It is a well-known fact that no one outside Sweden speaks Swedish. I have found this particularly useful when it comes to dealing with the children. To outsiders they seem seamlessly polite, with their pleases and thank yous and please may I get down from my delicious lunches. Little do they know that I am constantly whispering instructions in Swedish. It also means I can threaten them with unspeakable things in public when they misbehave. Not that it seems to make any difference.
It is most useful should you ever want to talk about anyone in the same room, or even leave a party early. Rupert now knows enough Swedish to understand “jag vill ga hem” – I want to go home.
Imagine my surprise then when I was in the locker room at the Hiltonia Beach Club on Friday and a woman asked me, in flawless Swedish, if I was Swedish. It turned out she had lived there as a child and still spoke it. She is from Switzerland and also has children at the French school. I was jolly pleased to have made another friend here, especially one I can gossip with about the other women around the pool.
By the time the girls and I went back into the locker room to get changed I was less jolly. They had been awful again, insisting on spending their time in the adult pool even though I had asked them not to, Olivia lost her shoes, all the usual stuff. A woman came in carrying a screaming child.
“Oh God,” I grumbled in my grumpiest Swedish. “Who on earth is this now with a screaming child?”
Then I heard the woman speak. In Swedish. I mean, what are the chances of meeting two Swedish speakers in the same locker room on the same day? About a trillion to one I’d say.
“She’s speaking Swedish,” whispered Olivia in French as I hid behind my locker, well aware that our secret language would not work with the Swedish woman around.
“What’s going on?” said Bea. There was only one thing for it. I leapt out from behind the locker and gave her my most charming smile, saying how lovely it was to hear my mother-tongue and shouldn’t we swap numbers. She agreed and smiled and the baby even stopped crying, but I’m not sure she was convinced.
Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008