The beauty of Stockholm is most vivid in the city’s quiet interstices: the shush of an electric blue pendeltåg as it shoots down the railroad track and into a tunnel, the muted hum of designer baby stroller wheels on concrete, the hush of smoke wafting from a cup of coffee caressed in slender, pale fingers. Yes, train horns wail, babies cry, and coffee drinkers chat, but the quietness that permeates the noise in the Swedish capital wraps around you like a blanket against the Nordic air, something warm and sustaining, not stifling.
I experienced this quiet riot first hand, going into a local supermarket for a few grocery items—mjölk for my tea and coffee, and smör with which to cook the eggs and spread on the Wasa multigrain crackers I was also buying. Sweden has several different thicknesses of milk, the least desirable of which, in my opinion, having the consistency of Elmer’s Glue. But I’d learned the names of milk with acceptable levels of viscosity years ago and asked the tall, fashion-forward stockboy where I could find some in the well-stocked but shoebox-sized store. I prefaced my question with a humble, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Swedish,” and he prefaced his response a quiet, reassuring smile completely unexpected from a person under 30. I sensed a combination of pride in his own English proficiency and the surprise of an encounter with a wayward American with a voice vaguely reminiscent of Will Smith’s (so I’ve been told).
Once I scored the right milk, the stockboy peeked around the corner to ask if I’d found everything I needed, his calm, bright solicitousness another example of the quiet beauty that undergirds life in the north. He made me feel welcome in his store, his city, his country, as did the many other newsstand cashiers, coffee baristas, restaurant waiters, postal clerks, and airport bus service reps with whom I interacted in the city. Those quiet spaces between words are when the welcome is warmest.
That is the beauty of Stockholm.
Fly | Stockholm Arlanda Airport (ARN) | nonstops from the USA on Delta, Norwegian, SAS, United
Eat | The Hairy Pig or Stockholms Gastabud (Swedish) | Chili Masala (Indian) | Farang (East Asian)
Stay | First – Nobis Hotel | Biz – Lydmar Hotel | Econ – Ånedin Hostel
See | Gamla Stan, Djurgården, Fotografiska, Historiska Museet, the Stockholm Archipelago
Play | Summer: Trädgården and Patricia for clubbing | Year-round: music and/or dancing at Södra Teatern, Stampen, Fasching, Marie Laveau, Bambaataa Bambaataa at Le Bon Palais, The Can Jam at the Hard Rock Café
Image by Thomas Fabian via Flickr.