Speaking Quietly

I'm in Växjö, Sweden on a teaching exchange program and had been given an nice desk in a warm room with a broadband internet connection in order to work. Since it was dark, cold, and wet outside, I just kept slogging on, correcting exercises and answering emails. But eventually my stomach started growling so loud that I decided that I should perhaps get something to eat, so I left to go downtown and eat. Well, let's say "middle of town", downtown is a bit too pretentious for this little place.

There had been this nice-looking Sushi place the last time I was here, but when I got there, they were closed for renovations. The next place was closing early on account of lack of customers. The next one was already closed. There was a fancy-schmancy place with candles on the small, round tables, just the place for a romantic evening with a significant other but not exactly what I fancied for tonight. The next one had free tables, and appetizers started at 155 SEK, 15$. No, not tonight.

I was almost at the church, meaning this was the end of town, so I ended up at the English pub, The Bishop's Arms. The place is always crowded, and tonight was no exception. I walked through, anyway, but all the seats at the tables and the bar were taken - except for a nice table where there were only two women seated.

The women were holding hands and talking intensively - I suppose the guys were assuming they were lesbians and that this was catching, so they were staying away. I could see at a glance that they were having a heart-to-heart talk and assumed that it was the calmer, already-divorced women listening to the soon-to-be-divorced woman doing most of the talking. (Yup. I eavesdropped. He's a bastard.)

I asked in my best Swedish if there was a place free. The calmer woman nodded, then asked "Kan du prata tyst?", can you speak quietly? I was confused, it did not make sense. I thought she was asking if I spoke German, which is just one letter off, tysk. I mean, here I am in this loud, crowded pub, a not-so-young woman in a long woolen winter coat with a backpack, alone, looking for a place to have some food.

We switch to English, yes indeed, she wanted to know if I could please speak quietly. I answered that I was only planning on reading from my book. "Oh, I thought you had a companion". Women don't go out alone, even in Sweden, it appears.

I dumped my stuff and headed for the bar to order. I have always been irritated by my invisibleness as a woman alone in Sweden, and tonight was no exception. I tried to get the attention of one of the two very stressed-out barmaids behind the bar. But for some reason, neither of the two saw me. There was always a guy elbowing in, getting their attention. I once started to catch the corner of the eye of one of the women when a man seated at the counter picked up his glass and waved it in her face - of course, he got his refill and I started again. On orders of my stomach I gave up being a lady, elbowed my way to the bar and placed my order. There is indeed something to be said for the usual Swedish method of taking a queue number for service.

I sat down at the table, got out my book, and enjoyed my food when it came. Quietly.

The place got more and more crowded, and finally, a brave group of three men came over and sat down. They did not get asked to speak quietly, perhaps because it is useless to ask men with beer glasses in their hands to speak quietly. I finished the chapter, closed the book to take that last sip of my cider and was immediately spoken to by one of the guys - how can you be reading here? I shrugged, said that it's a good book, took my last swig, packed up and got out of there.

Both of the women nodded me a quiet goodbye as I left.

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