Wednesday, October 13, 2010

the Stare

An elaboration, for Patrick:

When you walk around Sweden dressed like I do, with pants too baggy at the ends, and severely unfashionable but really comfy shoes, and a worn-out haircut free of product, you tend to see a lot of the Stare. Sweden is the staringest country I've ever been to. And I've been to Italy. But the Italian stare is a whole different creature. The Italian stare, aka the male gaze, contains a message, and that message is "Take your pants off." But the Swedish stare is not a means of communication, let alone coercion. I don't think people even realize they're doing it. They certainly don't seem to realize that I can see them staring (from the other side of a cafe, for instance, or even like two tables over). It's as if they're looking at me absent-mindedly from the other side of a television screen; I'm an object of curiosity that has briefly stumbled across the placid scene of their day. It's not hostile. And it's not just me; I see them stare the same way at each other. Skinny jeans and all. Anyone they don't know personally, and particularly anyone who looks odd or is behaving unusually, is good Stare material.

If for example I'm walking along a seaside footpath and someone comes along from the other direction, staring of course, and I smile at them like a big American, their expression will snap from blankness into sheer panic. This is fun to see and I end up smiling at people a lot more than I normally would, just to get the reaction. About one in ten will smile back, and sometimes then we say "hej" to each other. And thus is civilization maintained.


  1. So you take advantage of the facts that you are used to smiling in the streets and that there is some "original"/universal/international notion that acknowledging strangers in the street is the "right" thing to do?

    I would say they are affected by this notion (but hope people shouldn't "go there") and that they panic because they don't know how to return the action (except giving a forced smile, something they rather not want to do). They want to be "even" with people, they don't want to be seen as assholes (unless they really have balls):

  2. Aw, c' know I'm only teasing, right? I'm half Swedish's all in fun. :)

  3. Aight, I was just analyzing it in a "relativistic" manner, and wanted to tell that most swedes probably prefer getting a wedgie than feeling that they have to "pay back" a smile.

  4. Patrick6:24 AM

    Becky, thanks for the elaboration!