I’m Just Following Everyone Else

Before moving to America, Good Man had only traveled abroad twice. Both times he went to Japan. Once to take his TOEFL and the other time just to visit.

So he’s kind of making me a little crazy on this trip.

“Where are we going?”

“I showed you the map in the restaurant,” I say. “We’re going up this street until Strandsgatan or something like that and turning right.”

“Oh, OK,” he says, “it is my job to doubt.”

***

“Are we supposed to get off now?”

“No, look across at that island. That has a big sign for Gr?na Lunds, and that’s on the island we’re going to. Plus, it said we were going there via Skeppsholmen. This is the via point.”

Good Man shakes his head, “How do you know all this?”

He makes fun of me for researching things before I go, but I know this because I look it up before I go!

***

We are waiting to catch a long-distance bus. The bus looks full. The luggage area is mostly full. A blonde woman comes out of the bus, holds up three fingers and says something like “tree.” Another customer behind us is hanging near the wall, looking unconcerned. I put these clues together and figure that the bus must be full. The three people in front of us board, and the woman starts speaking Swedish. I tell her I don’t speak Swedish and she says, “Another bus is coming.”

“OK.”

“What’s going on?” Good Man asks.

“Another bus is coming.”

“Why?”

“That one is full, honey.”

“But it will go to Gotland place?”

At this point I just stare at him because yesterday afternoon when we bought the tickets the man said, “Don’t worry if the bus is full, we will always get another one.” I smile and nod, “Yes.”

***

We get to the ferry terminal and Good Man asks why I’m throwing my luggage on a cart. “Because this sign says to put your luggage here. We’ll pick it up on the other side.”

“How do you know that?”

There’s no polite way to say “I followed the signs” so instead I say “I am very clever.” The truth is, Good Man thinks I worry too much, but I had already researched that we were allowed one carry on and multiple pieces of checked luggage on the ferry. So I knew to look for a luggage place.

***

We arrive in Gotland and there are no street signs, though we have a map. I turn the map upside down to read it correctly and decide we should probably go to the left. Most people are walking to the left and there’s a blue sign with an I in an circle, so information must be to the left and that’s marked on my map.

“But how do you know we are going the right way?”

“Because everyone else is going this way, there’s an information place over there, and we can ask them where we are exactly. Plus, that way is mostly roads and this looks like a city.”

***

I’m not actually complaining about Good Man. But coming with him to Sweden, seven and a half years after Sweden was my first international/solo trip, is strange for me. I could have done so much more the first time if I hadn’t’ve been nervous and afraid back then.

I remember wandering back and forth in front of Centralterminalen looking for Vasagatan (I think) and not being able to find it. Because it was under me. I had to go down steps. I tried asking one or two passersby and got no help. Eventually I found it. This time I argued with Good Man saying, “Believe me, I remember this!” but if we couldn’t’ve found it, I would’ve gone back inside the station and asked for help.

(Of course, I asked someone how to dial a phone number and he thought I was calling Sweden from outside of Stockholm and gave me the totally wrong instructions. I tried several times and gave up. Then I checked in a book and found out what to do.)

Once in Costa Rica I took a bus to a small town (Ciudad Quesada/San Carlos). I wasn’t sure where I was supposed to get off and when the majority of the people got off the driver looked at me and asked if I was getting off. I was terrified and said no. We continued to the bus station, 2 km from the city center…which is where everyone else had gotten off. I found my way to the city, no thanks to friendly Costa Ricans trying their hardest and guessing at which way I was supposed to go (which my guidebook warned me would happen). When I finally got to the city square, I spent way too long trying to find my hostel. I finally asked some policemen for help and they happily point to a spot 50 yards away. From that I learned that if nearly everyone is getting off at one stop, that’s very probably where you’re supposed to get off, too.

And thinking of my travels—which have been few and far between compared to many people, I know—I’ve learned that
a) a smile and “sorry, I don’t speak…” will get you a lot
b) when people speak English fluently (like most Swedes do), they like to show it off and don’t mind if you ask questions—especially when they’re getting paid for it

b1) even if they don’t speak fluently, as long as they speak more than anyone else around them, they’ll find a way to help you
c) if you get lost you’ll eventually get found again
d) streets that would look scary at home are safe in other places
e) when all else fails, follow everyone else and look for the signs

Good Man, I’m just following everyone else.