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24 December 2009 @ 10:54 pm
What were the odds?  
Today, on my way home from work, a young man with a backpack signed for me to take off my headphones. I just knew he was going to beg me for money. This doesn't happen often on the Metro, and usually just not making eye contact and looking like I am in a trance will make them move on. Sometimes they are pushy, notably religious people pushing pamphlets, of the people with the "I am deaf, please give me money for these stickers..." folks. This guy had a map, however, so I suspected he just wanted directions.

I was wrong.

"Excuse me," he said in an odd accent that sounded Eastern European. "I am from Sweden, and I was touring Washington capital when I lost my wallet. Do you have some money you could give me so I could get cab ride back to hotel and something to eat? This city is very big."

There were several red flags here. Once, he was wearing a "North Face" jacket, and apart from his accent, he didn't... seem foreign. I mean, I couldn't tell you how a typical Swede looks, so I was unsure. Also, most Swedes his age speak better English than he did. But why assume the worst?

"Ja så?" I asked with enthusiasm. "Varifrån Sverige kommer du? Min familj är från Luleå och Boden." [Is that so? Where in Sweden do you come from? My family is from Luleå and Boden.]

There was a significant pause as his eyes scanned my face. So I continued.

"Förlåt, är min svenska så dåligt? Jag kommer aldrig att utöva det. När jag är i Sverige, de flesta svarar på engelska, hah." [Forgive me, is my Swedish that bad? I never get to practice it. When I am in Sweden, most people reply in English, hah!.]

"... whut?" he asked. He seemed to have no accent suddenly. "Do you speak English?" he asked a little loudly.

"I do," I said cheerfully. "But I suspect my Swedish is terrible. I asked where in Sweden do you come from? My family comes from Luleå and Boden."

His eyes darted back and forth, and he gave a nervous chuckle. "The place next to the Alps," he said, he started to move away.

"You mean Switzerland?" I asked. "Where, like Geneva? Zürich? Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Parlez-vous français? O Parli Italiano?" But he never answered, and he shuffled away nervously.

Two things to note. One, I know my Swedish is pretty bad. Two, I don't speak German, French, or Italian, but do know those are languages spoken in Switzerland, depending on where you are from, and I do know a lot of "do you speak [language]?" in several languages.

I suspect my young beggar picked the country of Sweden at random, thinking, "Who the hell speaks Swedish?" He could as easily have picked Latvian or Estonian. What were the odds he'd meet one of the few Swedish speaking (well, roughly) people on the Metro? Damn near zero, I'd think. Additionally, the old "I have lost my wallet, can I have some money?" is the OLDEST trick in the book. Even the Samaritans would have passed this guy by.

I was a little disappointed, though. I never find anyone to practice Swedish with.
Seanstodgycat on December 25th, 2009 05:22 am (UTC)
Eris meant for you to ....
ruin his day... excelsior Grig, carry on!
Jasenjastengel on December 25th, 2009 08:47 am (UTC)
Sometimes these chance encounters are worth having for what happens on the other side of the equation.... Imagine what went through the jerks mind as he realized he was Pwnd by the Punk Walrus... *Yes* that WAS Pure Pwnage.

Hail Eris!

P.S. you make me want to learn Swedish... if only to pwn nubs on the subway and do a better Swedish chef imitation...

(BTW, what would a Swede wear in DC?)
punkwalruspunkwalrus on December 25th, 2009 12:57 pm (UTC)
Re: FNORD!!!
> BTW, what would a Swede wear in DC?

Non Colorado-ish, LL Bean-wear, that's for damn sure. I mean, MAYBE they would wear "North Face" because they like American pop, but having met Europeans both in my family and professionally, they hold themselves differently. But almost every Swede his ages range would speak English, and speak it well. Also they kind of carry themselves differently; shy and stoic. This guy was definitely pulling the old, "I lost foreigner. Help me, yes?" role he must have seen on TV. Probably thinks Latke from "Taxi" was a real immigrant.

kaiotte on December 25th, 2009 05:03 pm (UTC)
This is why I go, "Yes, the city is big. In fact, let me escort you back to your hotel. This way you won't get lost."
rmartin_justmermartin_justme on December 25th, 2009 05:28 pm (UTC)
That is an awesome story!!
Digital Sidhe: Ma istalye cenda sina?digitalsidhe on December 25th, 2009 06:35 pm (UTC)
I had exactly the opposite thing happen to me once, back when I lived in DC. I think it was Foggy Bottom Metro Station. A man approached me, dressed somewhat shabbily, and said he was from Russia and living on the streets.

I'd been studying Russian in college, so I asked, "Oh? Понимаете по-Русский язык?" (Ponimaetye po-Russkiy yazik, or "Do you speak Russian?") He gave me the kind of long-suffering look that Russians have perfected, and said, "Конечно," (Konyechno, or "Of course") in a way that made me feel like a total heel.

I reached in my pocket and gave him some money.
chellebelle74: High 5chellebelle74 on December 26th, 2009 04:31 am (UTC)
You, sir, totally RAWK!
patches023 on December 26th, 2009 03:21 pm (UTC)
I am in love with you! You are so good in these situations.
Ironkiteironkite on December 27th, 2009 04:14 am (UTC)
Much awesome! You could just start responding to all beggars in Swedish to totally throw them off.
I once spouted off all the Cantonese I knew (at the time) just to throw some guy off who was putting on the pressure. It caused sufficient confusion for me to exit. But anyone speaking Cantonese would have wondered why I asked for more tea, that I was full, hello, goodbye, my name is Silver Fox and that I Don't Know Cantonese all at the same time.
In Hong Kong I learned to answer "Nyet" to any of the street salesmen. Answering in Russian seemed to stop them in their tracks.
My school doesn't have Swedish language classes, otherwise I'd take one so I can attempt to chat.