”
As a girl with ratted hair and a boy dressed like a Norse rock-god filed into the classroom, Ami explained that her high school—which focuses on humanities and the arts—is often called the “tattoos and piercings” school. I leaned in and told her my college is often called the “WASPs with money to burn” school. She nodded and smiled.
That first class was psychology. The teacher conducted the lesson in Swedish so I spent most of the time marveling at how similar the language sounds to my dog dry-heaving. I was about to set down a newspaper in front of the teacher when we were asked to take an online quiz assessing our probability of having a personality disorder. Ami ranked low for everything. Meanwhile, I was diagnosed with schizoid personality disorder and told to contact a psychiatrist immediately. Back to high school, alright.
We headed to English class next. It was taught by this really severe Polish woman who spent most of the class jabbing misbehaving students in the back with a pencil. They were learning idioms and proverbs that day and nobody had a fucking clue what they were doing.
“Don’t count your chickens before they’re…ducks?”
“Home is where the…cucumber is?”’
“Spilled milk in the hand is worth two in the bush?”
I slipped a disk holding in my cackles. I was about to tell Ami that the correct answer was “all that glitters is not a gift horse” just to hear it aloud when the English professor came over and poked me on the shoulder. She leaned in and whispered with a straight face, “Elin doesn’t believe you’re an American student. She thinks you’re a terrorist.”
Excuse me, come again?
The rest of the day dragged in that distinctively high-school kind of way. I saw students roll their eyes and mock-wearily close their lockers and talk to each other with the same faux-interest I experience whenever I see what’s-her-name-from-tenth-grade-biology. Not too many years separate me from high school but it’s been long enough for me to realize that nothing really changes. My waistline may be thicker and my gray hairs more apparent but it still only takes a Sinead O’Connor album and some popped pimples to get my hormones raging.
But at least I know that whenever I need someone to swap Midol with and brood, I’ll have Sweden.
Brian Burns is a Staff Columnist for The Hub and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow him on Twitter @burnsing_up732 .