I arrived at the train station in Orebro, Sweden to be greeted by Millis. I know her from my first year of University when I lived in the student hotel on Rosemount road, Bournemouth. Across the street lived a house packed full of foreign students of which some became lifelong friends. The last time I saw Millis was four years ago when she had just got a dog with her boyfriend Robert. At that time the dog was just a puppy, but as it would now be a fully grown Rhodesian ridgeback cross I thought I should try and remember its name.
“What is your dog’s name?..Stveera?” I guessed
“No Tyra.” Replied Millis
“Tyra?.” I was confused as this didn’t sound so familiar.
“Oh, my dog? Oh, my dog’s name is Sveea, but my daughter is Tyra, and my son is Malte.”
I was bemused, “You have a son now?”
“Yes! You didn’t know?” It had been quite a long time.
I came to the land of the fair and beautiful a few days ago from Finland to Stockholm and had stayed with my very good friend David and his girlfriend Charlotte. I’d sailed across the Baltic on the ship Gabriella that is owned by the aptly named Viking line. For me it resembled more the titanic, not for its great bulk but for the ominous sound it made as the steal and iron of the boat cut through the sea ice. I was staying in a cabin that was below the waterline and all night I had the lullaby of scraping and crunching. The scene in the film Titanic occurred to me where all the Irish people are trapped in the lower cabins as the water pours in from above. I even thought about what cloths I would wear if the ship started to sink. My giant ice boots were so warm but would probably be too heavy to swim in, and my great down jacket would be useless in the wet. I would have to make sure I would get in a lifeboat on the 9th floor. “I am so young, I do not want to die today!” The safest place ended up being the bar on the 8th floor which was a stroke of luck.
Millis opened the car and we drove through the snowy city to her house sliding about the road in a controlled manner. She was relieved that she remembered how to speak English as it has been so long since she last saw me. I had forgotten all my Swedish which was once quite good; I even had trouble remembering how to say ‘Thankyou’ to a lady when I was buying a ticket: “Takk.”
“Tyra is so nervous to meet you.” Tyra is Millis and Roberts daughter who is four years old. She has never met a foreigner before, and didn’t understand the concept of other languages and that some people speak with different words and come from different lands. Robert was trying to explain to her before I arrived:
In Swedish, he said to her “When Jamie wants orange juice he says ‘Orange’, not ‘Appelsin’, that is what they call it in England where he is from.”
“Orange juice” she repeats. Robert thinks he has got through. “Ja….” Very good Robert. ”…..men han meaner appelsin.” Yes. But he means appelsin. Oh dear.
“No, he means orange juice.”
“Ja……, men han meaner appelsin.” She was not going to budge on this.
Millis and I came through the door to the greetings of Robert and the aroma of baked Salmon ready to serve. I was hungry as always. Pottering around was their son Malte who gave me a quick look over and was then unphased, he is two years old and not troubled by foreigners just yet. Tyra on the other hand who looks much like her mother with blond hair and big blue eyes was totally aghast. Immediately she had no idea what I was saying and was not receptive at all to any of my greetings. She was to stay stood firmly behind Daddy and nothing was going to convince her otherwise.
After throwing down the bags we went straight to the dinner table for the salmon, and a great salmon it must have once been for it was one of the largest fillets I have seen. Everyone became seated at the table, me sat next to Robert, then Malte as ready to eat as me, Millis, and sat next to Millis starring right at me with unblinking eyes was Tyra, the guardian of the household and not at all fooled by this imposter. It is always a funny thing with young children as when they see something they do not understand they will just stare intently at it, and no matter what I did she was not going to give an inch until she had figured out what this strange creature was in her home. And what’s more, she could no longer understand what her Mamma and Dadda were saying anymore as the noises that now came out of their mouths were also incomprehensible. ‘What was going on? Was this the way things were going to be from now on? And when the stupid creature speaks, he makes no sense, I can understand Malte much more than him and he is only two. Is this what all foreigners are like?’ She continued to stare at me, processing many thoughts but not speaking a word.
After some time eating, Tyra began to relax a little and talk at least to her parents, but if I so much as moved or spoke she would stare at me again. ‘What is this guy’s problem? He doesn’t seem too bad, but I don’t trust him. This is making me tired, I need to go to sleep,’ which is what she did, I was so impressed that she was able to maintain her cold as ice demure until the very end of consciousness. In an effort I tried to remember some Swedish and quite quickly learned some basic words from the children, but it was not enough just yet.
Millis, Robert and I chatted into the night and then they showed me my room. After a deep sleep I woke to the sound of children laughing down stairs which is always a joy. This continued until I walked down the steps and then Tyra saw me and abruptly stopped. They were watching cartoons on the TV, something to do with a wolf and a pigs theatre; I sat down to watch with them. Kids TV is extremely clever as the humour is so basic and universal that even a child and a foreigner can be on the same page. It was only now that Tyra finally decided that even if I was a little stupid I wasn’t so bad and at least knew how to laugh in the right places. We laughed together and then she started to point and make jokes about the wolf. It wasn’t before long that Tyra was running around the house in hysterics, her mother whilst drying her hair had been possessed by the evil blow dryer and it was her quest to escape it. After breakfast Millis and I had to depart to go and see Johanna in the south of Sweden. I think Tyra’s parting thoughts of me were that foreigners although a little stupid were OK on a very basic level. I felt that I had made a good first contact for future international relations and was honoured to be Tyra’s first foreigner.
Unfortunately in true Jamie Wardley style, Millis and I missed our train. We were not late, just busy talking too much to realise that it had arrived and then gone. I hope nobody tells Tyra as it will just confirm her preconceptions and confirm her fears that her mummy may have been infected with foreigness.