(HOST) Recently, Commentator Philip Baruth traveled to Sweden to spend some time with his wife’s family there. As always, he felt physically smaller surrounded by the descendents of Vikings. But, this time around, that feeling of smallness led to some unusually large problems.
(BARUTH) I like to think of myself as someone who can face facts, and the fact is that when I travel to Sweden to visit my wife’s parents, every single person I come into contact with, male or female, is about four feet taller than I am. I’m a tiny little man in Sweden – a tiny, wee little man who speaks the native language at a pre-school level. I accept those facts, but that sort of realization still does strange things to your head.
For one thing, because I feel so physically inconsequential, I also feel this constant compulsion to prove myself in ways I never would in America. For instance, if no one can decide whether or not the crayfish from Tuesday are still good to eat on Friday, I’m liable to eat a big heaping plate, just to show everyone in that dining room that the diminutive little American visitor can handle his crayfish, spoiled or not.
But it gets weirder. Because I’ve learned over time that this phenomenon occurs when I go to Sweden, I now overcompensate. I start second-guessing myself in almost every situation. To take the crayfish example, as I reach for the plate of Tuesday’s catch, I’ll stop myself half-way and ask myself: Am I about to eat these possibly spoiled crustaceans because I’ll enjoy eating them, in some way? Or am I doing it because the police occasionally stop me on the street here, thinking I’m a kid playing hooky from school?
All of this second-guessing came to a head this last trip, when we decided to take our two girls to an amusement park in Gothenburg called Liseberg. Unfortunately, in the days leading up to the trip, one of the park rides called the Rainbow had a pretty serious accident, and about 30 people had to go to the hospital. And then, a few days later, another ride at Liseberg malfunctioned, stranding a bunch of people at the top of a huge tower for about two and half hours.
Now: in America, Annika and I would talk these developments over, and we’d make a rational decision about whether to skip this amusement park or not. But in Sweden I’m useless because I can’t tell whether my judgment is being affected by my relative tininess. First I thought we should cancel the trip; then the next day I told Annika that after these two incidents the park was probably safer than it’s ever been because of all the new focus on safety.
Basically, I went back and forth right up until the moment when we got to the park and my daughter Gwendolyn wanted to ride a thing called Balder, Liseberg’s all-wooden rollercoaster, which pulls about 4 g’s.
"Can I, Daddy?" Gwendolyn asked.
I froze again. Gwendolyn was looking at me. Annika was looking at me. All of my Swedish relatives were looking down at me. But that’s when my love for my daughter cut through all the second-guessing somehow, and I thought, even if everyone in this park thinks that I’m small and spineless, never in a million years is my daughter getting on this rickety contraption made out of wood and glue. The most important consideration of all, I realized, was to make sure that nothing happened to her, partly because I love her more than life itself, and partly because she was the only one in the park shorter than me.
So, instead, I personally took her on the Teacups. I don’t know why, really, but for some reason I really enjoy the Teacups when I’m in Sweden. They seem so big and thrilling, somehow.