Earlier this summer, we had a group of Swedish students visit our church and perform a free concert.
To save money on lodging during their tour from New York to Miami, the group asked if members of our church would open our homes to them before they set off for south Florida the next day.
We happily obliged. At the end of the evening we caravanned home from the venue with seven Swedish young people in tow.
“One thing I am confused about,” shared one of the young men after he became comfortable with us, “Is how I should answer the question ‘How are you today?’ What should I say?”
As Americans, we just don’t realize how “American” this question is.
It is the safe and acceptable question to ask when other topics, like football or the weather, elude us. “How are you today?” is the Wonder Bread of American questions.
Because we HATE silence.
I recently had an experience at Walmart in which the woman behind the counter didn’t ask me any of the “usual” questions. I was met only by a tired silence. She looked harried and battered down by life, and hardly seemed able to have ANY more interactions with her customers that day.
And you know what? That entire interaction (or lack thereof) was horribly awkward.
A new television show called “Welcome to Sweden” began airing on the NBC Thursday night line up this summer.
Bruce (Greg Poehler), the main character, has moved with his girlfriend to her native Stockholm. His clueless, wide-eyed ignorance to the subtleties of her culture is providing endless amounts of comedic material.
In fact, this very question came up in one of the very first episodes.
“I mean,” Bruce says to his girlfriend, Emma, “What’s wrong with asking people how they’re doing?”
“Well,” Emma replies, “it’s fake. In Sweden, we just do that if we really want to know the answer, you know?”
“But I DO want to know the answer,” Bruce exclaims.
“No, you don’t.”
“Yes,” Bruce insists. “I genuinely care about how people are doing.”
“Okay,” Emma says. “But if you care about Swedes, leave them alone. Okay?”
Bruce doesn’t buy it.
“Say, ‘Hej, hej’ at the most,” Emma says. “If you do more than that, people will think you’re weird.”
Confused, Bruce says, “Well how do you get to know new people?”
“That’s the whole point, honey.”
Yesterday, Maggie’s Girl Scout leader asked me, “How are you doing?”
Now, I almost always attempt to answer this with the accepted “I’m fine.” But suddenly, I just couldn’t.
Perhaps she seemed SAFE. Perhaps I felt as if she really “wanted to know the answer.“ I am not sure.
“I am sooooooo happy the kids are back in school. I am not going to lie: this summer really was difficult,” I blurted out.
Summer, the time when activities ~ such as Girl Scouts ~ ceased, was ironically the time where we NEEDED those activities the most.
Summer began full of hope and dreams of sleeping in, adventures and fun-filled days.
But it ended with fighting. A LOT of fighting.
And “I’m BOOOORRRRRREDs.”
And unreasonable, tyrannical demands.
The “adventures” we had tried to incorporate just turned into different, more exotic places for the kids to try to scratch the other’s eyes out.
This particular summer melded into one giant blur of angst and crushing thoughts of inadequacy about our parental competence.
I AM damn happy the kids are back in school.
There, I said it again.
And the children are happy to get away from us, too.There have been zero tears. There has been much excitement on both ends.
And this school year has started afresh with different kind of hopes and dreams, adventures and fun-filled days.