Aug 15 2010

Sweden: Where Good Samaritans go to die

I've always been rather surprised that Dr. Darling, who is in all other ways almost annoyingly hyper-responsible and helpful, does not feel any compunction to share these gifts with strangers. Not only that, but the Swede tends to look at me with a certain amount of exasperation when I do.

And this is not peculiar to my particular Swede. In my more than eight years of personal experience living here, I've found that most (but not all) Swedish people will not go out of their way to assist or otherwise intervene in any situation that does not directly impact them in some way. Part of this has to do with their highly developed sense of privacy, combined with a healthy "live and let live" approach to community, but I often wonder if perhaps there isn't more to it than that.

Like this morning, for instance. As we were leaving our apartment building to go to the gym, we noticed that an alarm was sounding in the nursery school that occupies the ground floor. It was unmistakable as we stepped off the elevator…and I immediately checked to see if the doors there in the hallway were locked. They were…with no sign of a break-in nor any indication that something was burning.

I then moved to the list of telephone numbers posted in the glass display case just across from the elevator to see how to contact the security company. Dr. Darling rolled her eyes…the building obviously wasn't on fire, so there was no reason for us not to head directly to the gym, do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars.

By this time one of our neighbors got off the elevator, also noticed the alarm ringing, and began to help me scan the rather long list of numbers to call for various situations. She's an older lady who has lived in the building for ages, is very well-liked by all the neighbors and would probably be the president of the tenants' board if such an organization existed. We picked the number from the list that seemed most appropriate, and I volunteered to dial on my mobile phone if she would do the talking (for efficiency's sake…my phone Swedish can still be pretty rough).

Naturally she ended up in a voicemail queue, and so we waited, and we waited…until she finally got to speak to someone who told her we had dialed the wrong security company. This outfit was evidently responsible for the main building, but NOT for the nursery school, which had a contract with a different firm.

After re-scanning the phone list and finding nothing specific with regard to the school, we walked outside to look at the security company sticker affixed to virtually every ground floor window and dialed THAT number. After several more minutes of navigating yet another voicemail system, we learned that we needed to dial a central dispatch number…which was on a sticker affixed to just one of the windows on the far corner of the facility. Alrighty then!

By this time even our good-natured, unofficial tenant's board president was becoming frustrated, and Dr. Darling (very) reluctantly stepped in to handle the 3rd phone call. After a few more minutes on hold, a woman came on the line and asked the Swede for the secret password to turn off an alarm that you've accidently activated on your own premises.

After a heavy sigh that literally dripped with disgust over what was fast becoming a complete farce, the Swede explained that she was not affiliated with nursery school, merely a tenant in the building where it was located. And no, we had no idea why the alarm was ringing, but assumed that the security company might be interested in investigating it. To which the woman responded with a resounding MAYBE, but took Dr. Darling's contact information for reasons that remain unknown.

So, after nearly 30 minutes of trying to report the still-ringing alarm to the proper authorities, we resumed our walk to the gym. We had barely gotten a block down the street when the Swede noticed a security vehicle from the FIRST company we had called pulling up near our building. Maybe they changed their minds? We stood there for a few minutes before mutually deciding that we probably ought to go back and point the officer in the right direction, especially since we were the ones that reported the alarm.

We walked back up the block and around the corner to stand in front of our building, the entrance to which sits on a pedestrian-only street…so the security vehicle was (illegally) parked a good 30 meters away. The security guy took his sweet time getting out of the car and looked like he was about 16-years-old, and for some reason he went to the trouble of getting a ticket from the nearby meter even though there is no charge to park (legally) on Sundays. Perhaps he had to punch in a special code that allowed him to use no parking zones while investigating alarms?

And then, to our amazement, he turned heel and headed down the street in the opposite direction! WTF?! It suddenly dawned on us that while it was somewhat of an incredible coincidence, he probably wasn't there because of our call at all.

So by this time, we would have been on our way home from the gym had we left when we intended, and we still had a couple of pretty big errands to run, as well as the possibility of Dr. Darling's brother and family stopping by late in the afternoon/early evening on their way home to Halmstad after spending from several days at his in-laws' place on the far southern coast.

The Swede looked at me and said, "Should we just bag the gym?"

"Probably," I replied. "It will make our lives a lot easier this afternoon if we skip it."

And so as we re-entered our building to the clanging of the still-ringing alarm, Dr. Darling turned to me and said:

"Now do you understand why Swedes don't go out of their way in situations like this?"

It was a valid point. If the security company that's presumably being paid to monitor the premises can't be bothered to check out an active alarm, why should anyone else waste their time or energy on it?

The alarm was still ringing when we left to run errands 20 minutes later, and when we got back nearly two hours after that. It was still ringing when we joined the Alpha Geek and his wife for fika at their place around 3:45.

It was not until we were headed home to start making plans for dinner that the entryway to our building was finally silent. I can only image that the people who live in the apartments directly over the nursery school finally got so fed up that they threatened violence if somebody didn't come around and turn the damn thing off.

Or maybe the battery just died.

Feed my ego!

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