I knew it was going to be a good night when a man with an Afro let me take his spot at the bar. We walked in and veered slightly right as to avoid a large train of fashionable Swedes and to look as if we had a destination in mind. Luckily our instincts directed us to the bar. Airing on the side of caution I paid for my drink with a large bill, expecting change without having to ask how much the drinks were; once we had a drink in hand we felt properly armed to descend upon the troops of partygoers.
The room we had left looked like it could have been an upper class ballroom in the Titanic; rich woodwork, dark plush couches and expansive mirrors that reached from the floor to a narrow balcony that bordered the expansive room. A row of three large, crystal chandeliers loomed over the lounging area that was scattered with the eldest of the partiers. While “courteous Afro” seemed like he could be a friend we decided to explore the rest of our new surroundings.
Another room off the main traffic highway carried with it much more of the MTV atmosphere I expected. We were ready for our welcome to the elite Swedish Social Circle (SSC as we call it). The décor of this room varied greatly from the stately room we first walked into. Although the physical structure of the room was similar large canopy beds placed at random replaced the plush velvet couches, and the magnitude of the stage and speaker area in the back replaced the majesty of the chandeliers. The crowd was different as well. Whereas the people in the previous room might have prepared for this party by sipping an aged Cabernet Sauvignon while watching Frasier, this crowd “pre-gamed” with vodka and red-bull while watching The OC.
Despite the flutter of people enjoying their own attractive company I was still reminded of that unsettling feeling of entering the cafeteria the first year of middle school. Everyone seemed to know what to do except me, and their were obviously the cool beds and the not as cool beds; deciding which bed to sprawl out on could determine the fate of my entire night. Rarely does the choice of which bed to go to happen when you enter a club rather than when you leave a club. The bed nearest the door was clearly the most established of all the beds; men, women and possibly a waiter or two were laying, interwoven with each other casually relaxing only to sit up in order to sip their cocktails. While it didn’t seem to be becoming sexual it did seem to be quite private. Our chosen bed was clearly still out there, besides that bed was pretty crowded and I usually like to spread out in bed, bunching up the covers and positioning the pillows in the most comfortable way possible. Something tells me that crowd wouldn’t have responded well to me approaching them with, “Hey guys move over, I hate being squished.” “No, seriously come on, Jesper, Heidi, I really need those pillows, I have a delicate spine.”
Following the cardinal rule of real estate we chose a bed based on location, rather than style. It was situated between the bar, a small roped off private party, and the nearly empty dance floor. The only other people on the bed were another couple who were dressed comparatively drab and were perpetually smiling. They seemed to be oblivious, and while their existence at this party may have been more justified than ours I suddenly developed a strong desire against associating with them. They clearly didn’t understand the mood of the party for they hadn’t yet chosen between “having the best time ever, pass more uppers” or the brooding “I have yet to have fun”. They seemed to be lost on their way to the Best Western and considered the Scandinavian beer on tap a “wild drink!” The middle school cafeteria aura was rearing its ugly head again; the cattiness was becoming contagious.
A cameraman made his way past the dance floor and through the beds, pausing on our bed for a pan. While I tried to look as if I was enjoying myself but had clearly experienced crazier parties I think I just looked mildly confused and my grin was a bit too shaky. Suddenly I wondered where this footage would be aired and had a panic that those same cashiers and metro riders that had experienced my confusing silence and unwarranted head nods in Paris would turn on MTV back home only to see me solidifying my “mentally slow” image in Paris and Europe. This room was clearly bringing out the worst in me. Cara and I agreed that after another drink we should wander again. Where was the “courteous Afro” when I needed him?
We passed by the bed that now resembled a plate of human spaghetti; the amount of humans lounging on top of each other had surpassed sexy a long time ago and now just appeared uncomfortable and sloppy. We made our way upstairs to the large balcony that looked out onto the street below. Our desire for human interaction was reaching dangerous levels for we had now been abroad a week without really interacting with anyone. Our expectations were lowering minute by minute and the slightest eye contact or possible head nod caused us to break out into an excited conversation about the possibility of us befriending said person, complete with multiple plans of friendship attacks. We had crossed the line from friendly bar-goers to friendship poachers. We were down to our last room of the party, an unsuccessful time here and we might be headed back to the geriatrics in the Titanic room to lament over the loss of Frasier and get insider tips to the Transport or Post Museum of Stockholm. The stakes were high.
Deciding it best to be near the always crowded bar we found an area close to the traffic but private enough for a couple people to park next to us to engage in stimulating conversation. We must have been parked in a handicap spot for our time was mostly spent observing three Swedish gay men who carried a mysterious large satchel, were thumbing through a magazine they quite probably styled and taking not so hidden snorts from their cocaine spoon necklace. Cara suddenly interrupted my silent staring and deliberate shifts in stance, “Quick go to the bathroom, I’ve made contact with someone and I think he’ll actually come over here if you leave.” Too overwhelmed with the possible idea of human contact to assess the level of insult I quickly agreed; willing to take any directions in order to advance our social situation. “Do you want me to leave completely? I can totally do that; if he asks about me just tell me I’m a waiter or something. Change my name to something more interesting or I can speak in an accent in needed. Should I have a lisp?” I was ready to help in any way possible. My first helpful act was a quick disappearance to the bathroom.
Snaking my way back through the crowd I spotted Cara talking to what appeared to be the Big Friendly Giant, from the Roald Dahl book I cherished as a child. Finally something I can talk about with someone. While I was back I had yet to make my reappearance apparent to either of them but I was happy silently cheering on the success of one of us. After multiple slight adjustments I found the best stance against the bar, leaning back casually as if to show the Swedish crowd that, “yeah, I’m associate with this socialization happening right next to me.” Cara turned to introduce me to her new Swedish friend who, unfortunately was not The BFG but an unpronounceable Swedish name we referred to as Gunner. Gunner said he wouldn’t have guessed I was American but from Great Britain or possibly Denmark. I immediately loved him. I knew nothing about Denmark or how attractive their citizens were but it sounded exotic to me and I was already planning on sharing this comparison with friends, acquaintances and Starbucks baristas back in Boston. Upon meeting someone new in class I’d ask where they were from, prefacing it by saying, “And no, a lot of people have told me I look like I’m from Denmark but I’m not”.
Luckily for me, as Cara’s casual conversation with Gunner turned to innocent flirting two of Gunners new friends reappeared next to him: Johan and Jessica, two genuine Swedes. Johan was younger and although he had brown hair he was born and raised in Stockholm. He had a strong desire to share the best places to go in Stockholm, like the underground ping-pong bar, he even gave us advice on Parisian nightlife.
Jessica began to talk to me with a youthful enthusiasm I thought could only be promised at the empty bar we passed earlier in the night. She was originally from the Swedish country and had moved to Stockholm in the past few months. Like 75% of the young Stockholm professionals she worked for a hip, young magazine. “It’s like Cosmopolitan for younger girls, you know, like ‘Go do your own thing Girls! Like very independent, very girl spirited!” Absolutely, Jessica, absolutely I know exactly what you mean. I was overjoyed to be making new Swedish friends and having broken the barrier of waiting for it allowed me to pass off the creepy obsession we possessed of it before as a novice’s natural worries. Jessica and I began to have an all out gab-sess most likely appropriate for her magazine. She shared her secret of being horrible at flirting, for which I most naturally related too. Another drink and a bit too loudly she began to digress gushing about her admiration for Johan the other companion in our new friendship circle. Apparently they had just met tonight as well and despite my shared confession of flirting fauxpas I began to coach Jessica with her seduction of Johan. “Don’t be subtle Jessica!” I warned her, “He could be really shy and just unsure if you actually do like him.” “Ohmygod he’s so CUTE!” Jessica half said, half giggled. “What do I do Rodney, what do I do?!” Jessica pleaded to me. Five minutes into our friendship and already I was the undeserved dating doctor for Jessica the country girl. I began to question 29-year-old Jessica’s qualifications for dispensing advice to the independent tween girls of Sweden. Johan unfortunately did not seem to be responding to Jessica’s flirtation although she was being less subtle. Gunner and Johan seemed to be talking about leaving but I motioned for everyone to get together for a picture. “Jessica get next to Johan” I directed, “ah yes, you guys look good together” I said as I snapped the picture. Very not so subtly Jessica ran up to me gave me a Swedish bear hug and said “Oh thank you, I Love you!”
All three of them exited shortly after, and while I was hopeful for the romance between my two new Swedish friends, I couldn’t help but smile and shake my head at Jessica. Having just arrived in the city from the rural country she clearly had so much to learn about the social ways of Stockholm but luckily she had me for a friend. I’m an expert.