I could feel my eyes widen as a tall man in his 50′s with glasses and gray hair politely pointed at the fruits and tried to make conversation with me in Swedish. I’m not sure I even tried to understand the words that were coming out of his mouth, as it took a few seconds just to understand that I should be listening because he was talking to me. I had just picked up a pack of dried apricots as I stood in line, and this man was also looking at the fruit, I assumed by his gestures that he was talking about the apricots and figs. I can guess, after it happened that maybe he was thinking the same as when I saw them, surprised that they were the same price, unsure if they were overpriced. He said only a sentence or two, and the tone seemed friendly enough, but then it was obviously time for me to reply and I was still frozen in place.
I knew what to say. I knew how to say it. I’ve practiced it in my head before, “Forlat, min Svenska ar inte bra” or “Jag förstår inte.” (“Sorry, my Swedish is not good” or “I do not understand”) It was my chance and before I knew it my mind and my mouth had missed that connection and I blurted out, “sorry.” It was like a slap in the face, why can’t I do it? The words might not have been at the tip of my tongue, more like the back of my throat, you know that feeling when you are about to vomit? They were there, being uncomfortable and embarrassing. And so I swallowed the small amount of Swedish I could have conjured up and burped out a simple “sorry” to which the man smiled and nodded and moved on leaving me feeling rejected. I was annoyed with myself for missing the opportunity, and even more annoyed when the cashier rang me up in English. I’m not sure if he heard the exchange or if he has begun to recognize me. I need to start wearing a less identifiable hat, maybe. Either way I was pretty bummed by the whole thing. The last thing I want or need is for one of my regular cashiers to stop speaking Swedish to me. Even though I know that down the road I will be able to switch it back to Swedish when I am ready and able, but I need the practice now, even if it’s only hearing a few numbers and needing to understand them.
It’s certainly not the first I’ve said “sorry” to change the conversation to English (and it won’t be the last), I just wish I could muster up the courage to switch over to English in a way that indicates that I am learning Swedish and trying, which means…actually speaking a few simple words of Swedish. I know it’s an anxiety hurdle I have (and also had when learning Spanish) but I have been more and more angry with it over the past week or two, knowing that my Swedish classes hopefully start in about two weeks. This knot in my chest needs to go, I always figured it would be easier to blurt out a crappy Swedish phrase in front of strangers, but it’s still the same amount of scary.