From Warm Syria to Cold Sweden

Syrians always brag about the openness, good heartedness and the easy going quality of their people. It’s only natural for a Syrian passerby to grab you by the hand and take you to the address you are searching for in case you were lost. If you faint in the street, tens of Syrians would hurry towards you carrying water, a small chair and some strong perfume (Most of us Syrians believe that strong fragrances wake people, I personally faint from them but anyway… they do work sometimes!)

And this, as all other points mentioned above, I believe applies to most Arab countries. Oh yes! I’ve always been proud of how friendly and willing to help Syrians are, unlike cold individualist westerners who are too busy building their carriers or too afraid of getting into trouble to help out strangers. But is it true? 3 weeks in Sweden made me realize that we should never give in for stereotypes.

During my stay in Malmö, an industrial city and port in southwestern Sweden, I got lost. I was heading to Sydsvenskan daily newspaper for a two days study visit but unfortunately I had the wrong map. And what do you do if you get desperately lost? Catch a cab. So, I took one to the newspaper and tried to figure out a cheaper way back to the hotel, one that wouldn’t cost me around 100 kronor. To my surprise, the middle aged driver not only wrote down the directions but he even took me (free of charge) to the bus stop to make sure I wouldn’t get puzzled.

Other Swedes I stumbled across in the street enthusiastically studied my map to explain the road, spent 5 minutes checking google maps on their mobiles or simply took me by the hand to the place I was searching for. In fact, Swedes are so polite that a young car driver stopped in the middle of the street so that he wouldn’t appear in the photo I was taking of a store on the other side of the street!

Nevertheless, it was only in a restaurant in Stockholm’s Skansen park that I had to admit to myself, I know so little about Western values and hospitality. I had a terrible flu. Might sound weird but I got the flu in mid June. Oh yes! Spring in Sweden is THAT cold! So, I was having an open buffet dinner with a large number of friends in Skansen. We were offered a cup of tea after the meal. When the elderly waiter finally brought me a cup of hot tea, I told him how much I was waiting for this tea because I have a sore throat. Next thing I know the waiter comes back with a nice smile on his face and a huge gratis tea pot. “Got it especially for your throat,” he beamed.

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