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Talking apparently never ceases to be a problem for the Swedes: a lean across an abyss. Every time a conversation starts, you can feel the physical tension mount between the speakers. (Oddly enough, though, the Swedes are very gifted at languages. English is not only mandatory throughout the school years but so well taught that almost everyone here under thirty-five is virtually bilingual.) What to talk about is a problem. Favored topics are: the weather (Swedes never stop suffering from the cold, the lack of sun); money (they are shameless about telling or asking how much something costs); liquor (more about that later); and plans of action (from saying I’m going to pee when leaving the room for a minute to announcing a vacation). Once underway, dialogue tends to have a certain pedantry; people balk if you skip steps in explaining something or jump around from one topic to another. And conversations are always in danger of running out of gas, both from the imperative of secretiveness and from the positive lure of silence. Silence is the Swedish national vice. Will you laugh if I invoke Greta Garbo? Honestly, Sweden is full of prosaic, graceless mini-Garbos. And of moments from Bergman films as well, the ones when people mutely express the torment of being unable to say what they feel.
— Susan Sontag, Letter from Sweden

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