It happened again today. And, actually, it has happened once too often.
When I approached my office building this morning, there was a small group of people speaking Swedish standing outside in the cold. They couldn’t get into the building. As I have a pass card, I knew I could let them in. So, I smiled, and I said ‘I can let you in to the warmth’. There was no reaction, apart from a little wry smile. Swiping my card, I let them into the building and turned to look at them. Not one of them acknowledged what I’d done and said ‘Thank you.‘
This might seem like a small thing, but it happens all the time to me. I hold a door open for somebody. I get no ‘thank you’. I let somebody go on the bus before me. Nothing. Soembody bumps into me. And I apologise!
Why is this the case? Why do many Stockholmers not acknowledge or thank each other. It isn’t that they don’t see each other. Is it that they don’t care?
An interesting fact is that the vast majority of people in Stockholm come from somewhere else in Sweden. They have migrated from smaller towns and villages to seek work, love and excitement in the capital. My experience of being in towns outside Stockholm is that people are friendly, polite and acknowledging of each other. So what happens to these people when they move to the city?
I have a theory. I think that many Stockholmers who have migrated into the city have a perception of what a city should be. They seem to think a city should be fast-paced, tough, individualistic and unfriendly. That people should push themselves forward, and through, other people. That connecting with a stranger in a public place with eye contact, a small remark or a thank you does not belong in a capital city. I think that they are playing pseudo cosmopolitans.
In my opinion, this attitude is shamefully misguided. Citizens of much larger cities, such as New York or London, still find time to small talk, for politeness and to say sorry or thank you to each other. Try bumping into somebody in New York and not apologise. The price of impoliteness is sometimes harsh.
And the solution is easy. Say ‘thank you’ to the next person who does something for you today.
Really, it’s not that difficult.