punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

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.

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