A few years ago, if someone told me that I would learn Swedish from the workers at pizzeria/Mediterranean restaurant/grocery store/post office, I’d be very confused. Yet, after studying abroad, I can say there is no better way to learn the language!
The main reason I went to Sweden was to learn as much Swedish as I could in one semester. Finding interesting language classes was easy, but the famed Swedish politeness made learning outside of the classroom challenging. Classes were useful but didn’t offer nearly enough speaking practice. When I tried to speak Swedish elsewhere, most Swedes quickly switched to English.My living arrangements only made matters worse. While I loved the lush forests surrounding my apartment in Lilla Sunnersta, the remote location also meant most socializing with other students was done through long bike rides into town. Isolated by my residence, I grew more demoralized as time passed. Their kindness was appreciated but was undermining the entire purpose of my reason to go abroad.
Demoralization turned into compliance, and I settled into a comfortable routine of going to class while spending much of my free time in my apartment. This was occasionally broken up by trips to the grocery store and the brief exchanges of Hej’s and Tack’s with the Swedish cashiers.I could have lived like this until the end of the semester, but at one point I had difficulty getting a book for one of my classes.
The book in question: a lumbering Swedish dictionary. The problem: the book was too large to be delivered to my mail box. For all intents and purposes, this book quickly became a symbolic reminder of my failure to speak more Swedish. Packages that were too large for my apartments mailboxes were sent to another pickup point that I was told also doubled as a pizzeria. When I got there, I didn’t expect much. It was just a tiny building in the middle of a deserted street. I could not have been more wrong in my judgment.
The store was a “catch-all” shop if there ever was one. In addition to delivering pizza and holding packages, the place also served Mediterranean food and sold groceries. To top it all off, the woman who worked the counter spoke no English! After a very awkward conversation with a mixture of accented Swedish and vigorous gesturing I eventually managed to sign all the required papers needed to get my book. . Stressful as it was, this was the first time I had a conversation almost entirely in Swedish. In the following weeks I found myself coming back there for food and language practice almost everyday. In the end, most of the casual Swedish I managed to pick up came with pizza, shawarma, and falafel.