Chivalry may be dead in Sweden, but be careful what you wish for – Mo Kudeki discovers it’s hard to shake American gender roles.
Guys in America do a bunch of things for girls that are sort of nice but also sort of patronizing: trying to pay for your coffee (sometimes even when you aren’t dating them!), opening doors for you, and carrying your bag.
I’ve always found these practices obnoxious and unnecessary. Do we really have to argue about who is going to pay for my $3 coffee, every time? Leave me alone!
Sweden is well-known for being a very gender-equal society – smaller wage gap between the genders than in the US, paternity leave, etc.
Most of this chivalrous nonsense is also nonexistent. Great, exactly what I wanted, right?
Except that it’s incredibly annoying.
When a guy at a nation or a club says, “do you want a drink?” the conventional wisdom is that Swedish guys never pay – actually, they do, but only about 25% of the time in my experience.
But every time a guy DOESN’T offer to pay, my gut reaction is, “What’s this guy’s problem!?”
Guys here only very rarely come up to a girl and start a conversation. That’s fine in theory, as I actually love being the conversation-starter, and nothing is creepier than the “I can’t let a pretty girl stand in a club on her own” pickup line American guys sometimes use.
Yet I feel ignored and unpopular when I realize that if I DON’T start a conversation, I will just sit there alone.
However I’m not here to complain about Swedish social norms – that’s not what bothers me. The disturbing thing is that I am having some negative reactions to living in a more equal society.
I consider myself rather independent, and a feminist – I definitely don’t like the idea that I need male attention to feel validated, attractive, or to have fun. And apparently, I am both offended if a guy DOES pay for my coffee, and if he DOESN’T. Sorry, that is just insane.
The first time I noticed a clear difference from America, I was walking through a hallway carrying a large and heavy box. When I tried to open a door, I could do it, but it involved some mild struggling. There were plenty of guys around, and yet no one tried to help me with the door.
I was at first irritated that no one was rushing to my aid. Then, I became irritated because I realized I EXPECTED someone, specifically, a guy, to help me. I don’t want to feel that way!
It also made me wonder what other gender roles and sexism I have internalized, and how it affects my life in subtler ways.
Perhaps I’m being too hard on myself – I’m reacting to behaviors that are directly opposed to my past 22 years of social programming. It’s fascinating to find that I don’t even know what my ideals are.
Culture shock gives you the chance to reexamine your culture in a new light. Just be prepared to not always like what you find out about yourself.