I’ve noticed that the woman at the reception desk at the swim hall always looks at me as if I’m an alien when I ask to swim. I’ve thought about this and I think I have figured out the problem. Even though I know the correct way to say a sentence in Swedish, I think I am lacking the basic social skills for the language and culture. The problem is that when I want to do something new, I learn the most basic and direct way to say it. I have no follow up. I don’t know how to make my sentences polite. When I go to the swim hall each week, I walk up to the desk and say, “I WANT TO SWIM!” (Jag vill simma!) When I get a haircut, I say, “I WANT A HAIRCUT!” (Jag vill klippa mig! – Yes, it sounds to me like I’m saying I want to cut myself, but other people assure me this means haircut.)
I have nothing to say after these sentences. If I were speaking English, I would probably say, “I’d like to swim, please,” and then make some comment about the weather. If I were asking for a haircut in English, I would say, “Yes, I’d like to get a haircut today. Just a little off the ends.”
But in Swedish, I am forced to announce my needs in a caveman fashion and my only follow up may be occasional miming. After I announce my desire for a haircut in Sweden and they ask me how much, I usually just make my hands into scissors and pretend to cut where I would like it. This gets the message across but may also be why people occasionally treat me as if I am a crazy street person.